Cohousing group failures
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Tue, 2 Aug 94 16:00 CDT
Gareth Fenley wrote :

 I must say that my cohousing group is
encountering some big challenges in entering the stage where it must deal
with this stuff.  It appears that the group is in danger of smashing on
these mean rocks and becoming a shipwreck.  it would be too bad, because
the group has sailed across a wide trackless ocean and now is in sight of
the harbor.  we have the beautiful drawings, an option on the property,
two banks interested in financing, 7 of 12 units reserved by escrow
deposits (our site by a railroad makes pre-selling without the units to
walk through particularly challenging), an 8th household on the verge of
putting money down, and now at least 3 members talking of withdrawal
(including myself and the other recent joiner) and work at meetings
overtaken by sad and sometimes nasty arguing.

There have a number of Cohousing ship wrecks in last couple of years.   
I have had the opportunity to talk with some of the local 
ah,...survivors, of these ship wrecks and hope to continue learning 
from future ones.  It would be a great service if those who have 
crashed would offer a dispassionate analysis of how and why the group 
did not succeed. (or why they left the group)   From my learning's so 
far I have seen the following patterns emerge as indicators of and 
causes for  group dissolution: (the order listed in random)

1.  Leadership dynamic.  One person does all the leading, then as the 
going gets sticky, the group converges on the leader and scapegoats.  
The group fragments, the leader bails  and the group dissolves.
2.  Lack of a pre-defined conflict strategy.  (when you are locked into 
a level 3 conflict it's too late to figure out how to deal with conflicts)
3. Lack of realistic financial evaluation and screening.  People want 
to believe they can afford it, lie to themselves, then drop out when 
the costs become real or the banks reject them as applicants. The 
financial core size drops too low.
4. Lack of group dynamic understanding by group and individuals. One or 
more individuals affect group in a negative way without receiving 
feedback or correction.
5. Individuals who are not committed to the best interests of the group 
over their own interests coupled with consensus decision making without 
voting procedure agreed to.
6. Lack of participation flexibility.  Demands on time get too rigorous 
and there is no flexibility (e.g. group demands everyone has to do the 
same amount)
7. Unable to attract enough fiscally sound investors to do upfront  financing.
8. Unable to find developable land in target area, at target price 
within a reasonable time frame.
9. Lack of a burning soul.  Tepid group interest, no real driver to 
light the fire and keep it going through the storms.
10. Poor site - either too far away from employment centers, or has 
some other  problem which makes it very unattractive as a place to live.

I am sure there are  other causes why cohousing projects sink.  From 
the groups that have failed in our area, there are often 2-3 reasons  
why they break apart.  It would be interesting to hear from people on 
this list who have left a group or had one not succeed.

Rob Sandelin
Puget Sound Cohousing Network
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