The following answers to this question have been provided by members of the Great Oak, Sunward, and Touchstone cohousing communities.

– Seniors have more time to give to community (if healthy).

– Accumulated experience can be useful to younger residents (life lessons).

– Provide grandparent role and understanding of aging to young children – continuum of life.

– Can share hobbies, skills, travel, historical perspective through stories.

– Have lived longer in groups – have ideas for getting along in close quarters.

– Time flexibility during day.

– Different knowledge.

– Conscientious about jobs and committees.  Work ethic built in.

– Grandparent figures.

– Value independence.

– Homes more available for meetings.

– Seniors bring to cohousing a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with all other community members.

– Have a strong work ethic and a keen sense of responsibility, and are more likely to fulfill their obligations and perform assigned duties.

– Seniors are usually no strangers to adversity and struggle and will not run at the first sign of trouble, but will be persistent and stay with a situation until it is resolved.

– Seniors know what it is to be committed to a cause or a purpose, and will find ways to be productive and useful to that cause.

– In general, people are happier when they are needed, no matter what the age.  For Seniors, it gives them a new lease on life, and keeps them active and involved in things going on around them.

– We have time to spend on projects, committees, and work.  We have experience in life and work to contribute when issues arise.

– We lend stability to the community.

– It is good for the community is so far as keeping our world big and preventing age segregation as it can naturally occur – just as other types of segregation can occur.

– It allows us the opportunity to naturally and easily come into contact with, and develop meaningful relationships with Seniors.  It allows us to lend a hand to Seniors which can help them age in place – at their home – for much longer periods of time.

– It gives us the wonderful, enriching opportunity to learn about a world we/our children never experienced – hearing stories, anecdotes, recipes, etc., of days gone by.

– Seniors have both wisdom and the time to share with us.  What a wonderful gift!

– Seniors have more time to do longer-term tasks.

– Work ethic built in (follow thru).  Experience in life.

– Often available during the day.

– Seniors bring life experiences to the community.

– Seniors are more responsible about getting jobs done.

– We can offer child care to young families.

– Seniors, having lived longer, have a certain amount of wisdom to offer younger members.

– Seniors tend to be conscientious in regard to doing their assigned jobs and always present at committee meetings.

– Seniors can be grandparent figures to children.

– Others may need our help.  For example, letting the utility person in your unit, sign for a package, jump start your car, and many other small jobs where you need another person’s help.

– Having somebody there most of the time to help when needed or just to keep an eye on the community.

– We have had experience with some of the challenges that come with living.

– Seniors have a chance of being around during the day to help in an emergency, receive packages, notice/help visitors, etc.

-Seniors often have more time flexibility than those who are working on a regular schedule and/or who are raising children.

– Seniors have time to help others.

– Many Seniors are experienced parents who recognize that everything does not need to be a federal case.

– It is important for kids to be around all generations.  For example, my kids are not afraid to be around all ages, and around death and dying.

– It is important for kids to see you can be a vital member of the community, no matter what age.  Also, children can experience how to treat people of different ages.

– Seniors have diverse experience and backgrounds.

– Great Oak Seniors play a grandparent role for me.

– Seniors are often available during the day – often are the people who respond to requests for help at this time of day.

– I like stories and remembrances.  I like sitting around the table at dinner and hearing people’s stories.

– Most of the Seniors have owned property before, and have an understanding of the practicalities involved.

– Most joyful “from the gut” comments about my kids have come from the Seniors.

– I am a Senior – I would like help getting to know the families in the community.

– I appreciate adult interactions with my child – particularly adults who are not currently parenting.

– Intergenerational interaction is nourishing to the spirit.

Les deux autres personnes ont été impliquées dans d’autres cas et n’ont donc pas pu être libérées, avec la plupart des femmes de trouver que ce qui fonctionne le mieux entre une et deux heures après l’administration. Je suis l’un des produits avant d’envoyer une évaluation de ce qui est nécessaire par rapport à l’estomac dans les taches rouges. Spasm des montagnes qu’ils devaient protéger le temps, qui est chaque avant-garde.


The following agreements were consensed upon at community meetings in 2010.  For more information please see the Book of Agreements.

2010-01-31   Workshop operating rules

2010-04-19   One time exception to th Late Association Fee Agreement re: when to place a lien

2010-06-21   Process committee revised mandate

2010-07-19   Alternative meeting proposal (renewal)

2010-11-15   Structure Reserve Fund increase at $10 per year

2010-11-29   Budget for 2011

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The Grounds Committee worked on the following projects during 2010.
– Alternative meeting on Grounds master plan – Feb. 3

– New orchard with 3 apple trees, 2 pear trees, and 2 cherry trees, between unit #10 and #11

– Compost bins added on east end of community

– Mudjacking to lift several sidewalks

– Hot tub fence mural of the great oak
– Removed oak trees from native plant area

– Lighting added along pathway, 2 on the east end shade structure, 1 outside the laundry room, 1 on hot tub fence, 1 at east entrance to parking lot (on unit #31), and 1 bollard near play structure

– Bat house added near play field

– Flagstone path laid leading to common house porch

– Trees added on north patio

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The following answers to this question have been provided by members of the Great Oak, Sunward, and Touchstone cohousing communities.

