Re: size of community
From: Fred H Olson (
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 2010 04:38:43 -0700 (PDT)
From: Susan Coberly <susandgeorge [at]>
is the author of the message below.  It was posted by
Fred, the Cohousing-L list manager <fholson [at]>
after deleting quoted digest.  I think it is in response to
to a May 30th post which was in the digest:
 Balance Between Economic Viability and Vital community
--------------------  FORWARDED MESSAGE FOLLOWS --------------------

we also considered conventional wisdom ideal size 25-35 households. We
settled on 28 as halfway in between. ther was concern about not
knowing people well enough with too large a group. I don't think that
the majority of our group in existence at the time considered whether
increasing to 35 or more would substantially increase affordability.
Frankly the Folsom area might accept that more readily. Fresno area
has proved a hard sell for cohousing concept, shared common space,
smaller unit size, etc. Our parcel of land was an easy sell to the
city for rezoning to 10 units an acre, but we believed we would not be
able to "sell"  more density to the city/ the neighborhood. The lot
shape and the majority's preference for townhouse/ flats (not a more
"apartmenty" look/feel) constrained us to a particlar layout and
actually would have constrained higher density. We believed (rightly
or wrongly) that an "apartmenty" look/feel would anot be as appealing
and might turn away people in Fresno area who are used to the suburban
sprawl so typical of our development here. but we didn't test these
thoughts.if you have time and energy to test these thoughts, that
would be great.

Furthermore, we found after working up the site plan and buildings in
a way that didn't look awfully "different", that many people who
seemed likely fit for the cohousing life couldn't afford a unit unless
it was heavily discounted. That is, many people in this area consider
anything over 150 K too high in 2006-07 and with the downturn in the
housing market that is no less true now. Nevertheless, we had 21
+households on board at start of construction but when the project was
ready for the start of move in in fall 2008,14 households moved in; 12
(either at the time of move in or after renting a spell )closed their
purchases. Another has decided can't purchase and remains renting.
Another was pending sale - renting until funding - and decided to buy
elsewhere and we lost that family. Many long term households had to
drop out because they couldn't sell their existing home(s), while
others went ahead and bought and are renting out their old homes
hoping for a change in the market eventually. The development partner
has rented some units out,.  Many still remain unsold although our
development partner will consider discounting.

When most people compare apples (us) to oranges (standard smaller
developer built tract homes), they are choosing oranges.

That said, even someone who drops out unable to buy may later buy. A
long time member of our community recently closed on a unit after
thinking she wouldn't be able to, after selling her old home and wilth
some family assistance.

Basically I think you have to assess as a community how much you can
drop the price down with the addition of "x" more households. How much
will the price drop, realistically? is it enough to fully sell out the
project? You also have to be sure the number you are counting on is
real. If members of the group end up not buying for whatever reason,
will the homes rapidly sell to other families, and can they be drawn
into the life of the community/ participation? Can the community run
on the number of units sold?Then, you have to consider whether your
community can "run" with more than 35 households.  Is that too big to
not know each other? does it prevent easy interaction? did you have to
upsize the common facilities to accomodate the larger number such that
it then feels too big to take care of or enjoy?

Susan at La Querencia (Fresno Cohousing)

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