Re: To HIre or Not to Hire a Cohousing Consultant?
From: Philip Dowds (
Date: Sun, 21 Apr 2019 13:32:49 -0700 (PDT)
Frances —

Creating cohousing may look like mostly like a real estate development project, 
and in many respects, that’s often a major part of it.  Finding land is key: No 
land, no project.  And if you don’t have realistic expectations for the time 
and money involved, you may feel trapped in an endless sequence of 
disappointment and pain.  If you’ve got your land, your time and your money 
squared away, designing a configuration of buildings to meet your needs should 
be relatively straightforward.  It certainly helps if you have some competent 
contractors, developers and designers in your group, but many cohousing 
projects go forward without these internalized skill sets.  In all likelihood, 
you will need development, design and construction consultants.

But there’s more to it than buildings.  Maybe most of you are already 
experienced communitarians, and come from prior successful communal living 
situations.  But that’s unusual.  Most forming groups are attracted (they 
think) to a communitarian living ideal, but have had little practical 
experience with it.  So the years of the real estate development process are 
the also time during which you can (and should) figure out how to be a 
community.  For example …
     Who is a “member” of your group?  What are the criteria?  Does it ever 
happen that one of your “members” is a major problem, and if so, is it possible 
to divest yourself of this “member”?  How?  Yes, we all want consensus 
decision-making to bring us into unanimity … but, what if consensus doesn’t 
work?  What if you can’t agree about something important?  What happens then?  
Plenary time is scarce and valuable, and you can’t do everything in plenary.  
So how do you delegate, and to whom?  Do subcommittees have powers as well as 
duties?  Can they spend big bucks without coming back to plenary?  Must 
everything be done face-to-face, or is there a way to communicate, to do 
communal business, that doesn’t require everyone to be in the room at the same 
time?  You thought you were lucky to have a real estate expert as a group 
member … but is this “expert” trying to boss you around?  Who should do what 
when two valued member households are having a hissy fit about each other?  And 
so on.

Maybe the answers to these questions are obvious and simple for you, but for 
most groups, not so much.  Many sincere cohousing creation efforts come to 
naught because their excellent real estate attorney and excellent architect 
don’t have a clue about how to build and sustain a viable communitarian 
culture.  So, in addition to development consultants, you may also need a group 
process consultant as well.  The number of consultants out there who are good 
at both development and group process aren’t so many.

Philip Dowds
Cornerstone Village Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

mobile: 617.460.4549
email:   rpdowds [at]

> On Apr 21, 2019, at 3:02 PM, frances woolison <franceswoolison [at] 
>> wrote:
> To hire or not to hire a cohousing consultant?
> We are a small forming cohousing group in a part of Canada where cohousing is 
> as yet unknown.  A few years ago, one of our members was in a forming 
> cohousing group in another province.  That group had a very negative 
> experience after hiring an American cohousing consultant. The project fell 
> apart and the group collapsed.
>  Our group has been busy, mostly working on marketing and recruiting new 
> members.  After a year of limited success, we feel like we’re going in 
> circles. How do we know what this project will cost? When should we 
> incorporate? How do we keep the interest of individuals who come to our 
> information sessions, and those who become associates?  How and when do we 
> set up equity memberships?  And the big question, should we hire a cohousing 
> consultant?  Knowing from the experience of other groups, that hiring a 
> consultant doesn't guarantee success, our membership is divided on this 
> issue. The alternative of simply hiring a local project manager has been 
> presented, partly because there are no local cohousing consultants. Some of 
> the group insist that “Cohousing isn’t rocket science.“  Other members are 
> leery about working with someone who is unfamiliar with cohousing.
> Having explained our situation, I’d like to ask the following questions:
> - Which communities have succeeded without hiring a cohousing consultant?  
> Has anyone tried?  How many have failed?
> - Is it a problem if a cohousing consultant is not local and therefore 
> unfamiliar with local laws?
> - Is it necessary to hire a cohousing consultant?  What specific issues are 
> unique to cohousing and therefore unfamiliar to project managers?
> Our group has reached a stalemate and would appreciate answers which might 
> help us move forward.  Thanks.
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