Re: Cohousing is based on home ownership
From: Craig Ragland (
Date: Thu, 29 May 2008 11:49:25 -0700 (PDT)
I'm going to pile-on - unfortunately, I got long-winded again, so few will
actually read all this... I've been thinking a LOT about what I'll be
sharing in Plenaries at the upcoming conference, so writing this out here
serves that need for me as well - I hope this doesn't stimulate problematic
energy, as my longer posts sometimes do.

I've lived at Songaia since 1992, and have participated in the broad
communities movement for several years. In my PERSONAL world view, Cohousing
is one form of Intentional Community - and one form of Community. Some
cohousers, largely in the past, attempted to distance Cohousing from other
forms of Intentional Community. Many people still refer to "Intentional
Communities" as being something different, a particular "type" of
community, rather than a super-set. For me, Intentional Communites includes
ecovillages, income-sharing communes, some cooperatives, including small
residential households, large land-sharing groups using various legal forms,
some non-residential groups, and yes, cohousing.

Some cast Cohousing as being for wealthier folks. While many units in many
existing and forming cohousing communities have prices that are relatively
high compared to many other forms of Intentional Community, many cohousing
groups have often explored ways to keep costs down - both for all members
and for a subset of their members. There are definitely many other
communities that explicitly focus on low cost lifestyles. This is,
generally, not what cohousing communities focus on. It really hard just to
create a community of private homes with portions of a common house - all of
which meet local codes, can attract bank financing. To do all this for very
little money requires some amazing circumstances.

I contrast, it is relatively easy to rent a single building and occuply it
with private bedrooms and common kitchen/living room/etc. It is also
relatively easy to do this for a very low cost. This is a totally valid form
of Intentional Community, although it is not cohousing. One thing I heard
Katie McCamant comment on was that she was surprised there are not more
shared households within cohousing communities. I agree that it would seem a
natural - and there are some great examples of this working well in some
communities. Some of them consider themselves a community (household) within
a broader community (cohousing) that is within a broader community (broader
neighborhood/geographic area).

After retiring from Microsoft, I first threw my energy beyind NICA, and then
re-engaged with FIC. The FIC (Fellowship for Intentional Community) is
widely known, NICA (Northwest Intentional Community Association) less so. I
knew NICA well, since some of its founders, Fred and Nancy Lanphear - and
Tom Barr, live here at Songaia Cohousing - that's also how Rob Sandelin and
I have connected over the years. Both NICA and the FIC serve the full range
of intentional communities. In the case of the FIC, a number of its leaders
have lived in (and still do) income-sharing communities. In the case of
NICA, most of its leaders have lived in Cohousing communities. NICA has had
a great alignment with the FIC for years. Since I've gotten involved with
Coho/US, it has begun finding ways to work with them.

After I started volunteer work for NICA and FIC, Raines Cohen invited me to
join the Coho/US volunteer board. I continued to support the FIC, with my
most impactful role as the conference coordinator for Art of Community NW, a
wonderful FIC event in the Fall of 2006 that NICA helped enable by providing
major funding. It was sometime after that when I started devoting more of my
own personal energy into Coho/US - and less to FIC and NICA.

One thing I'm particularly excited about is the collaboration between
Coho/US and other Community organizations. While they can be seen to compete
for "mindshare" or limited donation pool, I believe that, together, we will
continue to grow whole of the Intentional Community pie - allowing each of
our wedges to be larger than they currently are. I view this growth as being
vital for each of these organizations to have more impact on the movement.

An example of this collaboration will, once again, be seen in the upcoming
National Cohousing Conference. Coho/US is working with the FIC to include
Community Bookshelf - a large bookstore that will offer a huge selection of
community-related books and our Auction Fundraiser - proceeds of which will
be shared by the organizations. Another example of collaboration, I just got
off the phone with Ann Zabaldo, one of the committed volunteer leaders of
MAC (Mid-Atlantic Cohousing). We talked about the organizational history of
Coho/US and MAC. Our primary motivation is to figure out ways to work
together more effectively. One way we're about to do this is also at the
conference - Coho/US is proud to support MAC by providing the conference as
a platform for them to showcase their recent work. We hope the visibility
helps them achieve their goals to increase the number of cohousing

A real advantage of collaboration is that each organization can develop its
core competencies and, hopefully, find ways to share resources to support
each other in those particular arenas. This was a major advance that
Microsoft used to grow into the HUGE organization that it is - by focusing
on the OS, rather than hardware, they left IBM and Apple in the dust (back
in the day).