– Intergenerational interaction is nourishing to the spirit.

– Provides context of reality for us – multi-generational living in the wider world.

– Gives us many opportunities to contribute (maybe more than others).

– Keeps us active.

– Provides support from our peers and from younger members of the community in times of need.

– Gives opportunities to be needed and useful with resulting fostering of self-esteem.

– Provides outlet for accumulated wisdom (we hope).

– Gives all benefit of community that is closer (more intentional) than a neighborhood.

– Provides companionship, especially for singles and especially during the day.

– Shared resources and shared knowledge.

– Help with physical tasks and with technology.

– All different ages.

– Fresh ideas.

– You can help others and others can help you.
– Safety; companionship; resources

– Companionship: easy chances for interaction and involvement with neighbors.

– If multigenerational, a wider perspective than that of my age cohort alone.

– Living proof of the trends in changing lifestyles.

– A chance of finding someone who can lift something heavy, fix something mechanical, or help seniors with the latest electronic technology.

– Those of us who are retired like to know that there are people around during the day whom we know.

– It’s good to be able to live with all different ages.

– It is good to be intergenerational.  We enjoy interacting with children and younger families.

– Younger members can do the physically demanding jobs.

– Companionship/support from others of similar age.

– Answers, solutions, and resources for life concerns (references).

– Help with physical/technological tasks (when offered and asked for).

– People around during the day.

– Cohousing is good for seniors because it keeps both them and others in an age integrated environment which is important in an age segregated society.

– When elders are able to look out their window and walk out their door or fully participate in an intergenerational activity, it keeps their world “big” and increases the quality of their lives.  As their world becomes or remains bigger they feel more of a sense of purpose, and as they share their wisdom, more of a sense of usefulness.

– Interactions and relationships with others of all ages is what keeps us alive!

– Living in a cohousing community also gives seniors the security of knowing that there is help available from a younger person.

– Provides 24/7 opportunities for diversity.

– It’s good for seniors to be challenged by the various younger generations as to art, music, politics, technology, etc.

– The very nature of cohousing keeps members physically more active than in a conventional neighborhood: hours of prescribed community work; walking to garage, dumpster, garden, the common house.

– Social and caring advantages: we all know each other and can feel comfortable requesting help or to borrow items; we can feel useful for the same reasons and feel needed; social activities with other ages are most welcome.

– Cohousing allows seniors to maintain their independence for a longer period of time while also providing a safety net of others who are willing to help out when needed.

– Seniors can feel a sense of worth and belonging. They can impart wisdom and promote a sense of stability.

– Because I like people around me from all ages, not just the bracket I’m in.

– I want to hear different thoughts and ideas.

– I have no desire to live in a nice house or condo in a nice neighborhood and not know the people on my block.

– One never knows when I may need another’s help.

– Someday I will die.  I prefer to die in a place I helped build.

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The Grounds Committee worked on the following projects during 2009:

– Master Planning Weekend – Jan.31/Feb.1
– Added garden bed at east end of community
– Filled steps between units 24 & 25 with gravel
– Finished shade structure in east gathering area
– Laid sod on play field
– Added 3 trees – in west pod, east pod at unit 31, in grassy triangle by play structure
– Added flowering shrubs in east end
– Decided to hire out lawn  mowing

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this Saturday, June 7, 2008, from 9am to 3pm is the combined Touchstone/Great Oak yard sale! Directions are on our location page.

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Winter has been kind to us this year! Up to mid-January we had temperatures in the high 30s, 40s and low 50s. Then, when it did get cold and gloomy it got icy. I mean EVERYTHING got icy. Here are some picture of OUR FROZEN WORLD…


  click here for more pics…

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To do the work required to run the community, Great Oak depends on its members and their labor. Tasks range from maintaing the buildings and infrastructure of 37 units, to facilitating meetings to mowing grass and plowing snow. Unlike many cohousing communities, the tasks required to run the Great Oak meal program is a major part of the general work program. Meal jobs represent around 50% of the work hours.

Shovelling a pile wood chips mowing the lawn with some help

This being Michigan, the seasonal extremes mean that we have different jobs at different times of year. This winter (2006-7), we have a list of 88 different jobs representing 468 hours. Some jobs have multiple positions, and some people opt to perform multiple shifts of certain jobs. Since the list of tasks vary by season and workers like variety and change, we rotate jobs a few times a year. We also have community work days a few times a year to do those tasks that require many people at once and can be done en masse.
A general description of the Great Oak Work system that was posted to the Cohousing-L mailing list has details about our periodic work surveys and how we allocate work based on the preferences expressed on the survey.

work day Common House painting snow shovelling with the Great Oak truck

As listed in this other recent Cohousing-L message the most desired jobs for this upcoming work season were (the number represents the weighted “average” preference):

