Re: National CoHousing Association
From: David Mandel (
Date: Wed, 16 Jul 1997 05:13:38 -0500
A few comments in response to Zev's welcome query about a possible national
cohousing organization supplanting RMCA and other regional groups:

        First, can someone tell us what happened to the plan to create a
national (continental?) nonprofit organization after the last North
American conference? There was a clear mandate to do so. Apparently it's
not as easy as it sounds.
        Who, for instance, would pay for all the expenses? Would each
community be assessed? Asked to join voluntarily? Individual memberships? A
lot of time and effort (probably mostly quite futile) chasing grants?
        Personally, I think there is a role for a continental association,
but it should have limited goals that make sense: Most of all, it should be
a clearinghouse of information and communication, maintaining up-to-date
data on all communities and groups to facilitate connections among them;
for individuals who are looking for others of like mind in their
geographical area; for groups, lenders, developers and professionals
seeking each other out; for information on legislative efforts that may
affect cohousing (these will be mostly on the state level); and for media
people who want a quick picture and contacts.
        It should have a coherent but not burdensome governing body and
decision-making process. I would see no need to meet except at the biennial
conferences; other means of communication can suffice in between. It should
have loose connections with the journal, with cohousing-l and with any
other projects of broad geographic scope that arise. But such projects,
existing and future, are best left to the energies, talents and
fund-raising abilities of those who initiate them and sustain them as going
concerns. It will be a recipe for disaster if they start looking to a
centralized, paid-staffed organization to sustain them, financially or
otherwise. I've seen too many such enterprises start up with bursts of
energy and some initial financing, then atrophy as debts mount, start-up
money dries up, energy wanes and everyone who's actually doing stuff in the
provinces is demoralized by the center's inability to do their work for
     After all, cohousing is quintessentially a local phenomenon, repeated
in endless variety in many locales. That's where most of the energy and
effort have to go.
        A central office should have at most one staff person -- and only
if the funds to pay her/him are assured for at least two years. In some
ways, I think it would be better if this were an all-volunteer effort, with
individuals taking on specified tasks and roles for specified periods of
time. With e-mail, faxes and cheap phone cards, do we even need a central
        As for regional networks, I think they have an important role
whether or not there is a continental organization. It would make it much
easier for us to put on a regional conference next time (which is only a
year off!). It will, I hope, in California, lead to an ongoing series of
miniconferences to assist us in networking with our relatively close
cohousing neighbors and gaining some valuable instruction on particular
topics. We can coordinate approaches to regional developers, lenders, state
legislators. I would hope RMCA and other regional groups see the advantages
of this. Again, I would advise keeping it loose, minimizing meetings and
such. Don't get trapped hiring more than temporary paid staff to coordinate
when some concentrated organizing is needed.
        If a North American group forms as a 501(c)(3), then it would
probably be worthwhile to call the regional networks chapters to take
advantage of the status without the hassle and expense of obtaining it
themselves. But please, let's not fall in the trap of mandating a
complicated dues structure that would be needed if we started to think in
terms of large budgets, offices, lots of staff, etc.
        If we grow really big and can't help ourselves someday, I won't try
to hold back history. But meanwhile, let's remember that the crux of our
work is local.

David Mandel, Sacramento

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