Re: cohousing communities that have not made it
From: fernselzer (
Date: Sun, 1 Aug 2021 12:56:00 -0700 (PDT)
Hi all I am one of the founding members of New Brighton Cohousing and we did 
make it so far.   We went through many years in Santa Cruz of monthly meetings, 
making consensus agreements about how we would be organized, make decisions, 
etc.  We did a lot of work, attended several "getting it built" workshops from 
Katie McCamant, cohousing annual meetings and many tours and visits.  Locally 
every time we found possible property, we could easily collect other people who 
wanted to join but they didn't want to do the work or pay any money until the 
way was clear.       Finally, Katie advised us to close our group to only our 
main hard-working members and create our guidelines, plans, legal structures 
and put up money ourselves before opening up to others.  There were 5 of us and 
none of us had a lot of money, but we each put in $10,000.   Building from 
scratch locally was looking more and more expensive and we couldn't really 
compete with developers,  so we broadened our search.   A slightly run-down,  
11 unit commercial townhouse complex happened to come up for sale whose 
existing design included parking around the perimeter, an inner courtyard and 
an extra main house on the property which makes our common house.  The 
situation was not what we originally envisioned but we were able to purchase it 
and create community and continue to improve our property.  I think that what 
was needed for success in our local environment was a strong core group willing 
to work over a long period of time (without a guarantee of success), 
willingness to put up at least some money for seed money, flexibly dealing with 
many roadblocks, and advice from cohousing resources. If you hang on inflexibly 
to your vision, it's a problem.   What are you going to sacrifice? location? 
cost? dedicated time? Who helped us the most was Katie who had a lot of 
practical knowledge, both personally and professionally,  including knowledge 
of the roadblocks.In my cohousing community, there are only two households 
still here left of the original 5 members from 2007.  One member who did a lot 
of the original work dropped out of the group when we decided on a property 5 
miles from Santa Cruz.  (everyone who dropped out did get their money back- but 
not their time of course) The others owning here don't even know her name and 
have no idea how much work we put in month after month with no guarantee of 
outcome. The joy comes from living in community; the disgruntlement from living 
with the complaints from the frustrated members who came after us about how 
much work they must do, how much it costs, and how unfair it is.Just my 
perspective and fortunately, the complainers are not the majority.  FernNew 
Brighton CohousingAptos, CA
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Subject: Cohousing-L Digest, Vol 211, Issue 1

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Today's Topics:

  1. Re: question about cohousing communities that have not made
      it (Sharon Villines)


Message: 1
Date: Sat, 31 Jul 2021 12:59:04 -0400
From: Sharon Villines <sharon [at]>
To: Cohousing-L <cohousing-l [at]>
Subject: Re: [C-L]_ question about cohousing communities that have not
    made it
Message-ID: <6DD0F34B-A45B-4E1B-837F-39C0DCB7E377 [at]>
Content-Type: text/plain;    charset=utf-8

> On Jul 29, 2021, at 7:57 PM, T G <triciamill9 [at]> wrote:
> 64% failure rate, wow. Does anyone know how long most people keep trying
> before they decide to throw in the towel? I mean, you can only put in so
> much money before you decide to cut your losses.....Where is the breaking
> point?

In the earliest periods the issue isn?t usually about money but about the time 
it takes to develop a strong core group, learn what needs to be done, and make 
a plan to do it. The number of groups that fail are probably still at this 

Groups have lost a lot of money trying to develop cohousing ? just as everyone 
else who has tried to develop a real estate dependent project. Real estate is 

Eventually, it means finding households who can afford to pay for the units a 
group plans. That is a dynamic process of we have these people who can afford 
this ? is that what we can build. And the ?we? is important. Cohousing is a 
cooperative process of people working together by sharing abilities. 

More and more mainstream developers are becoming more interested in cohousing. 
The actual process is not so different than developing any other 
multi-household property. The client may not even be less complicated than 
other clients. So more developers can be enticed but it does help to have a 
developer. I don?t have the numbers but I can?t imagine that a developer 
doesn?t save groups money. It has to cost more to build 35 units when you start 
from knowing nothing and have to get up to speed from ground zero than if you 
build 35 units with someone who has done it before.

Groups also fall apart when so much time has gone by that the core people are 
no longer able to continue focusing on cohousing. People who want their 
children to start school in a place where they will stay until high school will 
want to plant themselves in such a school district and not wait until the group 
has land. People also leave the area. The estimate at one point was that in the 
US, one-third of all households move every year. So there is a normal flow of 
people whose lives are changing unrelated to cohousing.

Imagine yourself sitting in a room with 10 people ? some friends and some 
strangers. Now begin discussing locations and architectural design preferences. 
You have a pile of papers with numbers that tell you what it will take 
financially to do this or that. How long do you think that group would stay 
together? What compromises would need to be made? How far are you willing to go 
in changing your living arrangements to allow everyone in the group to stay?

The failure rate is high because the idea is compelling and so many people 
think they want to live in cohousing. That doesn?t mean the 64% were all very 
realistic in their plans. Or that they got far enough to have plans. 

Sharon Villines, Editor & Publisher
Affordable Housing means 30% of household income
Cohousing means self-developed, self-governed, self-managed


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