  • 42 – meal cleaner once a month
  • 27 – weekday meal assistant cook
  • 26 – light duty snow shoveller
  • 24 – sunday meal assistant cook
  • 23 – meal cleaner two times a month
  • 23 – Common House sitting and guest room cleaner
  • 18 – Common House laundry room cleaner
  • 17 – meals billing person
  • 16 – weekday meal head cook
  • 11 – sunday meal head cook

and the least desired jobs were:

  • -88 – community meeting childcare
  • -87 – Buildings committee steering rep
  • -87 – Buildings committee convener
  • -87 – Weekday head cook three times per month
  • -87 – Lilacc (Little Lake cohousing committee) committee rep

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This system has been in place for almost 3 years, over 600 meals, 2 community meetings per month, many committee meetings and thousands of hours of constructive labor. So far, we haven’t found a better way, but the work committee is always fine tuning and balancing the needs of the community with those of the busy and varied individuals who comprise it. The number of workers has been pretty consistent at around 60 adults, though the load per adult varies, with the goal always to maximize the happiness of all!
Below is the complete list of jobs, sorted by committee. Listed is also the hours per month on average someone doing the job can expect to spend and the number of positions available.

committee Job hours per month positions
buildings Buildings Committee convener 2.00 1
buildings Buildings Maintenance Worker 2.00 3
buildings Buldings maintenance coordinator 2.00 1
buildings Counted member (buildings) 2.00 2
buildings Steering Rep (buildings) 1.00 1
common house Bike Shed Maintenance 1.00 1
common house CH Committee convener 3.00 1
common house CH Decorator 1.00 1
common house CH Hottub and Hobart (dish-sanitizer) maintainer 1.00 1
common house CH Night Lockup 2.00 2
common house CH bathrooms cleaner 2.00 2
common house CH bathrooms spot cleaner 1.00 1
common house CH clean-up coordinator 1.00 1
common house CH dining room cleaner 2.00 2
common house CH game and media rooms cleaner 1.00 1
common house CH halls and common areas cleaner 2.00 2
common house CH inventory/shopper 4.00 1
common house CH kids room cleaner 2.00 1
common house CH kitchen cleaner 2.00 2
common house CH laundry room cleaner 2.00 1
common house CH maintenance coordinator 3.00 1
common house CH sitting and guest room cleaner 1.00 1
common house Counted member (common house) 2.00 2
common house Kids room coordinator 2.00 1
common house Steering Rep (common house) 1.00 1
finance and legal Bookkeeper assistant – Check Writer 3.00 1
finance and legal Counted member (finance and legal) 2.00 2
finance and legal Finance and legal committee convener 2.00 1
finance and legal Insurance point person 1.00 1
finance and legal Steering Rep (finance and legal) 1.00 1
finance and legal bookeeper assistant – Member Bookkeeper 4.00 1
finance and legal bookkeeper assistant – Check Depositor 2.00 1
finance and legal bookkeeper assistant – Check Logger 2.00 1
finance and legal general bookkeeper 6.00 1
grounds Counted member (grounds) 2.00 2
grounds Heavy-duty shoveller 3.00 3
grounds Light-duty shoveller 2.00 6
grounds Snow and Ice Removal Coordinator 3.00 1
grounds Snow plowers 4.00 4
grounds Steering Rep (grounds) 1.00 1
grounds Tractor (Snow plower) 3.00 1
grounds grounds committee convener 3.00 1
grounds point person for garbage and recycling 2.00 1
meals Counted member (meals) 2.00 2
meals Meal cleaner 1.50 52
meals Meal cleaner 2 times per month 1.50  
meals Meal cleaner 3 times per month 1.50  
meals Meal committee convener 2.00 1
meals Meals Scheduling Person 4.00 1
meals Meals billing person 2.50 2
meals Meals billing tech 1.00 1
meals Meeting Night cleaner 2.00 2
meals Meeting Night takeout orderer 1.00 2
meals Steering Rep (meals) 1.00 1
meals Sunday Meal assistant cook 2.00 8
meals Sunday Meal assistant cook 2 times per month 2.00  
meals Sunday Meal assistant cook 3 times per month 2.00  
meals Sunday Meal head cook 4.00 4
meals Sunday Meal head cook 2 times per month 4.00  
meals Weekday Meal assistant cook 2.00 27
meals Weekday Meal assistant cook 2 times per month 2.00  
meals Weekday Meal assistant cook 3 times per month 2.00  
meals Weekday Meal head cook 4.00 14
meals Weekday Meal head cook 2 times per month 4.00  
meals Weekday Meal head cook 3 times per month 4.00  
membership Counted member (membership) 2.00 2
membership Fun coordinator 1.00 1
membership New member handbook 2.00 1
membership Steering Rep (membership) 1.00 1
membership child care coordinator for community meetings 2.00 1
membership community meeting childcare 1.00 6
membership member database maintenance 1.00 1
membership membership commitee convener 3.00 1
membership outreach/contact 2.00 1
membership outreach/marketing 2.00 1
membership website hosting and backend maintenance 2.00 1
membership website maintenance 2.00 1
process Book of agreements content entry 1.00 1
process Community Reporter 2.00 1
process Conflict Resolution committee Co-Convener 1.00 3
process Counted member (process) 2.00 2
process Info committee convener 2.00 1
process LiLaCC Convener 1.00 1
process Steering Rep (process) 1.00 1
process agenda planning for community mtgs 2.00 1
process archivist and bulletin boards 1.00 1
process facilitate community meeting 2 times per season 2.00 8
process minute taker for community meeting 2 times per season 1.00 4
process process committee convener 2.00 1
steering Steering convener 2.00 1
tech GO-Net Administrator 2.00 2
tech GO-Net biller 1.00 1
work Counted member (work) 2.00 2
work Steering Rep (work) 1.00 1
work community work coordinator 3.00 1
work work allocation tech 1.00 1
work work survey tech 1.00 1

