Madeline Friberg knows that when people hear “cooperative housing,” they probably think “hippies.” She knows that for many, a co-op housing community seems atypical, but it’s the only lifestyle she knows.
“It’s definitely hard. You have to make sacrifices,” said Friberg, a 19-year-old co-housing resident.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development considers a renter to be “cost burdened” if they spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. According to Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, almost half of renters are. Threatened by student loan debt and the high cost of rent, millennials are looking for ways to live both independently and within their means. A more affordable option to consider is community living. As of January 1, 2018, the average price-per-square-foot for a New York City co-op costs $1,073, compared to $1,622 for a New York City condo, according to cityrealty.com.
Madeline Friberg moved into cooperative housing with her family when she was two, so she has no recollection of a life beforehand. After she graduates college and starts her own family, she wants to continue living in a co-op community, but she acknowledges that it’s not ideal for everyone.
Here are three factors to consider before entering the cooperative housing lifestyle.
1. Do you like working closely with others?
Sure, most people can stand their co-workers from nine to five, but for members of co-op communities, collaboration is a necessary component to their home life. Madeline Friberg’s mom – Julie Friberg – moved to their community in Tucson, Arizona 17 years ago. The co-housing community is a form of a co-op, but each family typically has their own townhouse. Julie Friberg said because their houses are smaller than an average house, there are common areas – such as a large kitchen, an exercise room and a guest room – everyone in the community shares.
Madeline Friberg said working together can be complicated. “For the adults who are trying to make it a good environment, there can be a lot of tension, because people have a lot of differing opinions,” she said. “In our community, we have general meetings to make decisions, so a lot of stuff goes down there – people get in fights because they want the best environment.”
For Indiana University student Leo Mohlke, who lives in cooperative housing in Bloomington, Ind., the biggest downfall is having less control. Because he’s working with others, he’s not able to organize his home exactly like he would like. “On the other hand, everyone is pretty lenient if I want to organize something better and am willing to keep it that way,” he said. “And sometimes, better things happen with the space than what I would have done, so it all works out.”
2. Are you a self-starter?
The Fribergs’ cohousing community was started 17 years ago, after Friberg and acquaintances envisioned the collaborative community they live in today. But, she said that self-starter mentality is what keeps the community prosperous. Every member has a different skillset they can use to benefit the community. Julie Friberg said for someone to be a productive community member, they should know what they’re good at and step up to complete that task within the community.
“It has to be something that you enjoy the process and it’s not just about the product, because the process of collaborating together, the process of making decisions together in cohousing – it tends to be through consensus,” she said. “It takes time, so you have to enjoy the process.”
Raines Cohen, a volunteer for the Cohousing Association of the United States, said that from his experience living in cohousing, most of the people he meets are leaders in some capacity. Many of them are creative people who care deeply about others. He said many are founders of non-profit organizations, leaders in environmental sustainability, or people who are driven to engage and work with others.
“People with a tolerance for talking to each other and listening and willingness to be loved – willingness to learn as they go,” he said.
3. Do you enjoy community involvement?
Cohousing communities aren’t referred to as communities for no reason – community involvement is the purpose for cohousing, said Cohen. “Am I really interested in connecting with my neighbors?” is a question he said those interested in cohousing should ask themselves. “The time goes into having the connections and tools for quality conversation.”
For Madeline Friberg, growing up in cohousing meant more than community involvement, it meant growing up in a family atmosphere. But, she said that atmosphere wouldn’t exist without people putting in effort and interacting with their neighbors to create a community. Throughout the community, many of the children were her age, which meant she always had people to hang out with.
“When I was in school, it seemed like everyone else’s best friends were also from school, but for me, all my best friends were the people I lived with and people from school were just like, you know, other friends,” she said.
Positives of Cooperative Housing
But, accompanying the positives of living in a close community, Madeline Friberg said it could be difficult for her when she made mistakes because the entire community was watching her grow up. Even though no one other than her parents raised her, she said the other adults were influential in who she grew up to be.
“When all your neighbors are strangers, you don’t care what they think, but with this, I know everyone, and they’ve known me since I was 2,” she said.
Although Madeline Friberg says she knows that community living is the right option for her, she says everyone has to evaluate the lifestyle before making the transition into a cohoused community.