The following six basic principles have been used to define what makes cohousing different from other types of collaborative living.
1. Participatory process. Future residents participate in the design of the community so that it meets their needs. Some cohousing communities are initiated or driven by a developer. A well-designed, pedestrian-oriented community without significant resident participation in the planning may be “cohousing-inspired,” but it is not a cohousing community.
2. Neighborhood design. The physical layout and orientation of the buildings (the site plan) encourage a sense of community and social interactions. For example, the private residences are clustered on the site, leaving more shared open space. The goal: create a strong sense of community using physical design choices.
3. Common facilities. Common facilities are designed for daily use, are an integral part of the community, and are always supplemental to the private residences. Participating in the community is always optional, not required. Since the buildings are clustered, larger sites may retain several or many acres of undeveloped shared open space.
4. Resident management. Residents manage their own cohousing communities, and also perform much of the work required to maintain the property. They participate in the preparation of common meals, and meet regularly to solve problems and develop policies for the community.
5. Non-hierarchical structure and decision-making. Leadership roles naturally exist in cohousing communities, however no one person (or persons) has authority over others. Most groups start with one or two “burning souls.” As people join the group, each person takes on one or more roles consistent with his or her skills, abilities or interests. Most cohousing groups make all of their decisions by consensus or similar forms of consent decision-making (e.g sociocracy) , and, although many groups have a policy for voting if the group cannot reach consensus after a number of attempts, it is rarely or never necessary to resort to voting.
6. No shared community economy. The community is not a source of income for its members. Occasionally, a cohousing community will pay one of its residents to do a specific (usually time-limited) task, but more typically the work will be considered that member’s contribution to the shared responsibilities.
Cohousing projects typically have “House Rules” that go beyond normal strata regulations. These House Rules are designed to create social and economic sustainability through:
- Shared decision-making and self-governance.
- Cooking and eating together. By regularly sharing informal meals together, neighbours are connected more closely, build stronger social bonds, and are better able to create a more efficient and satisfying lifestyle.
- Social synergy in diversity. Social synergy capitalizes on the collective energy, creativity, and diversity of skills, knowledge, and interests among neighbours.
- Neighbour support networking. There is no shared economy in cohousing (no paid services/help). However, as might be expected among neighbours who are closely connected, neighbourly support for a more convenient and secure lifestyle is encouraged. This quality is especially significant for senior cohousing members.
- Outreach. Cohousing attracts proactive individuals interested in improving both their own lives and the welfare and sustainability of the greater society. Having good neighbourhood collaboration processes and skills, cohousing models and encourages a more sustainable lifestyle, thus building social capital for the greater neighbourhood and community.