Cohousing: the modern equivalent of a “village” excerpted below:

It occurred to me that in the hierarchy of hacks this might be rather large, but one we have adopted and is well-tested is “It takes a village to raise a child”.

Specifically, we live in the modern, hip, non-“hippie” equivalent of that village, called “Cohousing” — ours is Great Oak Cohousing in Ann Arbor.

Attributes that make Cohousing the ideal setting to raise a child include:

  • intergenerational intentional community — in other words, we know and are friends with our neighbors; that is, everyone who lives here, wants to live here knowing all their neighbors — from kids to retirees; it is stimulating, diverse, educational, comfortable and absolutely natural
  • safe, pedestrian and kid-friendly physical layout — we have a non-motorized vehicle path that runs between our homes and kids can roam with their parents’ full confidence. A family who moved in last week wrote that within a day of moving in, their 6 year old already had 3 play dates on one day, 2 of which she arranged herself!
  • shared Common House with a kid’s room and game room, so your child can have a neutral place to play with other kids, and away from home at the same time
  • a natural meeting place on snow days and vacations when a suburban parent would cringe at having to chauffer
  • the physical layout and proximity of units and the Common House lend themselves to shared child-minding and adult interaction without needing to plan way in advance and drive somewhere — it’s convenient, can happen at the spur of the moment and does (we do it over email [broadcast or unicast], phone or just step outside and see who might help out)
  • optional common meals (5 nights a week at Great Oak) where the quality, variety and convenience is staggering (you can see the RSS feed of our upcoming meals at our website) — the meals are cooked and cleaned in rotation and the cost of ingredients is shared. Where else can you eat for the same price and quality as homemade, and only have to work for about 2 hours a month? and be home (if you don’t get caught up talking to your friends/neighbors) within a minute?

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So yes, the world is shrinking, and our communication options make virtual presence easier, but when your physical neighborhood is designed to help you interact, take care of the kids and share resources, you can be modern, hip, earth-friendly and relaxed!

Maybe this is too much of a lifestyle-hack to merit a blog-entry, but for any new parents, I feel it is imperative that they at least know such an option exists, especially before they plan on moving to a larger or different home.


For much of the summer, Great Oak, Sunward and Touchstone enjoyed a local Farmer’s market in the Touchstone parking lot every Tuesday from 2-7pm. Food, natural clothing, jams, syrups, flowers, produce, vitamins, bread, etc. were all available. Interested vendors should call 517-548-1780.

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The Great Oak workshop (shared with Touchstone) is taking shape. Great Oak donated the land and some portion of the construction costs with Touchstone paying for the rest. Great Oak and Touchstone will be partly funding the operating costs and the rest will be borne directly by those who use the workshop. Here is a video of the roof going up over the last weekend work day!

more pictures are in the workshop album.

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Our neighboring community, Touchstone Cohousing, was constructed primarily in 2005. From April 26, 2005 until June 2, 2006 we had a webcam setup which took a picture nearly every day at 2pm. This is the compiled video of those photos:

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Scio township, where Great Oak is located, so far, does not have good public transportation — the closest AATA public bus stop is 1.3 miles away at Wagner and Jackson. However, the township is trying to make public transportation more available as it can. To that end, The People’s Express is available for qualifying Scio Township residents to receive Transportation rides for $1.00, through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. Income limits are in effect. For details, see

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This past Thursday, Dec. 22, saw heavy usage at the Great Oak Commmon House. In addition to Judith’s regular Thurdsday Origami Group, a Solstice celebration organized by the Clarks and the (Mary) King family Christmas bake-off, there was an informal Art Show hosted by Sarah Ross.

