Re: Developer Model of Co-housing
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Thu, 3 Sep 2015 16:19:16 -0700 (PDT)
I think every case is different.  I certainly know of a number of cohousing 
communities conceived and animated by a paid architect, or architect / 
developer, that have proceeded through the entire process successfully.  In at 
least one of these, the builder / contractor joined the community as well, and 
now lives in the buildings he was paid to construct.  Transparency of intents 
and business practices can go a long way toward preventing or resolving 
“conflicts of interest”.

In the case of my own community, Cornerstone Village Cohousing, an architect / 
developer was one of the originators of the founders' group.  Unfortunately, he 
was in over his head, and as the development process got stressed out and 
costly, he had to leave the group, and litigation over fee disputes ensued.  
This is certainly a risk when some of the founders have special business 
relations with the venture.  But it’s also a risk when you get crosswise with 
your independent consultants.  The true truth is that real estate development 
is hard, expensive, and risky — all the more so for a newly convened group of 
amateurs who don’t yet know each other very well.  Frankly, I have intense 
admiration for any founding group that actually succeeds in building cohousing.

Another reality is that the whole thing is smoke and mirrors until you own the 
land, or at least have an enforceable option on the land.  Taking title to land 
is the point at which a founding group moves from well-intentioned idealism to 
the demanding pragmatics of pro formas, zoning boards, building codes, 
schedules, inflation and bank collapses, and miscellaneous parties who don’t do 
what they told you they would do.  If you don’t have the land, you don’t have a 
project.  And once you have the land, you’re often in a constant struggle to 
make sure that the project doesn’t have you.

This is not easy stuff.

R Philip Dowds
175 Harvey Street, Unit 5
Cambridge, MA 02140

land:     617.354.6094
mobile: 617.460.4549
email:   rpdowds [at]

> On Sep 3, 2015, at 6:52 PM, Robin Allison <robin.allison [at] 
>> wrote:
> I too would be very interested to hear any experience of cohousing that has 
> arisen successfully in this way. 
> I come across this situation a lot, where one family owns a property and 
> would like to either create cohousing on it, or at least invite others to 
> "share" the land and build community there. A transition is required at some 
> stage to transfer the ownership and decision-making from the original owners 
> to the cohesive group, and even with the very best intentions, it seems that 
> this is a very tricky transition. 
> If we believe that risk and control need to go together, then the land-owners 
> need to keep some control while they are the only ones at (financial) risk. 
> If they want to share the risk, they need to also share the control, and if a 
> group wants to share the control, as in consensus decision-making, they need 
> to also share the risk. Skin in the game, and all that.
> If there were successful strategies for making this transition, I think there 
> would be a lot more cohousing in NZ. 
> Thanks
> Robin Allison
> Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood in New Zealand.
> <>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Cohousing-L [ 
> [at] < 
> [at]>] On Behalf Of Sue Ellen Hiers
> Sent: Friday, 4 September 2015 7:51 a.m.
> To: cohousing-l [at] <mailto:cohousing-l [at]>
> Subject: [C-L]_ Developer Model of Co-housing
> Are there any best practices for the situation where one party (call this 
> person the developer) owns the land?  My heart wants to be a part of such a 
> forming co-ho but my brain says too much is undefined for money to start 
> changing hands. And what is defined is unsettling. In fact if I didn't know 
> the developers I would not even consider it. 
> How can lawyers/consultants/architects, represent both sides of this 
> transaction? By that I mean the money changing hands will be used to add 
> value to the land (zoning changes, etc) that the members have no title to. 
> Should the non-developer members hire their own lawyers/consultants to 
> represent their interest? Should liens be put on the land for the value 
> added?  How can the group be protected in the event of the developer's death 
> or incapacity? This model of co-ho seems ripe for affinity fraud because it 
> appears to be based only on trust. Again the owners of the land (who are not 
> professional developers) are long time friends of mine so I am not suggesting 
> there is any fraud here.I would like to know what others who have faced or 
> are facing this model have done.
> Regards, Sue Ellen
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