Journey to Ahhh…Part 5

The Intricacies of a For-Profit/Non-Profit Collaboration

We want to thank CohoUS for asking us to write this blog series and thank you for reading! Like all cohousing communities, Our Home – Cathedral Park started with family conversations in kitchen nooks and coffee houses, and we hope that in sharing our journey, there will be seeds of helpful information that other communities can grow from. As we wrap things up, we want to answer some of the “whys” that continue to propel us on this journey, as well as describe some of the complicating factors of pursuing mission-driven work alongside more traditional cohousing development. 

First, why did we choose a supporting development connection between the nonprofit Our Home, Inclusive Community Collaborative and the growing community, Our Home – Cathedral Park? 

Our Founding Neighbors knew that if we were going to make a new cohousing project happen in Portland, and if we were going to tackle the inclusion and diversity barriers to cohousing that many forming communities face, we would need to approach some of the early steps of development differently. The supporting relationship with the nonprofit, Our Home, Inclusive Community Collaborative, allowed us to take advantage of the organizational and financial support that they were enthusiastic to offer. OHICC’s mission to “promote, support, and develop inclusive and diverse communities” strongly resonated with us, and because OHICC has access to grants, donations and other funding opportunities available to them as a nonprofit, they have been a great partner to us. They’ve helped us to work through the early, most risky stages of development. Our community has already purchased our land, and with the assistance of OHICC, developed an attractive and financially feasible concept design, made necessary organizational and legal arrangements, and conducted a good deal of outreach to get our name out into the world. Had it not been for OHICC, we would not be where we are today, ready to grow our membership and move through the rest of the stages of design, approval, and construction. 

We feel very fortunate; a lot of cohousing communities can’t find the early support to get as far as we’ve gotten without having to put member funding at risk. Having this early work supported by the nonprofit springboards the gathering of the community at a time when the project is a good way down the development path, reducing both the financial risk and the timeline to completion for our Members. 

In exchange for the help they’ve provided, not only will Our Home – Cathedral Park further the mission of OHICC, but we’ll serve as a cornerstone community for the nonprofit’s goal of replicating this approach to housing in the future. Hopefully, OHCP will mark the beginning of a paradigm shift in both cohousing and the larger world of housing solutions for impacted communities. We know that the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than just yourself or your family or the community that you will be living in will be part of what attracts Explorers to our community. Ultimately, we predict a synergy will evolve between Our Home neighborhoods that will enhance the depth and reach of this work—the sum will be greater than its parts. 

Second, why did we choose Portland, in general, and Cathedral Park, in particular, for this project? 

In some ways, our location is a great example of the way that different elements have come together to foster this project’s creation. There are a lot of great things happening from the street-level to the city-level that make our site ideal. Moreover, since the idea of starting a cohousing community grew out of real families’ needs for viable housing solutions, it made sense to build the community where we live. And we are lucky in where we live! 

One great aspect of the community’s location is the ready access that founding members of the project have to a supportive network of people and organizations. Being active citizens and long-time parent advocates for children with disabilities has given Founding Neighbors Alicia DeLashmutt and Abby Braithwaite the opportunity to make deep connections in the local community with a multitude of agencies, nonprofits, program providers, and support systems. These connections have funneled support to both the project and its partner, OHICC.  

From a more general perspective, Oregon is both welcoming to cohousing and a leader in supporting inclusivity and diversity. While it’s no secret that the state, historically, has not been particularly diverse, it has recently made strides in addressing its unfortunate past. Civic leaders, community organizations, and businesses in Oregon, and particularly in Portland, have been on a path towards breaking down systemic forms of inequality. These efforts, though far from complete, can be seen in various forms such as the closing of the last state-run institution for people with disabilities in 1990, implementing affordable housing requirements for new developments, and combating gentrification in Portland’s historically-Black Albina District. This common awareness of progressive goals has made it easier to explain cohousing and define the importance of integrated, inclusive, community-based support for those who have been fighting an uphill battle for too long.

Portland is experiencing a disparity in housing availability for people with lower income, and new developments that want to correct this disparity are desirable. We will be working with our local land trust to partner on unit affordability for several of our homes.

With a multitude of cohousing projects across Oregon, and many of those in the Portland Metro Area, we have had the opportunity to draw on the extensive knowledge of our generous local cohousing communities as we have learned our way forward with this project. This sharing of experience and resources has been invaluable, and saved us so much time and research. 

In looking at where in the Portland area to site the first Our Home community, we focused on finding an urban location—with access to shopping, medical offices, services and service providers, entertainment, transportation—that is walkable and rollable, and still provides incredible access to nature. We were fortunate to find a piece of land that fit these parameters in the Cathedral Park neighborhood. As a bonus, Forest Park, one of the largest urban parks in the US, lies just across the bridge, and various smaller urban parks are within a short bike ride or drive; there is a large, established community garden right next door, and views of Forest Park from both our private and our common spaces

By being nested within a vibrant, active neighborhood, there is a great opportunity for synergy and reciprocity between Our Home – Cathedral Park and the surrounding neighborhoods. We are excited to be a part of where we live, and are building strong relationships with our neighbors even in this pre-development phase of our project— relationships which will make a real difference for all of us when we are living shoulder to shoulder. 

This has all been smooth sailing, right?  What are some of the challenges we’ve experienced? 

While we have done our best  to surround ourselves with people and organizations to make our load lighter, we have had to work through all the complexities of any cohousing project, with extra layers in our nonprofit/for-profit partnership. Staying true to our mission and values has been vital to our success, but also a challenge at times, as the forces of the market play into our realities. 

As welcoming as Portland is to cohousing, it’s also a high demand city with a high cost of land, construction, and base-line housing prices. A “market-rate” Portland condo is a high bar for many, making it all the more urgent that we build strong relationships with our developers and builders, as well as with the agencies who will help support our subsidised units. There is a disparity between housing prices and income, not only for the working class, but especially for people on fixed incomes such as SSI. There are complex limits and requirements of existing local and governmental programs to assist with the affordability of our elective units, and while we remain committed to providing these opportunities, it is an admitted challenge. 

Supporting a mission-focused development with the assistance of a nonprofit while avoiding legal pitfalls has involved many lawyers, many hours, many papers, and a lot of creation of new models. We have gathered together an incredible legal team to support us, but it’s been a steep learning curve for all of us founding neighbors as we work to stay abreast of necessary legal requirements. 

We know that one community, as amazing as it will be for the families and individuals who live there, is not enough to change the face of housing. We also know, from countless conversations with individuals, organizations and agencies across the country, that we have a compelling model that, if replicated faithfully, DOES have the potential to make real change happen. Time and time again, we have met with other nonprofits that want to see this type of mixed income, mixed ability, multigenerational development happen, but time and time again, they want to see a working example before the boards of directors that control their agencies are willing to take risks on something outside of their program structure or “norm”. Creating a first-of-its-kind model brings challenges, and we have learned to be resilient and creative as the path set has rarely proven a straight line. To keep our spirits up we have adopted the mantra of “Over, under, around, and through!” 

To learn more about this unique living experience, visit us at our website, Our Home – Cathedral Park and get in touch! 

Category: Affordability

Tags: Affordability, Diversity, forming communities

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