Houston’s first-ever cohousing community is underway in the East End: Last spring, a group of like-minded livers selected a site at 115 Lennox Ave to construct Cohousing Houston, which puts connection and the environment ahead of just about everything else.
Cohousing communities are intentional collections of private homes clustered around a communal living space. At Cohousing Houston, residents from up to 33 member homes must (get this!) make decisions about their community via consensus and will (gasp!) interact with their neighbors through shared spaces, like kitchens, meals, and greenspaces.
Kathleen English, founder of English + Associates Architects, and her husband are one of 14 member households that are already onboard for the project that’s slated to wrap up in fall 2022. She and her firm also happen to be designing the property and homes there—which range from $330,000 to $780,000 for one to four bedrooms—with the help of Caddis Collaborative out of Boulder, Colorado.
English spoke with Houstonia about cohabitating, coworking, and even co-gardening in the community.
How did you first get involved with the Cohousing Houston project?
I am the local architect and also am a member. That was an evolution that I wasn't necessarily expecting when we first got involved back in 2017. I really enjoy mission-driven projects in my architectural practice. For me, it means any project that is really about making a better environment, making Houston better, and not just being the next project.
My husband and I were exploring where to live, as well as how it will hopefully very positively impact Houston and the community that it gets built in. We had gone to Portland in May of 2017 and seen a couple of cohousing projects. We were intrigued and so we explored Houston and originally joined purely as members [a few months later].
What appealed to you about cohousing?
My husband and I had come to the conclusion that we wanted to stay urban. We were ready to leave the wonderful house that we've lived in in West University Place for over 25 years and move into something smaller and different. And when we started looking for a place that was urban, walkable, had meaningful green space, a strong connection to neighbors, was not isolating—we didn't find it. The cohousing group is giving us an opportunity to make that.
What will the Cohousing Houston space look and feel like?
Some of the values that came out very early on and have played into the design is a strong desire by our group for shared greenspace. So it's a condo or townhome style, very dense housing model, but we're not wanting to leave out the green space.
In a lot of cohousing projects, parking is not required. We didn't think that would be a thing in Houston—either from our local code or quite honestly the desire of our members. But we did not want to make it about the cars. What we did was push our parking onto a portion of the site that's off to the side. So we have front doors and small porches and a connection to the neighborhood in the community. And on the backside of the same unit we have back doors to a shared green space that is fairly large and will give us an opportunity to have community events, gardening, and a small pool.
At one edge of that shared common space is a four-story common house. The first two floors are really shared spaces for dining and activities. On the second floor there’s more quiet activities for co-working, for crafts, and other activity rooms. And then the third and fourth floor are mainly connectors to the elevator.
Why is it important for Houston to have a community like this?
Townhomes that are built in our urban environment put the two car garage on the ground floor, all living space above. There is no connection to your immediate neighbors or your neighbors down the block. You're pretty much driving into your garage and going up to your living floor from the interior, with little to no green space. So very, very few housing options in Houston really create a connected community and lots of housing options create significant isolation.
In what ways is the community eco-conscious?
Budget will determine a lot of this, but right now the facility has geothermal air conditioning. We have underground detention on site. The building is being made solar-ready on all the roofs. The last element, which is really very fundamental to the design, is that we laid the site out using what's called low impact design principles, which is a way of managing stormwater to make it stay on site longer and also to help filter it and clean it as it does leave the site.
What are you most looking forward to when you move in?
I think I'm looking forward to gardening and developing the landscaped areas. I have done a lot of that at my house. My house has been on a couple of garden tours based on some of the native gardening and rainwater gardening things that we've done. And I’m looking forward to having a whole new playground.