Re: Developer Model of Co-housing
From: Raines Cohen (
Date: Wed, 9 Sep 2015 12:03:08 -0700 (PDT)
Sue Ellen,

As Katie said, this process of development is not at all uncommon on the
path to establishing successful cohousing neighborhoods from a small core
group. While all too many cohousing discussion groups just stay in the
"comfort zone" of talking and exploring without taking risks and bold steps
forward together, it takes some pro-active engagement to step up from a
social, low-commitment group to one that actually is on a path to creating
a neighborhood together.

At each level of increased investment and engagement, it is up to you, in
partnership with your consultants, advisors, network, and friends, to
choose whether the balance is right for you to move forward as part of the
group - what are the potential benefits and risks? Some people, at some
times, are ready for this. Others aren't. That's OK.

In an ideal world, we would know everything before going forward, and there
would be no risks, uncertainties, or changes. You can get this if you wait
until a community is built, but then you lose the opportunity for your
input and participation in the process, you lose the benefit of advance
discounts and a return on your investment (sometimes substantial, in line
with the risks involved), and you don't get your first choice of homes, and
risk not having any suitable home available.

A smart forming cohousing group that is seeking investor-members at the
early stages spends a lot of time building trust and capacity. It creates
opportunities to build confidence with small-digit funds, like membership
dues in the tens of dollars per month and workshops in the hundreds of
dollars, on the path to hiring professionals with thousands of dollars and
then doing down payments in the tens of thousands, before getting to home
purchases hopefully not more than hundreds of thousands per household.

But no group can afford to start over with each new member or go back to
square one. As opportunities come up, groups need to make the most of them
and move forward, to make bids and get options on sites before competing
developers snap them up. A Silicon Valley-based group, PERCH, spent much of
the 90s trying to get sites as the market kept going up and up, but waiting
for group consensus kept it (reportedly) from being able to act fast enough
to secure a property in the competitive market.

As you evaluate the opportunity, ask yourself: "how would I feel if I let
this get away and didn't join at this point?" as well as "Can I afford to
lose this much if it all goes bad?" and  "Am I ready for the commitment it
will take with additional investment to move forward if the group does?"
Compare notes and see where you fall on the spectrum - you may not be
alone, or you may not know something that others do that makes them feel
more comfortable. Or you may simply be in a different position as far as
your finances and risk tolerance - that's useful information, and well
worth spending or risking a little to learn.

Since my wife Betsy Morris and I are not financiers, architects, or
developers, we sometimes provide Cohousing Coaching to individual members
and prospective members of groups, as well as to groups collectively. We've
seen groups succeed and fail, and have learned a lot from visiting over 100
established communities and helping others at all stages of the process.

We are currently working with a member of a forming group to help him
engage with his group, particularly since he doesn't live in the group's
area yet so can't routinely make meetings and workdays in person. I've
visited the group and helped him understand the documents and plan how to
step up and integrate so he can fully be a part of the process, and
understand the roles of the professionals the group has hired, and the
financial risks / rewards.

Let us know if we can help you with the process of engaging with your group
and finding the confidence you need to choose wisely whether to become part
of the group, making the commitment (or not) at this time.

Raines Cohen, Cohousing Coach and Certified Senior Advisor
  Planning for Sustainable Communities, at Berkeley (CA) Cohousing, where
we just had a lovely memorial for my neighbor David Dobkin, one of our
community founders - and a Coho/US board member back when it was The
Cohousing Network
  currently in DC for Grandparents Climate Action Day, lobbying Congress
for Climate Fee & Dividend legislation tomorrow through the Elders Climate
Action project of the Conscious Elders Network

PS Learn a little about my community organizing history that inspired my
cohousing movement involvement in today's NY Times business section, page B3

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