Kiera Wright

There’s No Place Like Cohousing: A Study of the Location of Cohousing in the United States

April 10, 2021   /  

Name: Keira Wright
Major: Urban Studies
Advisors: Dr. Heather Fitz Gibbon, Dr. Hamed Goharipour

This study examines where cohousing develops in the United States as of early 2021. Previous literature has sought to explain the types of people who live in cohousing and the reasons for cohousing developing, but little to no research has been done on where cohousing is located and what makes a location suitable or amenable for cohousing. This study uses data from Esri and the United States Census Bureau, and the US Census American Community Survey to test whether or not the three cohousing typologies are statistically different from one another in terms of whiteness, income levels, home values, age, poverty, diversity, levels of owner-occupied housing, place, and how Democratic they are, as well as testing cohousing against generalized counties in terms of whiteness, income levels, home values, age, poverty, level of owner-occupied housing, and diversity. The findings indicate that there is statistical difference between typologies and between cohousing and general population of the counties they are located in for several of these variables. Some next steps could include the building of a profile for cohousing locations and then finding possible locations for cohousing that fit that profile. Another possibility would be investigating the relationship between cohousing and the level of income inequality, as there is some evidence found in this project that indicates that there are higher levels of income inequality in areas with cohousing, and the beginning stages of gentrification.

Story Map

Keira will be online to field comments on April 16:
2-4pm EDT (PST: 11am-1pm, Africa/Europe: evening)

30 thoughts on “There’s No Place Like Cohousing: A Study of the Location of Cohousing in the United States”

    1. Thank you Dr. Fitz Gibbon! And thank you for helping me so much throughout the whole process, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without you.

  1. Keira, congratulations on your I.S. and upcoming graduation!! It is great to see your senior research because I remember it from last semester in our Intro to Web GIS class. I wish you the best as you turn the page to a new journey in life after Wooster. (Hopefully I’ll be able to see you during your presentation time on Friday.)

    1. Thank you Dr. Judge! I learned so much about GIS in your class and it played such a large role in my IS so I’m really grateful for the experience.

  2. Thank you for sharing your findings with us Keira! I didn’t know anything about cohousing before watching your video and I do enjoy learning. Congratulations on your graduation!

    1. Hi Lauren! It was a really interesting project for me because I also didn’t know anything about cohousing before I started. In some ways residential life is very similar to cohousing and that’s something I thought about a little during my research.

  3. Congratulations on completion of this capstone project. Well done, Keira. You put in the work and the experience will serve you well down the road. Hard to believe that four years have passed so quickly. Looking forward to your graduation and the next next milestone in your journey. Much love.

  4. You did a great job, Keira! Working on a new topic is always challenging, but you made it! Congratulations and good luck today!

    1. Thanks Dr. Goharipour! I had a great time working on IS with you, and I hope it was equally as interesting for you as it was for me.

  5. Well done! Looks like a lot research, time, and brain-power went into preparing this presentation. Congratulations on the completion of this project and the upcoming graduation! Will see you soon! love ya!

  6. Great job Keira! Is cohousing a phenomenon that is specific to the US? Or does it crop up elsewhere in similar ‘whiter’ and ‘wealthier’ ways?

    1. Hi Marloes! Congratulations to you too 🙂 Cohousing is more prevalent in Europe, specifically Denmark, which is whiter than the United States. They also have more of a culture of social support there in many ways because the sense of shared values and thus community is less stigmatized there, as well as denser cities. European cohousing looks very different from American cohousing in a lot of ways, which wasn’t something I focused much on, but would be a great area of future study.

  7. This is such an interesting study on a concept that I think a lot of us really don’t think about in the day to day! So excited to hear about all the amazing things you’ll do post-Woo.

    1. Thanks Angie! Congrats on your IS as well, I’m sure you’re going to be doing great things. I’ve really enjoyed having you as my TA in Urban Environments 🙂

  8. Keira, this is an incredible project! I know that a lot of people are recently becoming attracted to the idea of community living like this. Do you think cohousing is going to increase in popularity over the next few years? Also, your story map is fascinating! Wonder job!

