Re: Rhapsodizing about Retrofit (Stu)
From: Sanda Everette (
Date: Fri, 13 Feb 1998 20:05:56 -0600

Thanks for further clarifying for me what we are doing here.  In the
high cost SF bay area, I know what we are working to develop in an
organic retrofit type process will definitely be less expensive for the
folks involved and less of a personal risk for us while we are "holding
the space" for community.  By the way, we finally closed escrow this
past week.  The second four plex may be further away from attainment
that we had been planning for, but hopefully will be available at some
time in the future.

> I believe that if you want to do organic cohousing, you should conduct a
> site search just as you should for a built-from-scratch community.  You
> should look for somewhere that has high turnover and where you can find
> two or three houses next to each other which are currently for sale or
> rent so you can get a decent sized foothold.  

Though we did not do a site search; we just decided we wanted to live
where we were currently renting, this site does meet much of the
criteria that you describe.
> As to whether it's riskier or not to try an N St style process - there
> isn't a simple answer.  To my mind, it's a little less likely to lead to a
> successful community, but also much less personally risky for the people
> who try it.  If you buy individual houses at market rate and take fences
> down between them, you aren't taking much of a personal financial risk.
> In the worst case, you can always put the fences back up and sell the
> houses for the same price as you bought them for.  Similarly, buying an
> apartment building is something many investors do out of rational
> self-interest.  As long as you don't overpay, you are at no worse risk
> than them.  This is not the case with conventional cohousing developments
> which involve a significant personal financial risk to those involved (I
> admit Marsh Commons probably colors my view on this and they are about the
> worst case - finding toxic waste on the site while digging the foundation
> hole).
> One very important advantage of the N St process is that, although it may
> take 10 years to get to maturity, those involved are living in community
> from the beginning - as soon as there's two houses (or even one house!),
> people can be eating together, gardening together, deciding together with
> their neighbours how they want their community to evolve.  In contrast,
> the conventional process involves an average of four or five years from
> initial slide-show to move-in.  During that lengthy time, you have a lot
> of meetings, uncertainty and worry, and limited benefits of community.
> The most important decider will be this though:  how upscale do you want
> your place to be?  Organic cohousing must (I believe) happen in low -
> moderate income neighbourhoods, apartment buildings, etc.  As a result,
> and because of it's nature as an ongoing process, it's going to have a
> certain funky, hand-made look.
> By contrast, most new cohousing developments are kind of
> dream-house-architect-big-splash places that cost a lot of money.  They
> are beautiful, but you have to be in the small fraction of the population
> of this country that can afford to buy a house, and not usually on the
> very bottom rung of that ladder either.  (I know there are exceptions such
> as Southside Park, but they are just that, exceptions).
> If you are more interested in creating community quickly or in
> low-moderate income areas and don't care about looking somewhat upscale
> (or even have some reverse-snobbishness about that), the organic route has
> to be worth a serious look.
> Stuart.


Sanda and Brian Everette
San Mateo Cooperative Community

Toward a sustainable lifestyle: 
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Permaculture for the Urban Gardener, March 14

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