What SHOULD I be worried about?
From: Grace Kim (graceschemataworkshop.com)
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2014 06:37:29 -0700 (PDT)
Michelle - you asked "So my question to you cohousing veterans is: What should 
we be worried about / work out in advance / get a good plan for NOW?"

I'll preface my advice with the fact that I am an architect, but also a 
founding member of an urban cohousing group in Seattle that will break ground 
later this summer.  Even though my husband and I are architects and purchased 
the land more than 4 years ago, it has taken us this long to get to 
construction (recession was not in our timeline, and the bank attitudes towards 
lending during the recovery also has hit us hard).

While it's good to do as much research and due diligence for free/little cost.  
I'm a firm believer that you will need to invest (mentally, emotionally and 
financially) in the process in order to succeed.  (As a business owner, I've 
often said you have to spend money to make money - same principle here but the 
making part is the community).

What I mean is that you'll want to pay for group process training (consensus, 
conflict resolution, vision/values) this will help you through really difficult 
decisions.  there were many times that we thought, "oh boy, we are going to 
lose half the group with this decision" and we've made it through intact by 
virtue of listening to the wisdom of the group.  The most difficult decisions 
if you don't have land are location - urban/suburban/rural and buy in (figure 
you can lose half your group with either of these decisions/milestones).

You'll also want to pay for professional help (unless you have skills within - 
and even then) with understanding the land use entitlements associated with 
land.   Of course, you'll need the land in order to do that  - and getting site 
control often takes money.  You'll need an attorney to help you with the 
buy-in/establishing organizational structure.  And most importantly you'll want 
to hire a developer.  Because you may be the most savvy group with a raft of 
architects, attorneys, and builders amongst you - the banks won't touch you 
with 10' pole unless you have track record for developing other multifamily 
projects.  After 3 years of talking to us to our progressive/sustainable bank 
who gave us a mortgage about our project, their risk management officer finally 
asked "how many of these building have you developed?"  As architects working 
on countless multifamily projects, we'd developed none for ourselves (much like 
most cohousing communities).  We also had a developer friend consulting with us 
on the side, but he had "no skin in the game" according to the banks. No other 
banks were willing to have even this level of conversation. As soon as we hired 
a developer, the lawyers got off our backs with their stringent 
restrictions/cautions and the banks were willing to talk loan terms.  If you 
hire no one else, hire the developer (one that shares your values if you can 
find one) - you will shave a couple of years off your timeline.

What doesn't cost a lot of money is community building - frequent dinners, 
outings, birthday celebrations, retreats.  The social/emotional capital and 
resiliency that is built up through frequent social interactions will also help 
you through difficult times.

Hope this helps.

grace h. kim | schemata workshop inc.
aia, principal architect


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