The show featured paintings by Sarah, Catherine Lankford and Maria Beaugrand all of whom where students in the Fall 2006 session of Painting I at Washtenaw Community College. Our instructor, Nemanja Rosic, as well as friends, family and neighbors of the exhibitors also attended. There were light snacks, including cookies from Mary’s bake-off. A very artsy time was had by all.
The Art Wall At the Art Show

To see more pictures from the show, including some close-ups of the paintings go to: Art Show pics…

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Sunward Cohousing, our neighbor to the North, wanted to “liberate” some ex-members who had defected (opted to move to) to Great Oak. They decided to launch a water balloon assault…(the refrigerator boxes in the truck were not what they appeared — click on the image for more photos):
Great Oak vs. Sunward 2006 water balloon fight

Sneakily, some Sunwardians snuck into Great Oak in the early morning and added flow-restrictors to all the hoses, which limited the retaliatory options! Sunward’s General, George, was captured late in the battle, but unfortunately at the cost of Jillian, an ex-Sunwardian being kidnapped. An amicable swap, followed by a BBQ well-attend by both communities served to patch up differences…till next year!

Here’s a video of the mayhem:

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With cohousing, neighborliness comes with the house

Advocate Nick Meima has been instrumental in bringing concept to Ann Arbor area

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News Staff Reporter But when he became a homeowner in a nice Ann Arbor neighborhood where he had everything he’d always wanted, something didn’t feel right.

“It was all me, me, me,” said Meima, 52, former director of Glacier Hills Retirement Community. “There was no us-ness. And us-ness was what I really wanted.”

Meima’s life changed the day in 1989 he was invited to jury a student project on senior housing at the University of Michigan College of Architecture. On a coffee table in the library he saw a book titled “Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves,” by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett.

Five minutes later, he knew he’d found what he didn’t even know he was looking for. He found a new way to live.

Eventually, Meima became the driving force behind Sunward, the first cohousing neighborhood in the Ann Arbor area. A second community, Great Oak, was built. And now a third, Touchstone, is under construction, making this the first time in the United States three cohousing units have been built next to each other.

“I’m passionate about the sense of community that cohousing offers that a lot of people really want to have and don’t know how to create it,” said Meima, now a partner in the Cohousing Development Co. in Scio Township.

Software developer Ken Winter was at the first meeting in 1994, and remembers all the subsequent meetings in church basements leading up to the building of Sunward. Without Meima, it would never have happened, he said.

“It really did start in his soul,” said Winter, who became one of the first tenants at Sunward eight years ago. “He was the indispensable person keeping it all together.”

Meima, too, has been living at Sunward since 1998, in a comfortable three-story townhouse overlooking woods and a pond.

On a sunny day last week, Meima gave a reporter a tour of the three cohousing communities. Located in Scio Township, the communities are set back from Jackson Road on rolling land that could be out in the country if they weren’t eight minutes from downtown Ann Arbor.

Cohousing communities are based on a condominium ownership model, but are planned, designed and managed by residents who want a close-knit community. Townhouses are close together, and instead of each building facing a road, units are connected by walkways accented by flowers, ferns and shrubs. No herbicides or pesticides are allowed.

Children played happily on the playgrounds, while others did crafts on a table in the common house, which includes a dining room and kitchen for optional shared meals, exercise facilities, meeting spaces, a guest room, TV room, rented home offices, and meeting rooms.

Such a house makes life feel larger, said Meima, noting: “It’s a 7,000-square-foot extension on your house.”

The work is shared, with residents signing up for tasks ranging from gardening to bookkeeping, cleaning or cooking.

Communal dinners are optional, with each house given a monthly bill for the number of dinners eaten.

Doug Siewert and his wife moved into Sunward when it opened, and moved into a large house there after the birth of their son.

He calls Meima “the godfather of cohousing.”

“This is the first place I’ve lived that ever felt like home,” said Siewert, who was responsible for cooking dinner that night in the spacious kitchen of the common house. “Especially having a child, it’s a wonderful place to be. … The whole setup of cars on the outside and people on the inside makes sense to me.”

Residents are spiritually, politically, and economically diverse, Meima said. But they have one thing in common: They’re committed to being part of a close-knit neighborhood.

“Neighborhood comes first, house comes second,” he said.

Meima grew up in New Jersey. After earning bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology, he went to graduate school at the University of Southern California, where in 1974, he was one of the first 18 people in the country to receive a master’s degree in gerontology. He moved to Ann Arbor in 1977 to become director of Glacier Hills, a job he held until 1991. He then created a home health agency which he sold in 2000, a year before he started the Cohousing Development Co. He also continues to do consulting for various senior housing programs such as assisted-living retirement communities.

While working in an age-segregated environment, Meima realized he preferred an environment that included a mix of ages, so that young people could benefit from their elders’ wisdom.

Cohousing offers a mix of ages, as well as relief from the isolation so many people feel in traditional neighborhoods, he said.

He recalled an elderly woman a couple of years ago slipped on the ice while using her walker, fell down, and broke her hip. When she screamed, a neighbor ran out, then called 911 and got her a blanket. Within a minute, there were several neighbors out. Within a few minutes, someone had taken responsibility for her dog, someone offered to take her to the hospital, and someone else offered to drive that person home from the hospital.

“The flip side is when you have something to celebrate, you have a lot of people to celebrate it with you,” he said.

Despite the many opportunities for contact, privacy is not a problem, said Meima.

“Your house is your house,” he said. “Nobody comes in unless you invite them. If you’re in a hurry to get to work, you don’t have to talk to anybody on the way to your car. You can pick your moments when you want to interact and you can pick your moments when you don’t.”

