Re: The Future of Cohousing
From: Holly McNutt (
Date: Tue, 8 Feb 2011 09:30:11 -0800 (PST)

I love the New Yorker reference!

I work in real estate and I have to say that, ironically,  my very most 
fundamental core belief about it is that it is absurd that we have created a 
paradigm where we "own" pieces of the earth.  It is merely a mental construct, 
like money, that we have created. And yet, this IS the paradigm we live in and 
I don't see that changing any time soon.  If I understand this correctly, the 
real estate model we now live in dates back to feudal times in what is now 
England, when the lords owned just about everything and the serfs worked the 
land they didn't own and only a very few ever moved beyond that to ownership.  
In many ways, we have come a long way since then!  We live in a society where a 
much greater percentage of citizens CAN own the land they live on.  The past 
few years have been scary for sure, with more people loosing their ownership 
rights to foreclosure as a result of the lending fiasco, but when I look at the 
BIG picture (as in centuries, not a decade), I see this as one bad phase of an 
evolving process; and while many of us can't wait for it to end, it will, and I 
think down the road some good things will have come out of this phase, such as 
this greater movement toward sustainability and the broadened appeal of the 
cohousing model.

Am I totally naive?

- Holly from Nyland

On Feb 6, 2011, at 12:54 PM, David L. Mandel wrote:

> Hi Zev. Good to hear from you, and I'll add another old-timer's voice on the 
> subject in the form of some observations on my personal evolution, alongside 
> the developments you mention, since I began working on creating our cohousing 
> community back in 1988.
> We felt proud to be an early (first?) model of condo ownership cohousing that 
> was able to include a few truly low-income people by harnessing public funds 
> to provide silent second loans. I touted that a lot at early cohousing 
> conferences. 
> Even then it added tremendous hassle and delay -- we moved in only five years 
> later -- to stick with our determination to be mixed income. And it was 
> possible thanks to some special factors: depressed housing market at the time 
> that put prices within reach for this scheme; our location in a neighborhood 
> "targeted" for redevelopment; and intensive relationship building with 
> Housing Authority folks.At best, we realized, affordability of designated 
> low-income units would last only 30 years. In fact it was much less for most 
> of them, due to the HA's lack of interest in enforcing the resale 
> restrictions, and because "low income" was determined only at the time of 
> purchase. While I'm happy for them as individuals, the fact that the units 
> can continue to be occupied for a long time by people who are no longer low 
> income sort of defeats the purpose.I was able to purchase at market rate back 
> then because I hung onto a job I disliked longer than I wanted to. 
> Very soon after move-in I halved my income and went to work for legal aid, 
> developing a program that made work feel a lot more meaningful for quite a 
> while.Sixteen-plus years later, that work feels more and more oppressive, as 
> funding has dried up, work stresses affect relationships in the program, and 
> most of all -- we rescue a few lucky victims of predatory lending from 
> drowning by foreclosure while thousands of bodies float by in the raging 
> torrent.Deep breath. ... I knew it back in 1988, but now it's clearer than 
> ever that something is very wrong with a society that turns housing into a 
> commodity and instills the notion that it more an investment than it is 
> fulfillment of a human right. The paltry public funding that exists to house 
> a few of the poorest of the poor or rescue a few "deserving" victims of loan 
> fraud does more to foster divisions and jealousies and debates over who is 
> truly "deserving" than it does to actually improve the situation, and
> it's probably about to get worse as Dems. and Repubs. compete to outdo each 
> other in worshiping a mythical "free market."I agree with what I think Zev is 
> saying, that generic and flexibly applied cohousing ideas can improve the 
> quality of any housing development. And I'm impressed that a number of other 
> coho projects have found creative ways, better than ours, to incorporate some 
> affordability. But even with current low real estate prices, secure ownership 
> in our commodity real estate market remains available to a privileged 
> minority, and the idea of private rental cohousing, the suggestion that 
> opened this discussion, is not a meaningful path to affordability, not to 
> mention the landlord/tenant conflict that it would inevitably create.I will 
> continue to admire any of us who have the incredible creativity and energy it 
> takes to carve out some exceptional models of cooperative-minded, affordable, 
> new or retrofitted communities. But we really need a
> broader mobilization for creation of a whole different society, in which 
> housing is a human right, not an investment. It is possible, but I'm afraid 
> it will be a long and very difficult struggle.One of my all-time favorite 
> cartoons, years ago and probably in the New Yorker, showed two prehistoric 
> guys standing at the entrance to their cave and looking over a vast empty 
> landscape. "Hey, I've got a great idea," one says to the other, "let's carve 
> it up into little squares and sell them!"
> David L. Mandel, Southside Park Cohousing, Sacramento
> On Sat, Feb 5, 2011 at 7:48 AM, Zev Paiss <zpaiss [at]> wrote:
>> Hello Friends Old and New,
>> This thread around rental cohousing is something I believe the
>> cohousing world will need to take very seriously in the coming years.
>> When I became involved in cohousing in 1991 the world was a different
>> place. Back then, there were "only" 5.5 billion people on the planet
>> where today, only 20 years later, there is an estimated 6.9 billion
>> people. Exponential growth is a powerful thing. Populations everywhere
>> are bumping up against the limits of fresh water, food, liquid fuels,
>> and jobs in many parts of the world and right here in America.
>> I have had the pleasure and the challenge of been at the forefront of
>> innovation in the cohousing movement since I began. These include
>> helping to create the Rocky Mountain Cohousing Association, the
>> CoHousing Journal, eight regional inserts, a color cover, the first
>> Cohousing website, beginning to accept credit cards, starting an
>> online store, coordinating several regional then the first few
>> National conferences, and creating the Elder Cohousing Network.
>> The question before us now is how does cohousing address the
>> monumental transformations in housing now confronting American
>> society. As Kate Ben-Ami stated in her message earlier this week,
>>         "I understood that it'll take time for the COHO community to realize
>> the complete
>>         paradigm shift that has occurred in this country (with regard to
>> home
>> ownership)."
>> This is an unprecedented opportunity for the cohousing model to take
>> its 20+ years of experience and apply it to creating models for
>> affordable, rental and lower income housing that is so urgently needed
>> in this country. Cohousing needs creative leadership who has the
>> experience, leadership and connections to take us in this direction.
>> Who is ready to join me in this challenge?
>> Zev Paiss
>> Nomad Cohousing
>> Boulder, Colorado
>> zpaiss [at]
>> 303-413-8066
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