Getting Started - Overview
Using professionals has been shown to save members money over doing it themselves. The development process is risky and complex. Working with experienced professionals reduces the risk and increases the likelihood that the project will be built on time and on budget. However there are things a group can do to get their project started. Taking these initial steps will help build a strong foundation for your project - each step builds on the next.
Educate yourself about the concept
make sure you understand what cohousing is and what it is not!!
there are lots of resources available (books, videos, interviews) many of which are listed on the Canadian Cohousing website at www.cohousing.ca, on Cohousing US at www.cohousing.org, or on the Foundation for Intentional Communities (FIC) website at www.ic.org.
visit completed communities listed on the national cohousing websites or in the FIC Directory
talk to cohousing founding members of completed communities - find out what they did to create success
Reach out to your networks
Contact friends and associates. Use free or very low cost advertising (community group newsletters for example) and hold some information meetings. Marketing cohousing is about inviting people to find out more and if they are interested in the concept, inviting them to participate. Providing information and helping them feel welcome are the most important ingredients. If you have the ability to create a simple website, that will help make the project feel more real!
Name the project
You can always change the name later on, but you need to be able to call it something, particularly when you set up a bank account.
Coalesce a core group
Identify who is willing to take the time, spend the money and expend the energy to bring the project to completion - or at least get it started. Open a bank account - at this stage it makes sense to open an account as a community organization. Once a site has been identified and secured it will be important to set up a corporate account. But for the interim, the recommendation is to keep it simple. Collect a small fee to help cover costs of room rental, food, babysitting, etc. Funds will also be needed to pay for the professional services required to get the project started. Money invested at this stage will not be recoverable if the project does not proceed, however it is essential that members be willing to take some financial risk to move the project forward.
Determine a meeting strategy
When and where will the core group meet? Will you hold regular outreach/information meetings? How will people be informed? Will there be formal agendas and minutes?
Establish preliminary decision making protocols and practices
Learning the skills and establishing protocols and practices for how you will make decisions together will support you to have a joyful and successful process. There are many resources available on the internet describing collaborative decision making processes. The cohousing development consultant you engage may have decision making practices that they will want to use to support an effective and efficient development process.
Develop a statement of shared intention / project objective
A clear and concrete statement of shared intention/project objective will help clarify your purpose, inform others what you are about and provide a foundation to build on. Things you need to talk about:
What is the main purpose or intention for wanting to do this?
What is the desired form and charactor of the community (townhouse, apartment, single family homes, number and size of units) and what are the desired attributes?
Who are you wanting to attract (singles, couples, families, seniors)?
When do you want this to happen - ie what is your timeline?
The following is an example of a statement of shared intention for a successfully completed project:
Our mandate is to build an intentional neighbourhood of 20 to 25 strata-titled single family homes with common amenities for seniors that is affordable, environmentally friendly, and socially/culturally supportive, allowing people to flourish through mutual support as they age in place and in community.
Our mission is to be a sustainable senior cohousing homeowner community that promotes healthy aging in place. The physical structures as well as the social fabric of our community will nurture an innovative elder culture with lively connections to the larger society. While respecting personal privacy, we will foster cooperation, social connection and affordability through design and through the sharing of elder care as well as physical and social resources.
The statement of shared intention may evolve and change as more information becomes available, but it is important to have something solid to start with. For example, the group who created the project objective noted above changed their focus after investigating possible sites and ended up developing a project with 31 homes in a combination of apartments and duplexes. However, having the clear project objective to start with helped focus the site search.
Determine Site Criteria
What general area do you want to locate in?
What services or amenities do you want to have located close by?
What are the likely costs for a home in the neighbourhood of your choice?
Attending open houses at new developments in the neighbourhoods of your choice will help identify the likely costs and may help to give you ideas about the building form you want. Determining the average cost per square foot for new homes in the area will give you an idea of the likely per square foot cost for a newly completed cohousing home. If prices are higher than what you were expecting you may want to consider another neighbourhood. Also consider how small a space you could live in or perhaps the idea of sharing a home with one or more households. Communal living arrangements within the cohousing context are quite common. As well, renting out a bedroom can reduce housing costs and increase diversity. The extensive common spaces make it easier to live in small or shared living arrangements.
A note on costs: The cohousing development process does not of itself generate below market priced homes. Even though the development process does not include profit if the resident group is the developer, the homes are generally of higher quality with more green-built features then conventional housing, which makes them less costly to maintain and operate, but does contribute to higher initial costs. As well, the extensive common amenity areas add to the cost. This makes it easier to live in a smaller unit, but as a result the cost per square foot for the completed cohousing home includes a share of the common amenities and is often somewhat higher than the cost per square foot of a conventional home.
Cohousing homes are typically smaller than conventional homes, so even though the cost per square foot may be somewhat higher than for conventional developments, the total cost may be moderate for the area. The common amenities function as an extension to the private dwelling. Including things like guest rooms, workshops, children’s play spaces and meeting rooms, makes it possible for the individual homes to be smaller without negatively impacting lifestyle.
Talk with a planner in your local municipal area to identify what locations might be possible from a zoning perspective to achieve the kind of development you are wanting.
Collect Preliminary Financial Information
It takes money to develop a cohousing project. You need to know where that will come from before purchasing land. If many of the members already own homes (with minimal mortgage financing in place), then it is likely the group will have the financial capacity to develop a project. If many of the members are first time purchasers, then you may not have the resources you need to make a project happen. For example, one group with whom CDC worked wanted to focus on creating a community for young families. However after CDC prepared a preliminary financial feasibility study informing the group that they did not have the financial capacity to finance a cohousing development, they opened their membership up more broadly to include older households. As a result, they were successful at attracting the membership needed to finance their development and ended up with a very balanced intergenerational community.
The following questions will need to be answered:
What are likely costs to develop the type of homes and amenities in the location the group has chosen?
Do members have the financial capacity to achieve the vision? If not, then what?
What will it take for members to feel comfortable contributing equity to the development?
What are the requirements for bank financing?
Putting together a preliminary budget based on likely costs and developing a financial plan is an essential early step. You will need to engage someone who is knowledgeable about financing housing developments to help you with this step if you do not have the expertise within the group.
Establish criteria for selection, engage cohousing development consultant, prepare feasibility study
Establish the criteria for the selection of professionals. Hiring from within the group creates unique opportunities as well as challenges. Clear guidelines and boundaries are essential if the decision is made to hire from within the group.
If after following the steps noted above you think it might be feasible to develop a community in the neighbourhood of your choice, then CDC recommends your next step would be to engage a cohousing development consultant. We believe having someone who can prepare a preliminary feasibility study to identify what is required to make the project happen is an essential step towards grounding the project in reality.