Real Estate Development & Owner Occupied Developments
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Tue, 3 Aug 2021 10:13:12 -0700 (PDT)
> On Aug 1, 2021, at 8:12 AM, Ty Albright via Cohousing-L <cohousing-l [at] 
>> wrote:
> Real estate development is a complicated highly risky venture.Costs increase 
> when mistakes are made - a professional can help you avoid mistakes.It’s been 
> my experience that people don’t want to pay for a real estate professional - 
> the thinking is that a group of smart people can figure it out - which they 
> can .... as they bungle through making mistakes that could have been avoided 
> with the benefit of experience.

Just read a book that was initially exciting (if a book on real estate can be 
exciting) and then sort of depressing. “High Life: Condo Living in the Suburban 
Century”  by Matthew Gordon Lasne discussing the history of owner-occupied 
multi-household dwellings int the US. 200+ years of real estate strategies and 
failures.  The largest number of communities and legal structures peaked in the 

I didn’t know that families lived in hotels. A strange concept but from the 
early 1800s on they did. One reason for eliminating the large lobby in condos 
was to avoid the social life that women played out there. A daily parade of 
finery and friends and gossip.

All the things we talk about as struggles in cohousing were struggles then — 
not just the usual risk of building something not knowing if anyone wants it, 
but also:

1. Negative perceptions of shared anything
2. Financial interdependence with strangers
3. People only willing to commit after it is built and proven successful
4. Difficulty with financing — had to presell from 35-70% of units
5. Poor self-governance — board treated like a landlord.

The stories of difficulties are exactly the same. (You heard it here first!)

The focus is on huge real estate developments — hundreds of units built and 
financed by corporations. But hey are advertised the same way as cohousing. 
Peace and quiet, cozy, great people, social activities, shared golf courses, 
control over quality of lifestyle, etc. Quality construction and design. There 
was a whole period of cooperative “home clubs” that sound like country clubs. 
At this point, people began appearing in the ads. Previously they had only 
emphasized the grandeur of the buildings.

Fifty artists and writers came together in Greenwich Village to build a complex 
that was a very successful community with a long waiting list. Another example 
with blocks of buildings that was known for the typical condo 
fights-to-the-death also had a strong social culture — boy scout troops, 
cooking classes, settling in programs for immigrants — everything a city or 
non-profit supported community center might organize. Long waiting list. People 
stayed 20+ years. The author suggests that the fights were only a reflection of 
how engaged people were. The fights were used as negative publicity by rental 
apartment builders and certainly occurred but the social structure suggests 
they were not formative.

Interestingly, it used to be the norm that people in apartments moved _every 
year_. It was programmed — moving either Oct 1 or another date depending on 
what state you lived in. Owner occupied was thus sold as secure and long 
lasting. People were attracted to having stable communities. One boasted in the 
press of having 3 generations living in the same complex. One had 15 
playgrounds. There were 800 units and 760 children. The focus was on 
professional management and modern technology so heavy involvement in 
governance was not expected.  Self-management and maintenance was specifically 
not the objective. 

Then after WWII, the move was toward government built or subsidized limited 
equity co-ops. Some less cooperative and more limited than others. Backed and 
insured with government funds it went on for decades but was not particularly 
successful. It reduced costs but took away all the attractive and productive 
features. In sociocracy, this would be characterized as misplaced ego. Who was 
in charge? Can’t have it both ways and build for the future.

The most successful, however, were those started for social reasons. 
Affordability was important but the reasons the workers organizations, 
particularly unions, supported co-ops was that the workers deserved better 
housing and a good foundation in life. They needed more in terms of educational 
opportunities, children’s programs, etc. Many of the strongest were the product 
of largely Jewish groups also fighting for unions. it was a mission.

Wealthy individuals also organized coops for the good of working class and 
professional families, not just for their peers. One wealthy matron was very 
public about her role as unofficial manager of the complex she helped develop 
in showing the units for sale, etc., for decades.

Perhaps one lesson for cohousing is that commitment to the social benefits, 
equal rights, produced the strongest communities. Discussions about the social 
implications of governance decisions, for example, seem to be less frequent now 
than they were 20 years ago. The question is what should a policy cover, rather 
than what social effect do we want a policy to produce. 

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

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