Re: so is it cohousing?
From: Raines Cohen (
Date: Sat, 10 Feb 2007 07:53:04 -0800 (PST)
Common Ground, the ONLY U.S. cohousing "failure" that I've ever heard of (i.e. project getting past the site-optioned and planning-approval and construction-financed stage and not getting built/sold as cohousing), may be less illustrative of issures around "developer- driven" cohousing and show us more of gaps in the model when applied in a different context, which Rob identifies in passing.

I've actually bicycled by Common Ground in Aspen a couple of years ago without realizing it at the time; my instincts said "hey, that looks like cohousing, but there's no signs as such, and there's no cohousing in Aspen, right?". I also recognized a vehicle in the lot as an art car that regular appears at Burning Man (an Ambulance modified to read "Ambiance").

My understanding is that Aspen's unique (sky-high, even compared to the SF Bay Area) housing market and the lack of workforce housing in the resort town led to Common Ground being structured as a rare affordable-housing project (developed by the county), so people had an extremely strong incentive to choose to live there (and even to declare whatever intentions to be community members) even if they cared not one whit for community; there may have been a lottery element to the selection process, which is often mandated for projects receiving government assistance.

Given these circumstances, and the lack of (to my knowledge) built-in services to educate prospective members about community or provide the initial "sourdough starter" of pre-scheduled events or other incentives to participate.

Also note the 1994 move-in, relatively early in the movement, before we had a lot of experience "on the ground" with communities.

Here's Graham's photos:

and data:

and site plan:

I doubt any from the project (hard to call it a "community", although "neighborhood" could be apropos) are on this list (why would they be?), but there's a chance professionals who worked with them are and can add further illumination.

Several of the posts on this thread start with the assumption that developer needs (selling the units, getting the project done and moving on to the next one) and community needs (finding people who seek/believe in/will make a positive contribution to) community are by definition at odds with one another. In my experience, this is not the case: a cohousing project with community and developer engaged in partnership and sharing the risk and incentive typically gets completed faster and the community aspect can help sell units more rapidly and certainly more efficiently, with lower marketing costs; the trick is to get the group to understand the task at hand and the cost of inaction/delay and the effects it has on the group itself, versus the benefits, and everybody in the group can put their time and networks to use and get the word out better than the narrow channel of paid ads in real-estate publications and other tools designed just to reach the self-selected pool of ready-to-buy housing shoppers and then educate them about community. I have seen those tools used well; heck, they helped me sell my unit at Swan's to somebody who's become a terrific neighbor and community member.

I was impressed last month to see Burbank Housing, an affordable housing developer in the North Bay (Sonoma county, CA), creating a 100%-affordable developer-driven project in Sebastopol, with subsidies of up to $200,000 per unit. Burbank is working in partnership with Cohousing Architect (and Yulupa Cohousing (Santa Rosa, CA) resident) Michael Black, not far from Two Acre Wood, Michael's first project, where he used to live. Michael was a Sebastopol planning commissioner and has worked to get this city- owned lot developed as cohousing for around a decade.

At a public informational meeting with 200 people in a packed hall, informational packets with vision and mission statements based on Yulupa's were passed out. Potential members were told that, if they were selected by lottery (with preference to the town's residents and workers), and their finances approved by a mortgage broker (there are maximum as well as minimum incomes required for eligibility), they'll get monthly facilitated trainings/meetings and also contribute labor at selected points towards building the project. The group can change the elements, but starting with this common ground is bound to help the future residents find a path that works for them.


On Feb 9, 2007, at 10:21 AM, Rob Sandelin wrote:

There was a community in Aspen which begun as a cohousing group and shortly after move in stopped calling themselves cohousing because only a few of the people there actually held the vision of cohousing and community, every body else was just looking for affordable housing, and after a year or so the cohousing people moved on, in some cases quite bitter and discouraged. I am not suggesting that all or any developer driven cohousing would end up in this way, but the question is, does a developer really care about forming a community of people or selling real estate to make a profit? And when those
things collide, where will their loyalties go?

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