Meima says he could never go back to a traditional neighborhood.

“The social distance between me and the neighbors was overwhelming,” he said of the old neighborhood. “There, you bought a house. I bought a house. We didn’t buy neighborliness. Here, you do. It’s a healthy way to live. And more interesting.”

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With co-housing, home is a community

October 1, 2002


Not everybody wants the white house with the white picket fence.

But the yard work and maintenance that come with traditional home ownership isn’t the only reason for ruling out that particular, and quintessential, American dream.

Some are seeking a sense of community they contend is missing in many of today’s neighborhoods, as the distance widens between neighbors’ front doors in new subdivisions and front porches give way to backyard decks.

Among the alternatives is co-housing where architecture – housing units are configured in close proximity with perimeter parking – and communal space work to encourage interaction.

“Interaction is inspired,” said Amy Nesbitt, who lives in an Ann Arbor co-housing community called Sunward.

The first such development in Michigan, Sunward has 40 units and more than 95 residents.

The co-housing concept originated in Denmark in the ’60s and took root in North America in the ’80s, according Robert W. Marans, professor of architecture and urban planning at the University of Michigan.

To date, there are about four other co-housing developments in Michigan.


Interestingly, Nesbitt wasn’t seeking to live in a co-housing community when she decided to relocate to Ann Arbor. Friends were living in a three-bedroom townhouse there and an extra room was available.

“I was very skeptical,” said the 32-year-old booking agent. “And I didn’t come for the interaction.”

Today, she plans to join friends in buying a unit in one of two co-housing developments planned next to Sunward.

“I always had the fantasy of doing a modern industrial condo or an old Victorian house,” said Nesbitt. The benefits of co-housing were enough to change her mind.

“It takes a long time in a traditional housing situation to meet your neighbors. You really have to work at it in regular housing. In co-housing, it’s more happenstance. It’s very spontaneous.”

Other benefits include the convenience of laundry facilities, a gym, a media center and a multi-purpose room in Sunward’s common house.

Group meals are prepared for and by residents four times a week; participation is optional, and every housing unit is equipped with its own full kitchen. But many residents, including Nesbitt, appreciate not having to cook every night and the luxury of more free time.

“It’s awesome for me,” said Nesbitt. “I tool in from work and there’s dinner.”

Adjacent to the common house dining area is a sitting room with fireplace and two-room play area for children with tables for arts and crafts, beds for naps and storage for toys and books.

Even mailboxes are in the common house as a way to bring together neighbors in conversation and camaraderie.

“That’s the key with co-housing – making it easy for people to connect,” said Nick Meima, chief founder of Sunward and president of the Co-housing Development Company, which is currently building Sunward’s two adjacent co-housing communities.

Already under construction is Great Oak, with 37 units ranging in price from $150,000 for a two-bedroom to $350,000 for a four-bedroom.

Construction on Honey Creek, which will have up to 46 units ranging from $97,000 for a one-bedroom to $350,000 for a four-bedroom, is scheduled to begin in 2003.


Sunward was developed jointly by Meima, seven core founders and the rest of the community’s original residents. Resident participation in the planning and building process is often a stated goal of co-housing communities.

Overall development layout also plays a key role in achieving the aims of co-housing.

At Sunward, for instance, some townhouses form parallel rows and face one another, creating what Meima calls a “lane.”

The setup might be best described as a miniature Main Street, and the idea is to reduce physical distance between neighbors.

“The more physical distance there is between people, the less likely it is that people will interact,” said Meima.

Indeed, avoiding one’s neighbors would be hard to do, especially if you’re sitting on the front porch.

However, Sunward residents seem to view lost privacy and a greater sense of community as a fair trade, said Marans, who led a 1999 University of Michigan study of development.

“What they lost in privacy, they gained in this feeling of community,” said Marans.

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Condo owners share a lot

Cohousing development brings together families who want a strong sense of community

December 30, 2001


For the 19 years that he lived in his Ann Arbor condo, Ed Herstein drove to work, drove home, parked his car in his attached garage and rarely saw his neighbors.

“There were few opportunities to meet other people,” Herstein says.

That changed when he moved to a new condo with an association that puts an emphasis on community and participation. These days, Herstein volunteers on several condo committees, eats in a communal dining room four times a week and is greeted by name as he takes a neighbor’s dog for a noontime stroll.

“Here, I know everybody,” says Herstein, 58, a retired technology consultant for a regional educational service agency. “It’s extremely pleasing to know that if I ever need to borrow a cup of milk, I can go to one of 40 households and never get turned down.”

Herstein’s one-bedroom condo is among the 40 units at Sunward CoHousing in Scio Township, just west of Ann Arbor. The neo-colonial townhouses, covered in clapboard-like siding in yellow, pale gray or blue with white trim, are clustered along walking lanes and back up to common areas. Each has a small front yard and porch to promote easy visiting.

