Frequently Asked Questions
What is cohousing?
Cohousing is a form of intentional neighborhood in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own community. The physical design encourages social contact while preserving privacy.
What are common features of cohousing communities?
Participation – Residents as a group drive the planning and design of the community and make all major decisions.
Designs that facilitate community – From the placement of mail boxes and walkways to the orientation of the houses, site design is focused on supporting easy and spontaneous social contact.
Extensive common facilities – Cohousing communities have what’s called a “Common House” – a beautiful house that typically includes a kitchen, large dining area and relaxed sitting areas as well as smaller side rooms for things like art work, yoga, exercise, wood working, reading and often some guest rooms. The facility is considered an extension of your home and is meant for daily use. Other shared facilities may include storage sheds, gazebos, walking trails, community gardens and other open spaces.
Complete resident management – All members share responsibility for the management and care of the community – building, maintaining and enriching it via participation in decisions and doing the work.
Non-hierarchical structure – Leadership is distributed and responsibility is shared. There is no single leader or elected body that runs the community. Decisions are typically made by consensus, although some groups also use voting if the group cannot reach consensus after several tries. (This is rarely needed.) Because information is shared well and processed maturely by the whole group, resulting decisions are both wiser and owned by everyone.
Volunteer economy – There is no shared community effort to produce income. The community is not a source of income for its members. Residents typically volunteer their labor as their contribution to shared responsibilities.
How many cohousing communities are there in the United States?
The first U.S. cohousing communities were built in the early 1990s. There are now 165 U.S. communities, according to the nonprofit Cohousing Association of the United States: 148 are completed and 17 are under construction. Another 140 groups are organizing; 35 of those have acquired land they are developing.
Shepherd Village is the first cohousing community in the state of West Virginia and the first senior cohousing community in the Washington DC metro area.
How is Shepherd Village different from a commune?
Shepherd Village homes are privately owned, fee simple, and there is no shared income or ideology.
What if I don’t feel like socializing all the time?
Very few of us feel like socializing all of the time. In cohousing, there is no expectation to be social at any particular time. Cohousing offers the choice of enjoying the privacy of your own home (and common areas that are not currently in use), or enjoying whatever happens to be going on in the neighborhood. How much you socialize is up to you. Many cohousers in other places create their own signs or symbols to let their neighbors know if they would prefer not to talk at the moment. Of course, those of us who choose to live here do so because in general, we enjoy getting to know one another. Cohousing is actually very popular with introverts, because there’s no “work” required to socialize; it’s “built-in.”
What if I don’t like all my neighbors?
Well, don’t be surprised – would you expect to like every single person in a group of 30 households? There will naturally be some people with whom you get along better than others. But when that person who slightly annoys you picks you up at the airport or shows you how to grow scrumptious tomatoes, he or she might not seem so bad. You may even grow to like people whom you had earlier judged poorly. Some say that cohousing is the biggest personal growth experience you’ll ever have.
What is accessible design?
As people age, they sometimes need different features in their homes – like having sufficiently wide doorways to accommodate walkers or wheel chairs, easy-open door handles, walk-in showers, no steps required for daily living, etc. We have incorporated many of these “universal design” features.
Do residents have their own kitchens?
Yes, each residence has a fully equipped, private kitchen. In addition, the Common House contains a gourmet kitchen, where community members can share as many meals as they want each week.
How will Shepherd Village be physically maintained?
Members are responsible for the interior maintenance of their individual homes. Exterior maintenance and maintenance of the commonWe’ll decide how to organize doing the work together. Some of the work is paid for with Homeowners Association fees.
How “green” is Shepherd Village?
While we recognize that building new housing has an environmental impact, Shepherd Village members value sustainability. The site design clusters the houses to preserve open space. Members have worked with the architects to include energy efficient and sustainable practices to the extent the budget will allow. Living close to neighbors and friends and within three blocks of the center of town will reduce vehicle fuel consumption. The sharing of a vast array of items, from tools to air mattresses, among residents will lower our need for consumer items. We will make good use of our on-site recycling center and compost our yard and kitchen waste.
What about covered parking?
The community is pedestrian friendly, with a design that gives people priority over cars. Each household has one covered parking space available, mostly carports, with some garages. There are also clustered open parking spaces.
What do homeowners own?
Each Shepherd Village homeowner owns his/her own home, and the land under and immediately around it. Through the homeowners association, homeowners also own a share of the Common House, chicken and garden sheds, workshop and land.
What if I own a Shepherd Village home and decide to sell later?
You would sell your Shepherd Village home just as you would sell any other home that you owned conventionally, except that your buyer may need to meet the age restriction requirements (80% of our homes must have one household member 55 or older). In many cohousing communities, cohousing units have appreciated more rapidly than conventional real estate. The HOA will maintain a List of Prospective Buyers/Renters to be the first to be informed of the sale before approaching the wider market. The HOA will hold the first right to purchase at fair market value.
Are there meetings?
We have monthly Member meetings, which are planned, managed and evaluated to respect the energy and time of members and enable progress on the Village. Each member is encouraged to become a part of one or two teams that meet to do much of the work of the community between monthly meetings.
What is consensus?
“Consensus decision making is a creative and dynamic way of reaching agreement between all members of a group. Instead of simply voting for an item and having the majority of the group get their way, a group using consensus is committed to finding solutions that everyone actively supports, or at least can live with.” A fuller discussion of consensus decision-making is on the Seeds for Change site,
Who can/can’t live at Shepherd Village?
At least 80% of our households must include one resident member who is 55 or older. Members are expected to participate in the life of the community and share the values of the community (mutual respect, tolerance, care for the earth and each other). There are responsibilities of membership, including attending meetings and participating in teams. Before joining, a prospective member will have extensive opportunity to interact with other members so that an informed decision can be made concerning how ready the person is for community life at Shepherd Village. We hope to maintain a diverse community, because we believe that life is richer if many different viewpoints and experiences are available.
What is a Common House?
A Common House is a space that is like an extension of each person’s individual home. The price of each home includes a share of the cost of the Common House. Owners share the space. The Common House is the heart of a cohousing community. Our Common House has a kitchen, spacious dining area suitable for shared meals and community meetings, comfortable living room, media room, exercise equipment room, yoga/meditative movements room and guest rooms.
How do you handle shared meals?
Most cohousing communities have shared meals at least once a week. Some are potlucks; some are prepared by a team of volunteers at low cost to those who eat. We are just getting organized, but we have some very good cooks among our Shepherd Village members so we expect to have shared meals more than once a week!
What shared activities will there be?
Besides common meals, meetings, work parties and other gatherings, cohousing makes it easy to become part of a group that does spontaneous activities together, such as go to a movie or watch one together at home, go for a hike, kayak float, or a bike ride. The design of the community will make it easy to connect with one or more people who enjoy the same things as you. The whole community will probably celebrate some events together in the Common House or elsewhere on the land. Working together to garden, landscape or maintain the Common House can be a fun way to grow relationships.
Is there a “no smoking” policy?
Yes, our members have adopted a very clear “no smoking” policy concerning all buildings (private and shared) and anywhere on the grounds. We are committed to the health and well-being of all of our members.