The modern concept of cohousing has its roots in Danish architecture in the 1960s. Groups of families in Denmark created housing communities together to help each other care for one another and raise children more collaboratively.
Today, cohousing communities are becoming more popular throughout Europe and the United States. Each community is unique, and often they’re custom- and purpose-built by their members. They typically consist of groups of standalone houses or fully sufficient, owned apartments with a common house and/or green space. Rather than being managed by an outside company, members make decisions for the community based on consensus.
Coliving is a bit newer and is a bit of a hybrid between a cohousing community and rental apartments. In coliving buildings, you may have your own bedroom, or you may share with roommates. You’re likely to rent directly from a management company rather than co-signing a lease with friends or strangers. These companies typically offer all-inclusive rent prices for furnished units in buildings with shared co-working, living and cooking spaces.
Units often come fully furnished and many are targeted toward adults young & old who want to move into a home with flexible leases and an existing social structure. They can work particularly well for people starting over in new cities where they don’t already have a social support network.
Health Benefits of Cohousing
Studies show cohousing can improve mental and physical health. People around the world have experienced a whole new level of isolation since the start of the pandemic, yet those who live in cohousing communities seem to have fared better, according to a study published in late 2020 by the journal Interpersona.
The study’s researchers analyzed people living in Germany during the lockdowns of 2020 and found that cohousing residents relied on each other more for social support than residents of traditional neighborhoods. They reported suffering from less depression and anxiety and even fewer eating disorders than others not living in cohousing communities.
Neighborliness Is Built into Cohousing Communities
To put it simply, having good access to social support from your neighbors can positively impact your mental, emotional and physical health, and your overall quality of life.
The shared access to tools and resources; someone to help watch your kids while you’re working; or to bring you meals if you fall ill, are all benefits of cohousing. And living in a cohousing community often makes access to that social support easier and more explicitly available than in a traditional neighborhood.
Other studies have found positive impacts on mental health. A paper published by Public Health Reviews analyzed existing research on how cohousing impacts mental and physical health and quality of life. The paper found that eight out of 10 such studies found positive associations.
In a cohousing community, neighbors care for one another without being asked. The premise of cohousing is pretty simple: You’re not just buying a house when you join an owner-occupied cohousing community. You’re becoming part of a whole.
When he got “deathbed sick” in 2013, Alan O’Hashi, Director at Cohousing Association, says people just showed up at his house with covered dishes without him asking. No one waits around to be told how to help out when a community member is in need. No one feels bad asking for help directly, or asking to borrow something, or asking for a hand with tasks. Alan says, “Cohousing isn’t about the houses,” “You drop what you’re doing to help people out when they’re in need.”
It all boils down to preference. With new (and old) buzzwords surfacing all the time, it’s a real challenge to keep up with the current terminology and distinguish between them. But it’s time to realize that terms like coliving and cohousing are here to stay, so we might as well understand their distinctions. And who better to lay down these differences than the ones who personally made the split on Wikipedia?
Humans are social creatures and living an isolated lifestyle for a prolonged period can have a grave impact on both physical and mental health. So, no matter which model has the most appeal, the evidence points to the numerous benefits of living as part of something bigger.