IOWA CITY — When almost a decade ago a group of friends from the Iowa City area realized their children were getting older, they began to imagine what their lives would be like once they became empty nesters.
Instead of downsizing their homes or moving to a warmer climate, the friends discovered a concept started in Denmark called “cohousing,” or community living with private homes built around a common space.
They formed an LLC and chose a piece of land on Miller Avenue between West Benton Street and Highway 1 in Iowa City for a 36-unit sustainable cohousing development called Prairie Hill. Plans call for 12 total buildings on the property but residents are able to choose the size of their units from various options.
“It seemed like an answer that was way beyond their original vision, that would not only be a place where people could age in place but that could extend to being a multigenerational community,” said Del Holland, one of five members who are the LLC’s managers. “They didn’t really want to be in a place where everyone was like them.”
What is cohousing?
Cohousing is an “intentional community of private homes clustered around a shared space,” according to the Boulder, Colo.-based Cohousing Association of the United States, a nonprofit organization that advocates for raising awareness of the benefits of cohousing and supporting development of communities nationwide.
The organization reports there are 165 established cohousing communities across the country, including 148 that are completed and another 17 under construction. Additionally, the organization reports 140 other cohousing communities are forming with 35 already having purchased land for development.
California leads the way with more than 50 cohousing developments. Colorado, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington are among the other most populated states in terms of cohousing developments.
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Prairie Hill residents said their cohousing development is the first in Iowa, which coincides with the Cohousing Association of the United States’ online directory, which relies on self-reporting.
According to the association’s website, cohousing.org, shared spaces in a cohousing development typically feature a common house “that may include a large kitchen and dining area, laundry and recreational spaces. Shared outdoor space may include parking, walkways, open space and gardens.”
Neighbors also often share their resources, like tools and lawn mowers.
“Neighbors collaboratively plan and manage community activities and shared spaces,” according to the association. “The legal structure is typically a homeowners association, condo association, or housing cooperative. Community activities feature regularly scheduled shared meals, meetings and workdays.
“Neighbors gather for parties, games, movies or other events.”
An Appealing concept
Donna Rupp, a resident moving into the first building at Prairie Hill, said both the community and sustainability aspects of cohousing are appealing to her. She said she could see the community forming because neighbors already had offered to help her move the bathroom tile she planned to use. Additionally, members have meetings monthly to discuss construction and decisions like the color the community building should be, she said.
The first four Prairie Hill residents will be able to more in around the start of November and the community building is scheduled to be completed at the end of the year. In all, the community now has 15 members, but they continue to recruit with informational meetings for those who may be interested in purchasing a unit. The group’s next meeting is from 4 to 5:50 p.m. Saturday at Housing Fellowship, 322 E. Second St., Iowa City.
Craig Mosher, who is among the first residents who will be able to move in, said the members are trying to live as environmentally friendly as possible while building a sense of community at the same time. He hopes the community members will share cars, maybe using his electric vehicle to get around town or borrow someone else’s for longer trips.
The residential units will be centered on the common community house that includes laundry, a children’s play area, guest rooms and a community kitchen, among other features.
“A cohousing principle is to live small and to live large at the same time,” Holland said. “So the units are kind of small, one and two bedrooms being the most common things. But what if you have some company come in? Well, the common house has guest rooms that we can all use.”
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At nearly 8 acres, the property also will have plenty of green space, including gardens, orchards and reconstructed prairie, Holland added.
The 36 units all designed to be owned by the occupants with the interiors built to suit.
The prices of the units vary but the range is generally from $163,500 for the studios to $350,000 for the largest unit, Holland said. Additionally, community members will pay condo fees that help cover insurance, property taxes and maintenance funds.
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