Cohousing – “intentional” living communities where residents occupy their own houses or condo units but otherwise share everything from potlucks to P-Patch duty with neighbors—is resurfacing in metro Seattle for the first time in more than a decade. Currently, two new developments are seeking members in advance of ground-breaking on Capitol Hill and in Newcastle on the eastside.

In addition, there’s more cohousing on the market than normal: West Seattle’s Duwamish Cohousing is offering up a rarely-available two-bedroom loft for $250,000. South of Seattle, newly-launched Woodard Lane Cohousing in Olympia is selling a handful of homes priced from the high $275,000 to about $430,000.
Architect's rendering of Trails at Newcastle
Architect's rendering of Trails at Newcastle

So what’s the story with cohousing? Cohousing communities are multi-family developments that cultivate and expect community participation from residents. Unlike buying a condo or new construction in a development, where “community” means little more than homeowners’ association  meetings to talk maintenance spending, buying into a cohousing community takes the idea of sharing resources much further: Cohousing sites typically encourage shared cooking and meals in a community dining room, shared participation in property upkeep, shared gardening and community service, birthday celebrations, and more neighborliness than your average building or city block.

Nancy Carroll, the Lake & Company agent representing the Duwamish Cohousing listing, says anyone buying into a cohousing community should attend its potlucks and social events to make sure they feel a cultural fit. While other members don’t “vote” on who buys into their community (i.e., this isn’t a New York co-op board), it is important that home buyers get a sense of what they’re joining. (Duwamish Cohousing’s site lists an interview with community members and reading “On Conflict and Consensus,” a decision-making process document, among steps to making a purchase there.)

With more cohousing properties in the offing in multiple cities, the Bothell-based Cohousing Association of the United States is running bus tours in San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle to school potential co-habitants or would-be cohousing group developers on what the lifestyle involves and how different communities operate.

“Living among strangers is not the cohousing model,” says Craig Ragland, the association’s spokesperson, who is swift to note that cohousing sites are not “communes.” Ragland says it's not just for the middle-aged, either, noting that a group of 20-somethings have formed Ravenna Kibbutz as a cohousing community with a focus around Judaism.

Getting in on the ground floor of a cohousing community may mean having a hand in deciding what community elements it boasts.  Both The Trails at Newcastle and the as-yet unnamed Capitol Hill cohousing project are still finalizing details of their plans before they break ground, in part because they’re still recruiting new members.

Grace Kim, an architect and owner of Schemata Workshop who is leading the charge to launch a new cohousing community on Capitol Hill, is slowly recruiting members to occupy her twelve-to fourteen-unit site near Cal Anderson Park. The goal is for a 2012 move-in date, she says, but she’s still pitching the idea to prospective residents at potlucks and information sessions and told PubliCola she didn't have pricing estimates yet.

Kim says the land for the project has been purchased and Schemata will work with partners to develop it. Unlike other cohousing communities, this one will feature relatively-small units ranging in size from 550 square feet to 950 square feet. Kim is picturing a community patio, kitchen and dining area, guest room, and an extensive rooftop garden that would provide residents with year-round food production and possibly enough produce that the community can sell it to local restaurants.

“We’re still in the early stages,” she says. “But it’s exciting because it’s been at least ten years since a new cohousing community has opened in Seattle.”

The Trails at Newcastle, an estimated $17 million development to be built on a six-acre patch abutting a green belt and trail system that runs east to Cougar Mountain, plans to break ground this summer on 32 homes. Eight homes—five conventional, three designated affordable—are already claimed, but the community continues to seek new members, according to Ben Kaufman, a community founder and project partner who plans to become one of the anchor tenants along with his wife. Prices are reasonable: $400,000 to $600,000 for four-star Built Green homes with 1,300 to 2,100 square feet and solar-ready design, meaning a buyer can easily upgrade to a solar heating system post move-in. Johnston Architects did the designs.

Kaufman says details of the community’s features are still emerging, but current plans include a sustainable water-conserving “rain garden” on the property, a shared tool shed, shared bike shed, and landscaped paths linked to a nearby trail system. In addition, Kaufman foresees a large community center building with a kitchen, guest room, and a multi-purpose room for yoga or conferences, topped with studios for self-employed types or artists. He’s angling for a Zipcar spot to spur car-sharing.

Get schooled on cohousing:

April 18: Cohousing general information session and meet-and-greet regarding forthcoming Capitol Hill project, First United Methodist Church, 180 Denny Way, 12:30 p.m. -2:30 p.m.

March, April and May gatherings: Trails at Newcastle is holding frequent meet-and-greet events

May 15: Seattle Cohousing Bus Tour, $95 for the day
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