    1. Thank you Halen!! I think that right now is a key moment for the future of cohousing for a variety of reasons. Firstly because like you said, the idea of community living is becoming increasingly popular. I also think that the idea of community and connection is maybe shifting a bit due to the pandemic because of the isolation that people are experiencing. At the beginning of the pandemic there were a lot of feel good stories about connecting more with your neighbors and people helping out those around them. That’s the key function of cohousing, is forming that community, so I think that with the pandemic it definitely opens the window to that. Communities provide networks of resiliency which is especially important for those that are most vulnerable. However as I discovered in my research, the people creating cohousing right now are wealthier and less disadvantaged. Without a fundamental shift in cohousing projects I think it will continue to be that way. Since cohousing in the US is still relatively new, I think now would be the time to make that shift to being more of a tool to help those who are disadvantaged and could benefit more from it.

  9. Great Job Keira! Thanks for being my friend for the last four years. Can’t wait to visit you in Cleveland!!!

    1. No thank you for being my friend because I’m definitely harder to deal with than you are hehe

    1. Hi again Mommy! I was actually originally interested in communes when I first started my project, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to visit one with the pandemic and as I did more reading my focus turned to cohousing. The main differences between communes and cohousing are that communes tend to be one shared living space and are more informal, where in cohousing everyone has their own private homes and legal rights to their own property with some shared spaces. Another main difference is that in communes there’s often shared income or money that would belong to everyone in the commune while in cohousing everything is more individual and cohousers don’t share money.

  10. There is no place like co-housing!! This project is so exciting (and needed) and I can’t wait to see all of the wonderful things you continue to do.

    1. Thank you Lia! I think one exciting part of cohousing is most of them do have sustainability as one of their values, but I do think that a lot more can be done on that front/crossover zone. I hope your Junior IS is going well!

  11. Could you elaborate on the differences between the U.S. and European co-housing models? Are there co-housing models in Asia, Oceana, Africa or Latin America? How could the U.S. model be improved to serve a broader population? Who should take the lead, in your opinion—the private sector or state/local/federal government?

    1. Hello again Daddy! I can speak to some of the differences between US and European cohousing models, but I can’t really go into depth on it as my focus was mostly based on US cohousing. I would say the main difference I found in my research is that it’s more popular in Europe in part due to higher government acceptance. Cohousing in Europe was more successful as a housing form at its start (I think because it’s more in line with more democratic-socialist values), and the government took notice and thus changed zoning codes to make it easier to form. In the US cohousing tends to operate more like a Homeowners Association neighborhood legally because cohousing is not as broadly accepted or recognized here, which makes it harder to form and exist, which in turn makes it less recognizable and legitimized. An interesting thing that I found was that cohousing in Ireland was more similar to cohousing in the United States, and the researchers believed it was due to the value of private property and owning one’s home in Ireland (similar to the American dream). Cohousing does exist in Oceania, but I didn’t see anything about it in Asia, Africa, or Latin America in my research. Although I think it’s important to note that familial structures and housing are different within different cultures, because in many Asian and Latin American cultures there’s a norm of many generations of one family living in the same household, while that’s less true in the United States.
      I think that one way the US model could be improved would to be more focus on retrofit cohousing, which is a less popular form of cohousing. Retrofit cohousing is taking housing that already exists and forming a cohousing group with your neighbors, so there is less of the control of the built environment aspect, but it tends to be more affordable which I believe is one of cohousing’s biggest problems. I think spreading more information to the general public to raise awareness would do a lot of good, as cohousing is so easy to modify to fit a group’s needs that cohousing can take on such a variety of forms to benefit a diverse population.
      In terms of taking the lead, I think that part of the responsibility lies with the local government to modify their zoning codes, which are often a barrier to new build cohousing projects. I don’t think the private sector should be very involved other than being contracted to build if it is a new build, as the whole point of cohousing is that it is formed by the people involved so a bottom up model rather than a top down one is important in cohousing. Especially because as I mentioned earlier, cohousing is so modifiable and moldable to each group, each one will look different, making it difficult for the private sector to provide that on a larger scale.

    1. Hi Sandye! I’ve thought about this a lot recently as I’m trying to figure out my next life steps. There are definitely many benefits to living in cohousing, but right now I don’t think I would want to live in a cohousing project. Maybe if I had a family/children or was in a later stage of my life I would. I think I would also prefer to live in a more diverse area than the ones that cohousing projects are currently forming in, so maybe in the future as cohousing changes and hopefully shifts to be more diverse and equitable I would consider it.

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