Housing is one of the biggest expenses for American families—on average, two-person households spent 32% of their income on housing in 2019. Single folks, meanwhile, paid just over 38% of their income for a place to call home.
It makes sense, then, that many people are considering ways to lower their cost of living. Add a feeling of isolation and a desire for more social connection, and the single-family lifestyle might begin to lose some of its luster. One solution to this situation is communal living. Also known as cohousing, co-living, or intentional living, this strategy aims to combine the best parts of solo living with the benefits of a small community.
- Communal living isn’t new, but it’s becoming more popular as a way to build connections and potentially save money.
- Cohousing options range from premium buildings with hotellike features to intentional neighborhoods of single-family homes built around communal gardens and pools.
- Before committing to communal living, consider factors like cost, privacy, required contributions like cooking or maintenance, and social options.
What Is Intentional Living and Cohousing?
The concept of co-living isn’t new; colleges have operated dorms for hundreds of years, and Victorian-era model dwellings offered low-cost accommodation for the “laboring classes.” Multigenerational communal living is common in many cultures, and the Pew Research Center estimates that 20% of Americans live in multigenerational households. And, of course, the “Golden Girls” introduced many TV viewers to cohousing for seniors.
The idea behind cohousing is simple: Multiple households share a parcel of land and communal facilities. Examples of communal housing include:
- Several condos or houses clustered around a community garden or pool.
- A high-rise building that offers an in-house juice bar and gym equipment for residents.
- Grandparents who live in a separate suite and share meals or events with their children and grandchildren.
Though it can appear in many different formats, the idea behind cohousing is the same: Community members live aspects of their lives together, usually through shared meals, parties, and activities. These communal events can be as simple as weekly dinners and movie nights, or as elaborate as huge holiday extravaganzas. Some communities may also have required commitments, such as cooking dinner once a month or helping care for a shared garden.
Why Intentional Living Is Getting More Popular
Cohousing is on the rise, and not just because it’s fun. Attractive amenities and the chance to form strong communal bonds can entice some people to choose intentional living. The opportunity to save money is another potential benefit, especially for lower-income people for whom the cost of housing is disproportionately high. Households making less than $15,000 per year spend 40% of their income on housing, compared to the 31% spent by those earning between $100,000 and $150,000.
Mobile and location-independent workers who enjoy moving easily and often may also appreciate cohousing. Many modern co-living properties cater to these needs, offering fully furnished units and flexible rental terms so that occupants are never stuck in a lease.
While companies generally charge a premium for this convenience, the hassle-free experience may be worth the cost.
Since intentional living revolves around community, it can also provide a sense of belonging for digital nomads and remote workers, even when they’re far from home.
How Much Does Communal Living Cost?
In notoriously expensive areas such as Los Angeles, intentional living may be attractive to people who want to save money while still living close to the action. But does communal living cost less than living independently? Let’s take a look at the numbers for one LA suburb.
Communal living costs at the Penmar community in Venice Beach, which features daily cleaning and free Wi-Fi, can be as little as $795 per month. Compare that to the median of $2,900 for a one-bedroom apartment reported by RentHop, and co-living might begin to look pretty enticing. Of course, at this price point, you probably won’t have everything you’d like—you’ll likely exchange privacy and space for affordability. But that tradeoff might be worthwhile.
In other areas, intentional living communities offer single-family homes within a neighborhood. For example, Wild Sage is a cohousing community in Boulder, Colorado, where houses cost more than the Denver metro average; at the time of this writing, a three-bedroom, three-bathroom home was listed for $725,000. However, residents pitch in to share maintenance of communal spaces, which leads to lower homeowners association (HOA) rates.
Some cohousing options include premium amenities. Studios in the New York City WeLiving community start at $3,091 per month but include furnishings, housekeeping services, 24/7 front-desk staff, and a shared chef’s kitchen.
In short, shared living costs will vary according to your needs, location, and desired level of community engagement, from inexpensive pods to pricey premium condos to close-knit neighborhoods.
How to Decide If Cohousing Is for You
When deciding whether to take the plunge into communal living, you’ll need to consider much more than just cost. Although cohousing can be cheaper, you’ll also be delving into an extended family of sorts. Ask yourself a few questions as you consider whether co-living is right for you:
- How much privacy is important to you? Are you happy to share a kitchen and living space, or would you prefer your own separate suite?
- Will you enjoy daily, weekly, or monthly get-togethers with your community?
- Do you want to contribute labor or expertise, such as cooking or gardening?
- Do you want a longer-term community or one with many fresh faces?
It’s important to consider these factors before committing, especially if you’re thinking about buying a home in a co-housing community. No matter what you decide, intentional living communities are an increasingly popular option and offer connection along with a place to call home.