Cohousing is where people living in the same area decide to join forces and work together as a community. They have private homes but share communal areas, resources and tasks. Cohousing can offer company and support for older people, but it might not suit everyone.  

This guide explains what cohousing is, how communities work and the potential advantages and disadvantages for older people. We cover the following areas:

1. What is cohousing?
2. Cohousing and older people
3. The benefits and drawbacks of cohousing

What is cohousing?

Cohousing is all about community. People live in private, self-contained homes but share communal areas and amenities, and socialise or eat together. Cohousing schemes typically contain between eight and 40 households.

A cohousing community might be a new purpose-built development, an old estate, a set of streets or even a cul-de-sac. But it’s the people that make the community, not the houses. Cohousing communities are created and run by their residents, so there is no outside help to manage the community or maintain facilities.

Cohousing is a relatively new concept in the UK. The first communities were all owner occupied but an increasing numbers of housing associations and other groups are designing cohousing communities and looking for new ways to offer affordable housing to buy or rent.

Cohousing and older people

Some cohousing communities are for families, and others are specifically for older people. Cohousing for older people can help to tackle feelings of loneliness and isolation. Members of the community look out for each other and give one another mutual support.

For many older people it can remind them of the neighbourhood spirit they knew when growing up.

A central area

Most cohousing communities are built around a central area. This is the hub of the community and might contain a communal kitchen, shared laundry and a large eating area where everyone can eat together. There might also be a guest room where members of the community can have visitors to stay.


Cohousing communities are often built to be sustainable, using renewable energy and other eco-friendly ways of living.


The community will usually decide on communal tasks that have to be done and allocate jobs to certain people. That might mean putting in a few hours per week to help your community – by mowing the communal lawn, painting a fence, doing a bit of gardening or cooking a group meal.

Sharing resources

People living in cohousing can save money, and be more environmentally friendly, by sharing appliances and gadgets. For example, using communal laundry facilities, and sharing garden and DIY tools.

The benefits and drawbacks of cohousing

There are some obvious benefits to cohousing:

  • Reduced costs: sharing resources can help to cut daily living costs
  • Environmentally friendly: sharing resources can help to reduce the impact on the environment
  • Good neighbours: offering mutual help and support
  • A sense of community: can help to combat loneliness and isolation
  • Sharing jobs: many hands make light work
  • Security: community members look out for each other.

However, living in a close-knit community may not suit everyone and there are disadvantages:

  • Lack of privacy/time alone: although everyone has their private home there is an expectation to participate in the community. So this isn’t for loners.
  • Work commitment: members of the community share the workload and this might be too much for some older people with illnesses or disabilities.
  • No specialist care or support: unlike sheltered housing or retirement villages there are no onsite care options. Although people can still use care at home services.
  • Community decisions: many decisions are made by the group so you can’t always make the choices that best suit you.

More information

  • Retirement villages: Our guide to the pros and cons of moving to a retirement village, which might be an alternative way of living to cohousing.
  • Sheltered housing: Read about the different types of sheltered housing and the benefits and drawbacks of assisted living.
  • Your relative moves in with you: An overview of what to think about if you are considering moving your relative in with you.

Page last reviewed: 31 January 2016
Next review due: 30 September 2017