What should a forming group ....get a good plan for NOW?"

Grace Kim responded to a query on cohousing-l to “cohousing veterans:”
“What should we (a forming group) be worried about / work out in advance / get a good plan for NOW?"

I'll preface my advice with the fact that I am an architect, but also a founding member of an urban cohousing group in Seattle that will break ground later this summer. Even though my husband and I are architects and purchased the land more than 4 years ago, it has taken us this long to get to construction (recession was not in our timeline, and the bank attitudes towards lending during the recovery also has hit us hard).

While it's good to do as much research and due diligence for free/little cost, I'm a firm believer that you will need to invest (mentally, emotionally and financially) in the process in order to succeed. (As a business owner, I've often said you have to spend money to make money - same principle here but the making part is the community).

What I mean is that you'll want to pay for group process training (consensus, conflict resolution, vision/values); this will help you through really difficult decisions. There were many times that we thought, "oh boy, we are going to lose half the group with this decision" and we've made it through intact by virtue of listening to the wisdom of the group. The most difficult decisions if you don't have land are location - urban/suburban/rural, and buy in (figure you can lose half your group with either of these decisions/milestones).

You'll also want to pay for professional help (unless you have skills within - and even then) with understanding the land use entitlements associated with land. Of course, you'll need the land in order to do that - and getting site control often takes money. You'll need an attorney to help you with the buy-in/establishing organizational structure. And most importantly you'll want to hire a developer. Because you may be the most savvy group with a raft of architects, attorneys, and builders amongst you - the banks won't touch you with 10' pole unless you have track record for developing other multifamily projects. After 3 years of talking to us to our progressive/sustainable bank who gave us a mortgage about our project, their risk management officer finally asked "how many of these building have you developed?" As architects working on countless multifamily projects, we'd developed none for ourselves (much like most cohousing communities). We also had a developer friend consulting with us on the side, but he had "no skin in the game" according to the banks. No other banks were willing to have even this level of conversation. As soon as we hired a developer, the lawyers got off our backs with their stringent restrictions/cautions and the banks were willing to talk loan terms. If you hire no one else, hire the developer (one that shares your values if you can find one) - you will shave a couple of years off your timeline.

What doesn't cost a lot of money is community building - frequent dinners, outings, birthday celebrations, retreats. The social/emotional capital and resiliency that is built up through frequent social interactions will also help you through difficult times.

Hope this helps.

grace h. kim | schemata workshop inc.
aia, principal architect
206.285.1589
www.schemataworkshop.com

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Vision & Values

I'd add to the front of this process a strong vision statement. Take a look at those of other groups, think about it, hash it out. (There are a few here.

Also think about the composition of your group early on, because like attracts like. If you are looking for different demographics than your forming group, reach out in the right places, and set up your meetings to be welcoming! e.g., If you want families with young kids, have meetings at family friendly times and provide childcare. If you are looking for the senior demographic, consider the accessibility of your meeting location, and make sure people don't talk over each other in meetings.