Re: wanting to start a co-op/co-housing..where do I start?
From: Becky Weaver (
Date: Fri, 31 Mar 2006 15:15:48 -0800 (PST)
I have experience starting a cohousing group, and living in a co-op. My 
recommendation is to start with a clear picture of what you want. 
  If you want to live in a housing community now, and a co-op is appealing to 
you, I recommend you do that (i.e. one shared house) instead of cohousing. At 
least to start with. Co-ops can be any size, including much smaller than 
cohousing developments, and so can be proportionately simpler to start. Note, I 
did not say easy! A cohousing development in an area that doesn't already have 
cohousing will take 7-10 years to develop. So if you go that route, expect that 
kind of time commitment. When my group started (in 2000, and we aren't built 
yet) we did not really believe that timeline. Believe it!  
  Back to the vision thing; articulate what you would like. How many people? 
Any particular spectrum of ages/interests/etc? What type of property? Are you 
willing to rent? Don't be so specific that there's no room for others to make 
their contribution; but be specific enough that certain decisions are already 
made. Urban or suburban or rural? What size rent/payments? Check to make sure 
this vision is compatible with reality (for example, make sure the amount you 
want to pay adds up to the cost of housing in your chosen environment). 
  If you have a group of people and some want to live in the country and can 
pay $200/month, and others want to live downtown and can pay $1000/month, your 
group is not going to find a good compromise location. Better to set a focus 
early than spend six fruitless months debating issues that ultimately are a 
matter of personal values, that cannot be resolved by talking. Someone whose 
heart is set on 40 acres and a mule is not going to be talked into preferring 
an edgy urban environment. 
  Then, after you personally have a general vision, advertise around (grocery 
co-op newsletters, weekly papers, create a website) for some people who have 
compatible visions. Hold regular, low-key but agenda-driven, goal-oriented 
meetings. Building and maintaining strong relationships is a valid meeting 
goal; "goal-oriented" doesn't mean "all business." Stay open to new ways of 
looking at things, but remember that common goals are necessary to create a 
cohesive group.  
  For the majority of people drawn to community living, those with a healthy 
sense of give and take, working together toward your common goals creates the 
kind of purpose and trust you will need to live in community. On the other 
hand, some people are drawn to "community" because they want someone else to do 
everything for them. A good way not to appeal to people like this is to give 
everybody action items right from the start. Energy-leech types tend to 
evaporate in the face of a cheerful, friendly expectation that they want to 
make themselves useful. 
  Pay a lot of attention to the financial aspects. If you can't buy a house 
right away, or maybe even if you can, consider forming a co-op in a rental 
building with the goal of eventually buying either that or another building. 
Once you have a cohesive community, you will have a lot more resources to do 
amazing things like buy a building or some land. So build the visions, 
processes, and relationships first. Build up a track record of paying the bills 
on time and resolving conflicts as they occur. 
  Good luck!
  Becky Weaver
  Central Austin Cohousing/Kaleidoscope Village
  Austin, Texas
  Where we are looking forward to our consensus training workshop this weekend!

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