Re: Cohousing's Diversity Problem - CityLab
From: Barbara Machina (
Date: Sat, 12 Aug 2017 07:48:54 -0700 (PDT)
After hearing stories at the conference and from visiting local (NC)
cohousing developments, the biggest cost issue I realized groups came upon
was... not doing their due diligence. It's sad, but true. Re-zoning
issues/costs, fixing building code violations, upcharges during build, not
knowing the environmental history of the land, and not priming/sussing out
the surrounding neighbors before purchasing. It seems like the most
undesirable pieces of land are the only ones at a reasonable price for
those buying with cash, but if you get stuck working with it, that's a lot
of money wasted down the line.

We're fortunate that we've got a  incredibly diverse group of folks who
want to participate in, contribute to, and live in cohousing, and they are
also financially diverse. We haven't ruled anyone out simply based on lack
of liquid income, because we appreciate their input to the process, and by
getting to know them early on, and know what they can contribute
reasonably, the group is already experiencing being in a very mixed-income
setting. We're also trying to come up with other potential ways to include
them as we learn their realistic financial situations (permanently
affordable housing held by a land trust is a possible option, or long-term

We're also considering modular. [Katie, I know we've talked about this
previously as not really being a cost-savings path, but after running the
numbers with a local, established modular company that delivers across the
US and internationally, it looks like a viable plan that we'd like to
explore further]. With modular, you: avoid the major building code issues
(because it gets a state stamp of approval which overrides local
inspectors), cut down on neighborhood disturbance (less likely to get
pushback that will slow you down), have the option for 4-5 different floor
plans without the overhead charges that you run into with stick built, and
reduce the chance of upcharges during the build (built in a factory, no
major on-site changes, no weather slow-downs, delivered in 6-8 weeks, ready
for move-in in another 10). I've been meaning to write a blog post about
it, I'll share when I do.

Anyway, that's the direction we're working in! We dropped the last piece of
land we were under contract for because there wasn't actually any water or
sewer access to the property. The county confirmed it with a GIS map, but
then told me maybe it could be done, so to run it by an engineer and
present them a plan. They said the process can take 6 months to a year, but
then slid me a list of engineers who could get it through "a little
faster". I simply got lucky; another local developer I met along the way
insisted he show me it wouldn't physically work, so he and his wife went
out and popped the sewer lids for me to show me their depths weren't deep
enough for the slope of the land. Basically, we'd have to push poop uphill.
When we brought that to the county, they said it would require a $250k pump
station... that they weren't willing to maintain anyway, so no. The seller,
an investor, would have gladly sold us this piece of land for 8x its real
value, and swore to the very end that he had no idea there was no water or
sewer access.

As for the lack of cultural diversity... I think, in this day and age, you
have to make it abundantly clear that you accept everyone. Abundantly.
People who are regularly marginalized don't necessarily feel comfortable
reaching out to see if they're going to be accepted - that's opening
themselves up to vulnerability they face every day. Each community has to
decide on the level of diversity they're trying to obtain - if you put
materials out in other languages, are you prepared for some non-english
speaking families? Are your events culturally-inclusive and respectful? Are
you advertising in cultural areas (people often mention to spread the word
through church bulletin boards, but are they also putting them in mosques,
synagogues, and other various temples)? Are you prepared to accept the way
other cultures raise their children, treat their elders, and cook their
food? And, most importantly, how do you demonstrate that to those you're
trying to reach?
On Sat, Aug 12, 2017, 8:48 AM Sharon Villines <sharon [at]>

> > On Aug 12, 2017, at 8:06 AM, Liz Ryan Cole <lizryancole [at]> wrote:
> >
> > One hope I have had is that once cohousing neighborhoods are built and
> occupied, that the uncertainly will be less, and people moving in may be
> more diverse than the original founders.  Has anyone looked at that - if in
> fact we even have enough established cohousing development to generate
> meaningful data.
> Yes. Rob Sandelin, years ago, said communities become more homogeneous. He
> was one of the first cohousing facilitators/consultants. No numbers; his
> experience.
> And it makes sense. Friends and friends of friends move in. Relatives of
> people who live in cohousing in another state.
> How many people say to themselves, I want to go live in a diverse
> community in which I am the diversity. "This ________ community needs me
> because they have no ethnic diversity. I will be the diversity.”
> Sharon
> ———
> Sharon Villines, Washington DC
> "Grandparents are the consistency, security, and tradition in a child’s
> life." Nancy Fuller, Farmhouse Rules
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Barb Machina
TribeMind, LLC
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