What’s the difference between cohousing and a housing co-op?

Cooperative is an ownership and management model, and cohousing is a type of community living. This may sound a bit confusing, because while some cohousing projects may choose to be co-ops, cooperatives are not necessarily cohousing.

A housing cooperative means that the houses are owned by the cooperative and all members have an equal say in the management of the housing, regardless of their share in the properties.

Cohousing means that members have their own private space with access to shared facilities like the shared garden and common house, with shared meals and collective decision making.

In most housing cooperatives members simply rent their houses from the co-op. ChaCo is a cohousing and a cooperative, but lets members own up to 99% of their home; our cooperative owns the land, our rented properties and a certain percentage of each house. This model protects our project from real estate speculations and secures its affordability for the long run.

Who’s in charge?

All the members of ChaCo!

ChaCo is run democratically by its members and we make all our decisions by consensus. This means that if you want something to happen, you can make a proposal to the general meeting and do your best to make it happen. If you are not sure how to go about it, other members will probably be happy to support you. We appreciate that some people have more time, confidence and energy to take responsibility for managing ChaCo. Still, the more members get on board the better our community becomes: more democratic, with many new ideas and perspective and many hands on deck.

What is a 'common house'?

The common house is the heart and hub of every cohousing community and ours is no exception.

Cohousing can be defined as

people living together in neighbourhoods designed for community interaction and personal privacy.

In nearly all cohousing projects, most of those community interactions take place in the common house – where most of the shared resources are gathered. Typically, the common house includes a kitchen and shared dining space, a laundry, post room and guest rooms.

As well as these, ChaCo plans to have a play room and workshop – and until we get round to building ourselves a shed for the workshop, we’re going to have to be creative with Transformer™ style guest rooms that magically morph with a few deft moves to allow other uses.

Our common house occupies the 150m2 ground floor space beneath three of our 2-bed duplexes next to the car park at the north of our site. It’s designed to be within easy reach of all the houses and flats across the shared garden.

Do I have to eat communal meals?

No. All the houses have kitchens and if eating together is not your style you can choose not to turn up to our communal meals. Having said that, eating together is a great way to know your neighbours better, have nice food without having to cook it, and have a night out in your slippers.

Do I have to cook for everyone?

No. Unless you want to, of course. There are plenty of things to do to make the community flourish so if cooking is not your strength you can always offer help with washing up, gardening or admin. On the other hand, if you choose to put your name down as a helper in the kitchen you may learn some new cooking skills from community members who like cooking.

Do I have to share a bathroom?

No! Cohousing isn’t a commune but an intentional community of households living in fairly conventional houses and flats clustered around additional shared facilities – like our garden and common house.

The only residents who share a bathroom are those who’ve chosen to live in one of the single rooms at No.1 Leopold Park. This is our 5-bedroom shared house or HMO – not to be confused with our common house.

Do I get my own garden?

Yes and no.

If your unit has direct ground-floor access – ie: all the houses and all the 1-bed flats – then you’ll have a small area immediately outside your back door that’s “your” bit of the garden, even if it’s not fenced off.

People living in 2-bed duplexes have a generous-sized balcony that would suit outdoor potted plants and bushes.

People in 3-bed duplexes would need to be more creative to maximise what little growing space they have immediately outside their homes.

However, all ChaCo members have access to the shared garden and growing space, with additional food-growing opportunities in our innovative metre-wide, chest-height, gossip-friendly raised beds incorporated into the east boundary wall of our property.

Will there be a workshop?

Yes. It’s shown on the drawings that the Planners approved and our Transport Plan commits us to providing somewhere to fix bikes.

In practice, we’ll be building a proper workshop ourselves once the dust has settled after our move into our new homes. So for the first year or so, we’ll probably commandeer one of our two guest rooms as a temporary workshop.

The idea is to have a well-equipped place where we can make and repair stuff: bikes, furniture, artwork, toys, models… whatever anyone’s into. A cohousing community can be a great environment for inter-generational sharing of skills and know-how while maximising the opportunities for having fun together.

Are there lots of rotas?

Probably! We’ll find out exactly how many rotas we need once we live together, but we can already say that some jobs need doing and we expect all members to take part in running the community.

This is what living in community is about: working with others to create this friendly, collective environment where we all belong. By doing your share you’ll get to know other members, have a real say and be part of the community. For example, in other communities members are expected to work with cleaning at least 3 times a year, attend community decision making meetings and take part in one team such as admin, process, gardening, kitchen, maintenance, learning and more. Getting involved in the running of the community is the best way to feel you belong, so the rotas are not just a burden but the stuff community building is made of.

Do I get free childcare?

No. But you can expect your neighbours to want to help out if they can, and some of our members really enjoy looking after young children. But this depends on the relationships you will develop with other members and is not something we formally offer as part of ChaCo.

How green is ChaCo?

ChaCo’s houses are being built to the AECB standard. Compared with typical UK buildings of the same size and type, carbon emissions are likely to be reduced by 70%. In comparison, the widely known Passivhaus standard tends to reduce carbon emissions by 80% – but is significantly more expensive to implement and somewhat beyond our budget.

We are also planning to produce as much of our own electricity as possible, so all of our south-facing roofs will carry solar panels.

Our Transport Policy is written into the planning approval for the scheme and commits us to limiting the number of privately owned cars to about 8 and establishing a car-sharing scheme on site. Our aim is to promote low carbon modes of transport and each of our homes will have its own bike locker.

We’re also going to be sharing many of our other resources: lawn-mowers, power tools, a bike trailer etc. Our communal laundry will cope with all our washing with just a few washing machines, freeing up planetary resources, cash and space in our homes.

How are the houses heated?

Nothing particularly unconventional. Every unit has its own combi gas boiler.

The government is planning to ban gas boilers in new homes from 2025, but we didn’t know that at the time we were putting our specification together, and gas was the most cost-effective solution for us.

We decided we wanted the most energy-efficient homes we could afford, so went for a “fabric-first” solution with the emphasis on insulation and air-tightness, with waste heat recirculated via an MVHR system. So although we’re going to be burning fossil fuels, we’re anticipating a 70% reduction in carbon emissions compared with typical buildings of the same size.

Will I have my own parking space?

No. One of our values is sustainability and while we realise that a car is essential for some people, we are committed to minimising our overall car use as much as possible and chose to prioritise green and growing space over parking space.

We have a total of 19 unreserved parking spaces for our 33 households – including visitor and disabled parking. This is far less parking space than is usually allowed for developments of this size. We have allowed for a maximum of eight privately owned cars in the community but will also have a number of car-pool cars that can be used by anyone who meets the eligibility criteria.

Are there any places left?

You can see which units are currently available on these two pages:

How do I join?

If you’re interested in living at ChaCo, most of what you need to know is on these pages:

Joining ChaCo
The Membership Process