Re: Lack of scale, not building costs
From: Tiffany Lee Brown (
Date: Fri, 26 Aug 2016 16:29:55 -0700 (PDT)
this is such a good point. the current model doesn't scale well because it
requires those extremely dedicated founders to get things going, and
because funding institutions, municipalities, etc are underprepared for
dealing with cohousing communities. your example of Amazon is perfect. they
could get stuff accomplished in any town where they employed a chunk of
people -- the municipalities typically kiss the asses of big companies.

also, people hear of the cohousing concept and make assumptions about who
they'd meet in a cohousing situation ("But i don't want to live with 100%
hippies" i heard someone say) or about communication styles. personally,
i've been involved with enough consensus-focused groups that i am actually
*scared* of nonviolent communication and consensus! in my experience
(Eugene, Oregon and Berkeley, California and Goddard College and artist
cooperatives in Portland, to name a few) it can imply endless meetings
filled with people compromising simple honesty in order to contort every
assertion into a form that could never possibly be accused of hurting
someone's feelings. the result is often passive-aggressive behavior, power
grabs by folks who happen to be good at NVC techniques, and an atmosphere
of repression plastered with a faux Buddha smile. UGH!!! in reality, i
don't think NVC, trying to achieve some level of consensus, cohousing, or
communal living have to work that way, but i know *lots* of people who make
that assumption. sometimes i do, too.

i want to share a community garden and live in a place that encourages
environmental sustainability, responsible food and water sourcing, and a
love of creativity and nature. i find that those things are often lumped in
with other social/subcultural characteristics, as though environmentalism
and nature were somehow reserved for people who don't swear, hunt,
occasionally lose their temper, make morbid jokes, grumble about everyday
stuff, engage in dumb arguments, or watch Game of Thrones. you know what i
mean? it ends up alienating a big part of the population, people who we
really need to get on board with sustainability if we don't want the planet
to implode in fifteen years.

the advantage of the other housing models you name is that buyers and
sellers are matched with each other, and the buyer can decide ahead of time
whether she wants to adhere to whatever rules or values are implied, say by
a regular HOA. maybe she joins the co-op board and gets a rule changed.

is it possible to combine cohousing and intentional community values with
some good old-fashioned, get-'er-done mentality? portion out some items
that the community on an ongoing basis can determine, and hold endless
meetings about if they please, but otherwise set out basic rules and such
at the outset? i keep thinking that maybe what i want is just a plain ol'
housing development... but one where people like me are being marketed to.
(for example, the place could offer sustainability, community participation
in labor, shared gardens and barns and yoga rooms, rentable art studios --
instead of the water-hogging chemical-laden lawns, bland clubrooms, ugly
golf courses, and underpaid landscaping labor you would typically see in a
"nice" housing development out here on the west coast.) i don't mind a
little heirarchy. i don't mind someone making money off the development
effort. if it means i don't have to wait ten years to break ground, and i
only have to attend a few meetings, then i'm down with it!

am i just being too cynical here?

in central oregon

tiffany lee brown

editor, plazm magazine
director, new oregon arts & letters

On Wed, Aug 24, 2016 at 9:47 AM, Jonathan Kallay <yoni [at]> wrote:

> Hi all. This is my first time posting to the list--I don't live in
> cohousing but am interested in the concept.
> Apologies if I'm repeating what has been said before, but it seems to me
> that the problem of affordability is really a symptom of the larger problem
> of the difficulty of scaling cohousing to more than the presently
> negligible scale. If there aren't otherwise suitable cohousing
> opportunities available, then the affordability issue is moot.
> Economists might say that the dominant mode of housing is dominant because
> it is more efficient. If we believe cohousing serves people better in the
> long run and is better at allocating resources, there is probably some
> hidden way in which it is still inefficient, and the first place to look in
> such cases is transaction costs. Indeed, if I want to buy a house or rent
> an apartment, the market can easily provide those by pairing me with the
> individual parties selling or letting out their houses. With cohousing, in
> contrast, there is a complicated process of bringing many buyers
> together--30 or so households, according to the research Katie has reported
> about optimal community size! Inevitably this requires a "burning soul"
> willing to coordinate the process without pay, which guarantees scarcity.
> If we look for the most prevalent forms approximating cohousing I think
> we'd find that the number of instances of the "real thing" (that is,
> intentional community) is blown out of the water by forms that are a
> by-product of institutional coordination, such as
> * University housing
> * Housing for seasonal workers
> * Military housing
> * Historically, "company towns" built around the railroad, mining,
> logging, etc.
> The reason, naturally, is that these institutions already cover the
> transaction costs of bringing people together for a shared purpose. What
> the cohousing/IC movement brings to the table, I think, is the idea that
> there are elements of these models that are worthy of emulation outside of
> the specific cases where they grow out of necessity.
> If I were Katie or anyone with IC expertise looking to maximize its
> impact, I would target employers importing a large part of their growing
> workforces. Amazon in Seattle is for me an obvious local example. The
> approach would be to get the employer behind the creation and facilitation
> of ICs for its workers. These families are already relocating so there's no
> friction there. They are already stimulating the creation of new housing.
> And, for the foreign-born imports in particular, they are often coming from
> more communal societies and need the additional social support that IC is
> intended to provide.
> Such ICs would dramatically increase the supply available to everyone.
> Jonathan Kallay
> Seattle
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