The one-, two- and three-bedroom units are 750 to 1,600 square feet and sell for $125,000 to nearly $300,000, with monthly association fees of $75 to $135. About six units have been resold since the development opened in 1998 and prices have kept pace with or risen a bit higher than the local market, according to Nick Meima, 49, a Sunward founder and resident.

Cohousing originated in Denmark about 35 years ago and arrived in the United States in the 1980s. There are now more than 60 cohousing developments and another 100 planned, says Meima, a partner in the Cohousing Development Co., which assists others who want to start similar projects.

Sunward, Meima says, is Michigan’s first cohousing community. Great Oak and Honey Creek, both scheduled to begin construction in 2002, will be built on adjacent land, sharing access to a natural area and connected with walking trails. Another cohousing community, Meadowood, is planned for Lansing.

In cohousing, the residents collaborate to plan a pedestrian-friendly, neighborly community. Although each unit is complete and separate, members have access to a common building, where optional communal meals and other facilities like meeting rooms are available. Members manage the development once it is built.

One aspect that attracts considerable interest is the prospect of living among people of diverse ages who have chosen to be part of a close-knit community.

“As a parent, it’s an extraordinary place,” says George Albercook, 36, who lives at Sunward with his wife, Caren, and their 3-year-old son, Zander.

At Sunward, condos are clustered, so much of the site remains undeveloped. There is a prairie with native plants, a walking trail through 10 acres of woods, and a wetland and pond that help filter and manage storm water.

About half of the 92 residents are between the ages of 26 and 59, with a quarter younger and the rest older than 60. Most have college degrees. Owners include married couples, some with children; single people; same-sex and unmarried heterosexual couples. Residents include whites, Asians and African Americans.

While they represent many professions, religions and political views and interests, “a hard-core conservative is not someone I typically find in cohousing,” Meima says.

The community building is between the parking lot and the condos. Inside, members pick up their mail and newspapers and can watch television, eat dinner, do laundry and use exercise machines or woodworking tools. They may also reserve the guest bedroom for occasional visitors.

The association requires adult members to work about four hours a month on projects that benefit the whole, such as shoveling snow, doing yard work, serving on committees, cooking the group meals or cleaning up afterward.

“If you eat, you cook or you clean,” says Meima. The cost of the food is divided among those who share it, usually $3 to $4 per dinner. Vegetarian options are always on the menu. Careful planning

Cohousing projects promote the use of sustainable materials. According to J.D. Lindeberg, a partner in Cohousing Development Co. who lives with his family at Sunward, linoleum is the choice for the community building floor because it is made of natural materials. The exterior siding is a concrete-wood fiber composite, and each unit is equipped for solar panels. Walls are extra thick to improve insulation.

The landscape is maintained without herbicides or pesticides and Sunward has its own recycling program. It limits cars to the parking lot near the entrance, and residents use pushcarts to carry their groceries to their homes, about the equivalent of half a city block.

Although it remains a niche housing market, cohousing is likely to become more popular in the next decade as more people seek alternatives to traditional housing, predicts Robert Marans, professor of architecture and urban planning at the University of Michigan.

“People are looking for places that offer a strong sense of community, concern about the environment, some shared responsibilities, and are willing to give up a bit of privacy in order to have this,” Marans says.

Advocates say cohousing attracts people with lifestyles other than the traditional two-parent-family-with-children that comprised the target market for single-family, detached houses built after World War II.

Meima says that’s how he felt when, in the late 1980s, he read a book about cohousing and “instantly recognized that’s what I wanted. . . . I had the sense that life could be better if I had a more connected lifestyle.” He started talking to people about cohousing and found others in Ann Arbor who thought it would be worth a try.

The group held meetings at a bookstore and eventually signed on as codevelopers. They found the 20-acre parcel with an old gravel and sand pit, a small farm and woods. Members made down payments to buy the property on land contract, got a construction loan from a bank and found a builder. The last unit was sold a month after building began.

Because members manage cohousing developments, there are plenty of committees and frequent — sometimes tedious — meetings. “People who don’t like meetings would get frustrated” in a cohousing development, Herstein says. But residents say this way of making decisions is fair: “When you include everybody, you invariably make better decisions than if they’re not involved,” Albercook says. A close-knit group

Albercook and his family moved to Sunward from a duplex where they knew few neighbors. Here, son Zander is free to venture outside on the traffic-free walkways, finding playmates among the other members’ children.

“The world is a safe, interesting place to him,” says Albercook, a consulting research scientist. Caren Albercook is a doctor in family practice.

In addition to communal meals, Sunward residents meet at social functions. One resident recently posted a notice inviting everyone to an open house to see her newly decorated living room. There are community events like the May Day festivities, featuring “schlepping cart” races, where residents push the wagons they use to transport goods from cars to condos.

When people go out of town, neighbors volunteer to feed their pets. When residents return from hospital stays, neighbors bring in their meals. In some ways, it’s like an idealized version of life in a small town — except that all these residents have elected to be part of it. And can it be too close, like some small towns?

