Re: the concept of cohousing v. actual cohousing
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Fri, 12 Feb 2010 10:39:45 -0800 (PST)

On Feb 11, 2010, at 4:16 PM, Kristen Simmons wrote:

-Folks who currently own homes will need to sell them to move in. They
might also have planned to use home equity loans to make a down
payment. Their property may have gone down in value, and the housing
market is not good. Basically, they have assets, but nothing is

One group that you might contact for information on equity is the Legacy Farm community in Rosendale NY. NYState has very restrictive real estate development laws in respect to condos -- mostly because of rent controlled buildings being converted to condos to avoid rent control. A lot of small fish get caught in the big net.

I don't know if Legacy Farm has any ideas you haven't thought of but you never know. Brooklyn Cohousing is also in this spot. They got a huge wonderful article in the NY Times recently and got some leads from that. Publicity is always good.

Neither of these communities have people who are active on this list so they may not see your request for information. I would contact them directly.

Cohousing has traditionally discouraged investors but for decades (literally) it also rejected developers. Architects and project managers were active in CA and CO but basically communities felt if they weren't doing it themselves, big brother would take charge. And some unscrupulous people did fleece a few groups. But developers have helped enormously.

Takoma Village was an investor's idea. He had the land and looked for someone to help. He found Ann Zabaldo who could give him credibility, drum up people, and develop the community side of things. It was hard because it was his first cohousing project but he went on to do Eastern Village and is working on others. We are not less cohousing with a developer than we would have been without a developer -- except that we wouldn't have been able to build in Washington without him.

We did have one member who was able to loan people cash on the crucial day when people had to have $5,000-$20,000 down payments with contracts for him to take to the bank. He and the person signing the loan agreements were sitting in a room taking phone calls, brokering agreements, and cutting checks right up to the minute of the deadline. That was _very_ helpful since the deadline was suddenly announced.

Then people began selling homes and moving to the immediate area. After a year of construction delays almost everyone was in temporary housing (not all of it pleasant) until we could move in.

In this environment, it may be necessary to look for investors. I don't know how to find real estate investors and the whole housing market is down, especially new building, but the money is out there somewhere sitting on the sidelines. Cohousing seems like such a solid feel-good investment to me that it's hard to understand why people don't jump at it.

And the need for rentals in cohousing is such a big need. The whole age group from 20-30 is essentially cut out because they have neither the cash nor the income to get a mortgage. Only investors can build rental housing.

Ann Zabaldo has done a book designed to get developers interested in cohousing. Perhaps it would help to get investors interested. It includes budgets and the other facts that investors would want to see. The numbers are particularly useful because no one wants to share real numbers and that's what you need.

A huge lovely building near us started building as condos when the market dropped. They sold to a company that does only rentals and they finished the building. Now that it is full, the inside info is that they will begin converting to condos. That's one way to get built if you can attract investors.

How are other communities dealing with these things? How did the early
cohousing communities in the 90’s make it through and get enough
members to make the project work?

The reason cohousing is criticized for being a middle class phenomenon is that only people who had cash could afford the time or the money to build cohousing communities. They had no support from developers and had to do their own contracting. Banks wouldn't even finance them. Town planning boards cost them a ton of money before approving (or rejecting) their plans.

Compared to that, new communities really have it easy. I know it doesn't sound like it but people on this list in the 90s were still dealing with how do we get a construction loan even if we have sold 70% of the units and done all our permitting.

The financial downturn has probably returned things to pre-2000 conditions but not entirely. There is a good track record. In the 90s that wasn't quite there yet. A good record in CA didn't mean squat to bankers in Ohio. The internet and resulting globalization has changed that along with the growing number of communities.

WEBSITE: The website is very important but it doesn't have to be elaborate. Use Google sites-- its easy and the sites look nice and they work. It is still buggy but the bug is that you get error messages when there is no error. Everything is fine so just go forward.

You can set things up so your own web address (domain name) can be used -- not a google sites address. Google sites is actually a wiki. Several people can update it who have no HTML or programming experience.

Personally, I would love to see a cohousing community go after investors and make it work for the investors and the community.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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