The Boulder Community Housing Association (or BoCHA) is a neighborhood association based not on a shared geography, but on the shared experience of living in community.
Our members include both non-profit owned and rental housing cooperatives, residents of the city’s co-housing communities, and other citizens interested in enabling and experiencing community oriented living in the city of Boulder. Our membership encompasses a wide range of incomes, ages, and occupations, but we all know what it means to share space and other resources more intensively than is common in the US today.
What’s a housing cooperative?
A housing cooperative (or co-op) is a community of unrelated people who share a dwelling and operate as a single housekeeping unit, broadly in accordance with the Rochdale Cooperative Principles. Co-op members usually pool resources to purchase food together and jointly pay for other household expenses. Frequent shared group meals and an explicit system facilitating the division of household responsibilities are also common. Co-ops usually hold regularly scheduled house meetings (often weekly) where decisions affecting the entire household are made, and members are held accountable for their responsibilities to the community. Co-ops frequently use consensus or other egalitarian decision making processes. It’s been our experience that in order for these types of household systems to function well without creating excessive overhead, a cooperative needs to have 10 or more members.
Why live cooperatively?
Our members have lots of different reasons to choose this way of life, but many of them are related to making housing affordable, living sustainably, fostering community, and enhancing autonomy.
Cooperative living is intrinsically affordable because it allows community members to more efficiently share resources and take advantage of economies of scale. We also like to think of cooperative living as being systemically affordable — rather than simply subsidizing housing, cooperatives reduce almost all living expenses with mutually reinforcing systems.
Cooperatives generally have less square footage per person than other living arrangements, making more cost effective use of the same habitable space. Bulk purchasing of food reduces its cost, and regular preparation of home-cooked meals reduces the frequency with which people eat out. Household goods, tools, and appliances are also shared across more people than in a typical household, reducing per person costs. Many co-op residents also share cars for occasional use, reducing fixed per-person transportation costs.
It’s common for families in cooperative households to share some childcare responsibilities rather than outsourcing it. Cooperative households also usually take care of their own minor maintenance, saving money that might otherwise be spent on outside labor. Similarly, older adults can benefit from community support and meet many of their daily needs without having to pay for an in-home caregiver. A group of older adults living under the same roof can share the costs of house calls from healthcare providers, or share the expense of in-home care when it becomes necessary.
Many people in affluent communities like Boulder see sustainability as a luxury good — something that you need to pay extra for. In contrast, our experience is that many of the same things that make cooperative living affordable also dramatically reduce per-capita resource use. Less square footage per person means less energy used heating, cooling, and lighting the living space. In 2014, we compiled electricity, natural gas, and water usage from six of our member cooperatives, and found that
The embodied energy of the buildings and their durable contents are also shared by more people, reducing per-person impacts. It is easier to pay the larger up-front costs of high efficiency appliances, hot water heaters, LED lighting, and other energy consuming items in the household when those costs are shared over more people and the items are more fully utilized than in a typical single family residence. Additionally, equity cooperatives do not suffer from the split incentives that often discourage landlords from investing in building energy efficiency improvements.
Household sharing of motor vehicles can not only reduce the number of cars per person, but also often results in more efficient vehicle usage, similar to that seen by users of traditional car-sharing services. The intrinsic affordability of cooperatives allows residents to be centrally located in areas that might otherwise be prohibitively expensive, giving them easy access to transit in relatively walkable, bikeable neighborhoods. Historically the majority of the Boulder Housing Coalition’s residents have chosen to live comfortably and conveniently without their own vehicles, occasionally dipping as low as a single car in a household of 12 people.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, cooperative living teaches people how to lead high quality lives while treading lightly on the Earth. The cultural skills required for living in close quarters and effectively sharing resources exist, but have become rare in North American society.
Cooperative living provides many opportunities for residents to develop deep relationships with each other. We collaborate on household maintenance, routine chores, home improvement projects, and occasional work days. Many communities prepare shared meals and eat together most days, creating a family like atmosphere. Cooperatives are egalitarian micro-governments in which regular house meetings are used to make decisions and air issues that impact the entire household, including budgeting, the selection of new residents, event planning, and individual accountability to the community.
Sharing meals gives co-op members a regular opportunity to connect and stay aware of what’s going on in each others lives. Cooking for each other is an ongoing act of generosity and reciprocity that builds trust.
A growing body of research indicates that people with strong and broad social relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. This is especially true in our older population. Elders who continue to maintain close friendships and find other ways to interact socially on a daily basis live longer than those who become isolated.
Interpersonal conflict is also a part of living in any close-knit community. Rather than avoiding or ignoring it, we strive to give our members the tools to deal with conflict constructively. This includes training in non-violent communication, conflict mediation, and meeting facilitation. Living in community isn’t always easy, but it’s a rich and varied shared experience that creates strong bonds between community members, and encourages broader civic engagement and social cohesion throughout the community. It’s common for individuals living in community to be active in local government and non-profit groups where they contribute their skills in collaborative decision making and meeting facilitation to help other organizations meet their goals.
The autonomous nature of cooperative living provides residents with many opportunities to acquire skills. Younger community members often learn how to cook from scratch for the first time. Setting and following a household budget teaches basic finance, bookkeeping, and accounting skills useful in many walks of life. Running house meetings teaches members how to facilitate orderly group discussions and decision making. Living with many people of differing opinions and backgrounds teaches tolerance.
Especially in cooperative households that hold equity in their property (either directly or through a group equity organization) residents are also responsible for their own minor maintenance and landscaping, and are often empowered to make significant alterations and improvements to the property as they see fit. This allows community members to learn basic carpentry, plumbing, gardening and other skills. Members of group equity cooperatives have the opportunity to participate in non-profit management and organizational governance. These opportunities prepare community members to start their own businesses and impact oriented organizations, or to someday take care of their own home.
The autonomy that is offered in cooperative living situations empowers community members and gives them much more of a stake in the management of their living situation than typical rental housing arrangements, which helps to ensure co-ops are good neighbors.
If you’re currently living in a cooperative or otherwise community minded Boulder household, and would like to stay in touch, you can sign up for our email list below, or contact us directly at one of the email addresses listed in the footer of this page.