Above, the cover photo was taken in Memel, South Africa. Former CoHoUS board member Steven Ablondi and his wife Cindy Burns are building cohousing there to help fill the housing gap in post-Apartheid South Africa. They are teaching construction trades and use “rammed earth” blocks to construct the homes.
America has always been a country divided. What is it about cohousing that can close those social and cultural divides?
Cohousing, as a national m ovement, is just beginning to come to grips with the potential influence intentional communities can have when influencing social change efforts.
In fact, the Cohousing Association of the U.S. (CoHoUS) is exploring retrofit, adaptive reuse alternatives to traditional cohousing that is largely accessible to people with lots of money and time.
Check out the “Affordable Conference on Affordable Cohousing.”
I provide this historical information to provide context about how cohousing can have an impact on making social change happen.
When the United States were founded, never in their wildest dreams did settlers from Western Europe think that there were local people freely migrating across what is now the southern border, or coming and going along the Pacific Ocean coast.
Today, the divides are more apparent. In my view, on one side of the canyon are those who haven’t been paying attention to those standing on the other side who see themselves as being increasingly disenfranchised since the end of the Cold War.
Life was good for main stream Americans during suburbanization following World War II. Beginning during the 1960s, their sense of privilege was challenged by legislated civil rights for people, primarily African Americans disenfranchised since the Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society that brought about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Then Affirmative Action was viewed as a program that took jobs and college placements away from the dominant culture as ways to level the academic and employment playing fields.
In the 1930s, the two main political parties flipped ideology. The Republican Party that included Lincoln, was once the party of inclusion and a strong national government, which evolved into the opposite, when Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal grew the federal government to pull the nation out of the Great Depression starting in 1932.
Seems that now, party identifications are flipping again. The Republicans are now the party with a galvanized working class base, while the Democrats have become the party for a highly educated, but fragmented elite class and have lost it’s historic New Deal base.
What does this have to do with affordable cohousing, diversity and inclusion? Those include an infinite number of subtle intersections and collaborations around class, race, ethnicity, ability, gender, sexual orientation, etc. It’s a daunting task to deal with each of these differences on their own.
I’d say that every cohousing community has as a value, one about diversity and inclusion. Based on the conversations I hear about these topics, there’s a sense of frustration around what to do.
Living in cohousing changes the way each of us looks at the world and how we better accept people different from ourselves. Affordable cohousing results in greater diversity.
I’d say, people are generally uncomfortable about discussing personal issues and views around Superman’s American Way, money, race, class, gender identity, sexual preference. But those discussions are key to forming strong and cohesive communities – intentional or not.
While the bricks and mortar of cohousing are the buildings where residents live, the individuals who form a community are the most important aspect.
I live in cohousing and while, at least in my experience, it’s far from perfect, the intentionality brings neighbors together to work through tough issues – even though some may be on the petty side – like do we get rid of that old chair or not – they might as well be matters of life and death.
The upshot is, if there’s a housing configuration that is suited to forcing conversations among divergent opinions it’s cohousing.
There are 170 existing communities and 15,000 residents. The typical cohouser are characterized as: Caucasian; having high perceived social class; high income; high levels of education; progressive; 65 percent of the time an introvert; 70 percent of the time a woman.
To me the biggest frustration about cohousing is this. Cohousers by definition, because we’ve chosen this collaborative, cooperative, consensus-based lifestyle, we should be able to organize ourselves into some higher “saving the world” purpose.
- Changing Superman’s American Way, we are driven to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, make a lot of money and be on top. These cultural norms create roadblocks for the advancement of caring and interactive communities beyond what is familiar.
- Cohousing communities, by definition, bring diverse people together. Cohousers look at their personal histories and make changes so as to become more inclusive as opposed to just believing it’s a good idea and how to outreach to diverse communities.
- There are institutional barriers such as city councils and planning boards Cohousing “burning souls” create and maintain high-quality conversations and relationships personally, in community, and with city and county planners with innovative projects.
- American culture of rugged individualism precludes cohousing from entering the mainstream as it has in other countries. Cohousing is just starting to go viral. There are untapped numbers of diverse people who are parts of the “non-traditional” cohousing demographic and learn ways to approach that market.
According to the Cohousing Research Network, retrofit cohouser demographics are more likely to include: more racial and ethnical diverse; lower and middle perceived social class; low to moderate income earners; progressives; more single mothers.
The cohousing movement can become a catalyst for positive change including, non-traditional and diverse cohousing communities that bridge the gap between the left and right, the haves and have nots, in the U.S. today.
Sign up today for the Affordable Conference on Affordable Cohousing. There’s a little something for everyone.