Another, final example - the FIC sells published books online. Years ago,
Coho/US did so as well - but no longer does. We also used to send people to
Amazon and take an Affiliate Fee for each book sold. At this point, we have
no plans to resell books online and are likely to further integrate our
"online store" with the FIC, as well as other organizations to help us serve
cohousers and folks interested in cohousing. We are leveraging their
competencies, rather than creating our own little business units that can
struggle to manage inventory, ship product, etc.

The FIC is good at finding, buying, describing, selling, and distributing
community-related books - including the cohousing titles. By sending traffic
their way, we get to "double-dip" and help an aligned organization, as well
as help the many thousands of people that visit our website each month to
discover depth information about cohousing.

This is similar to how Coho/US attempts to serve the grass roots Cohousing
Movement. Some services we provide are free and, for some, we ask the
beneficiaries to share our costs and help fuel our work.

Why? Because our income from tax-deductible donations is insuffient to
support the services we want to offer - so we've worked hard to
develop fee-for-services. Also, some of the organizations we support as a
way to serve our mission are for-profit businesses - and we want to find
ways that we can encourage them to both meet their interests - enabling some
cohousing groups to actually build - and to serve the movement.

Some folks on the Coho-L list have been harshly critical of Coho/US for a
variety of reasons. Before assuming the worst of us, I ask you to first
breathe and then recall how easy it is to cast anything that seems like
an "official organization" as the THEM, rather than being part of US.

When you make another the THEM, the OTHER, then what THEY do is easy to
interpret as problematic, rather than serving our common interests. Perhaps
some of this problematic energy stems from the shift from Coho/US former
existenace as a membership organization - which was fueled almost exlusively
by grass roots energy. The reason Coho/US dropped that model, according to
lore which pre-dated my involvement, is both that we couldn't adequately
support "membership benefits," managing subscription renewals, and
that there were so few members willing to "sign up."

Today, we are still driven by lots of volunteer energy, including the
Coho/US Board. Most of the Coho/US board lives in cohousing, some of them
are Cohousing Professionals, and some fall into both categories.

Our staff is entirely people, like myself, who live in cohousing or are
parts of forming groups. A lot of the money that Coho/US pays out, thus,
flows right back into various cohousing communities.

Will we once again create Coho/US "members" - yes, but of a different sort.
In order to access and contribute to a new Members Area on the Cohousing
Website, you will need to get a free membership. We are doing this partially
to reduce the SPAM postings, which we get in volume, from our anonymous
users. This new Members Area will be demonstrated and released at the
conference. We hope some of the Coho-L folks enjoy it. Its starting on a
small scale - and may stay that way, if it doesn't catch on. If it doesn't,
we might kill it off in the future. On the other hand, it may be useful to a
lot of folks and grow into something special, something that people have
asked for here for a while - and that the Cohousing wiki attempted to
address, in part.

Well, that's more than enough and I hope those of you that have made it all
the way through this essay gained some value... I know that I have (grin).
On Wed, May 28, 2008 at 10:16 PM, Raines Cohen <rc3-coho-L [at]>

> On Wed, May 28, 2008 at 9:25 AM, Rob Sandelin <floriferous [at]> 
> wrote:
> >  Cohousing is only one kind of
> > community. There are many others, many of which are not based on home
> > ownership.  Check out for info.
> Rob, I think you mean
> And thanks for the perspective... while we are taking a "big tent" view
> with
> the cohousing movement, and building on our decades of experience of
> like-minded groups creating market-rate housing for themselves to integrate
> affordability and other forms of diversity, it helps to appreciate that it
> is just one segment of the spectrum of community types

Craig Ragland

Coho/US executive director
craig [at]

Please try email first, include your phone number (w/time zone) - or give me
a call: 425-487-3550 (Pacific)... communicate!

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