“It’s hard to live here and not have people have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in your life,” Herstein admits. But, he says, the level of support and respect for individual lifestyle choices shared by residents are far more important.

When it comes time to sell, Sunward residents select their own buyers and negotiate their own prices. Prospective buyers receive a copy of the binding cohouse bylaws as well as a book of agreements so they know what kind of community they’re buying into.

With that kind of preparation, it is rare — though not unheard of — that someone moves into cohousing with unrealistic expectations and subsequently decides to leave. More frequently, people lean about cohousing from friends who are already residents, so they’re familiar with the concept before joining. In that way, condos have sold to like-minded people without being advertised.

“When someone moves out of cohousing, the next household moving in agrees” to the community commitments, Meima says. “That’s one of the critical aspects to sustaining a community.”

Contact MARTY HAIR at 313-222-2005 or

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for rent

We’re looking for renters for 526 at Great Oak, starting June 1st, minimum lease is 6 months. It’s the top 2 floors of the house: 2 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, living room, dining room and kitchen. Has central A/C. Rent is $1600/month plus $2400 security deposit and covers Gas & Electric as well as WiFi. The basement is a separate rental, and has its own entrance. Renters should expect to contribute 8 hours of work a month, though it may be less due to fewer activities now as we proactively adjust to living with the coronavirus.

Those interested should read about our intentional community, Prospective Member packet, and note that the WAVE bus does stop at Great Oak (see for schedule). For more info on co-housing in Ann Arbor, folks can watch this video from Planet Community,

Bill Doster

Rachel Pooley



Great Oak has finally, after years of trying to make the financing work, installed 19.44kw of Photovoltaic solar panels on our common garage roofs to feed our Common House electric meter (our local utility, DTE, requires the inverters to be tied to the single largest consuming meter for net metering). As of today, after various permitting and logistical hurdles, not to speak of the cloudy weather, we finally have some impressive generation!

GO South facing Garage Bank solar panels

The bright sunshine and low humidity today means that even though the sun is low in the sky, the panels, while producing about 12kw, or only about 50% of their rated capacity, are still producing more than the Common House is consuming currently, around 3kw:

GO CH current usage of electricity around noon on 12/24/2013

which means that since the panels are producing more than the instantaneous production, and that we do not have batteries to store the excess, they are feeding that back to the electric grid and GO is being credited for that — so the electric meter is running “backwards” (or would if we had the old analog style meter, but instead it shows a negative consumption instead on the digital meter!)

GO CH electric meter negative consumption on 12/24/2013

and for those interested in some details, we have 4 Renovo 5kw inverters tied together, installed by Srienergy, and financed out of our electrical operating budget for the Common House with the capital coming from our Great Oak Cohousing Association reserve fund.

Here is some detail from one of the inverters:
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– Created and hung collage posters of life at Great Oak in the common house dining room

– New policy – NO Guff in common house

– Black recliner loaned for use in sitting room

– Received gift of a wooden kitchen for the kids room

– Installed drip trays under soap dispensers

– Created and hung mural in kids room

– Purchased blinds for game room, sitting room, and remainder of the dining room

– Bought industrial vacuum

– Replaced locks on common house entrance doors

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– New washer/dryer; laundry room refitted with shelving, cabinets, and table top
– Game room improvements – painting, ceiling fan added, ceiling mounted projector added
– Double entry doors replaced
– Entryway floor beautifully painted
– Continuation of energy saving improvements begun in 2008
– Child Supervision Policy adopted
– Began 5 year planning process


Feb. 2004 – Initial discussion starts
Sept. 2004 – It becomes clear that there is no contingency money for the shop.  Let’s build it anyway!
March 2005 – The county decides we need to have a bathroom in the shop before they’ll approve our plans.  We appeal to the appeals board.
May 2005 – We get permission to build the workshop without a bathroom, and can build it largely ourselves.
Fall 2005 – Design, including evaluating SIP (structural insulated panels).
March 2006 – Final design completed, quotes from various suppliers.
May 2006 – Building permit issued!
July 3, 2006 – Building begins.  Site is cleared, work on removing curb begins.
Sept. 2006 – SIP panels ordered.  Footings dug.
October 2006 – Footings poured.  Foundation blocks.  SIP panels arrive.  Walls are up by the end of October. 
Nov. 2006 – Windows on site.  Trusses installed.
Dec. 2006 – Roof done.  Floor poured.
Feb. 2007 – Garage door installed.
May 2007 – Concrete curb remains trucked off.
June 2007 – Siding, continuing through October 1.
Jan. 2008 – Electrical and lighting planning.
Spring 2008 – Interior wall installed. (?)
June-Dec. 2008 – Rough electrical work.
March 2009 – Drywall (walls and ceiling)
June 1, 2009 – Electrical final inspection passed.
Aug. 17, 2009 – Workshop Committee Mandate approved.
Sept. 1, 2009 – Gas finally hooked up (started in Jan. 2009)
Sept. 21, 2009 – Overall Community Workshop Policy adopted
Oct. 8, 2009 – Final inspection passed.
Jan. 31, 2010 – Open House!

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