So You Want To Create Cohousing...

You've just heard about Cohousing and you know that its for you. Now what?
Well, if there isn't a Cohousing group in your area that meets your needs,
you can always start your own. All it takes is a lot of desire (or is it
passion?), perseverance (or is it stamina?), a bit of luck (or is it
fate?), and a lot of help from those who have already been where you
intend to go.

Forming a Core Group

Your first step of course, is to find other people interested in creating
cohousing in your area.  Contact your regional umbrella organization (See
Information & Resources on the What Is Menu) and/or the CoHousing Company
(510-549-9980) to see if they can put you in touch with other persons
interested in forming a group in your area. While talking to the CoHousing
Company, you may wish to order one of their slide shows which are excellent
for explaining the concept of cohousing.

A cohousing information meeting, featuring a slide show, is often very
effective for generating interest. It can be held in a home, a community
center, a church or just about anywhere you can amass people. Advertise
with posters in local bookstores, health food stores, night classes,
fitness centers or anyplace likely to attract the pro-active,
take-control-of-their-life kind of people who are drawn to cohousing.
Approach local media, as they are often interested in stories about person
who are trying something new or unusual. Place a small ad in appropriate
local papers - these have been fairly successful for many start-up groups.

Next you follow up informational gatherings with organizational meetings.
Many new core groups find they initially attract a lot of people. Over
time groups find their balance as individuals sort out their true
intentions. Core groups will often settle out to somewhere between 3 to 7
families. This collection of individuals will take on the role of founding
members and become the nucleus around which the larger group eventually
takes shape. As the process progresses others will join, especially after
land has been purchased. Location for a group is actually one of the
forces that weeds out some members and attracts others. The impact of
purchasing land is not to be underestimated!

Learning and Delegating

Once formed a core group needs to begin establishing a structure within
which to operate. What is it you want to create and how do you plan to do
it? Formally agree on meeting frequency and clarify how meetings are run.
How is the agenda set? Will you have one facilitator or two and should
everyone take a turn at facilitation? What role does the facilitator take?
What decision making process will be used and what constitutes a quorum?
Who can take part in decisions and take part in meetings? What time and
financial commitments are required? In addition, it is wise to consider
setting a project time line to help create a sense of progression and
continuity while giving group members a bigger view of the task and effort

Your group will most likely need to learn about group process issues such
as running meetings, decision making, conflict resolution, personality
types and orienting new members. There are also many aspects to doing a
development project that most members will require familiarization with.
Site acquisition, zoning requirements, legal structures and issues,
finance and budget issues, the design, development and construction
processes all have their own peculiarities.

Not everyone has to know everything. It is best to start by identifying
topics of concern or interest and creating committees whose purpose it is
to focus on the different tasks and responsibilities. These smaller task
groups can then report their findings to the larger community where final
decisions are made.

Using Outside Resources

This process can, at times, get a bit overwhelming but fortunately, there
are an increasing number of resources available. Talk to, and/or visit
other core groups, both those who have completed their communities and
those who have been at it for awhile. Read books such as Cohousing: A
Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves by McCamant and Durrett and
Collaborative Communities by Dorit Fromm. Subscribe to the national
Cohousing Journal and get back copies on topics of interest. Talk to
building professionals such as architects, developers, builders, Realtors,
bankers and cohousing consultants. Talk to planners and politicians in
your local government. As you consult with other groups you may want to
ask for copies of their documentation. There are two things to remember 1)
you neednt reinvent the wheel and 2) dont worry about getting immediate
answers to all your questions, but focus on what questions need to be asked.

Create and identity

At some point your group will be required to clarify its identity.
Everyone from new members to local lending institutions will want to know
who you are and what you are planning to do.  You will begin to identify
many characteristics about the project such as - location (urban vs
rural), number of units, housing type (detached, cluster or town home),
and target price ranges. Then there are questions like: What development
methods to consider? Is there a spiritual focus - an ecological philosophy
- some sort of overriding philosophy? Will there be subsidized units?
Should pets, guns, wood stoves or pesticides be allowed? Usually these
issues are explored in a discussion under the broad ranging topic of
values both individual and shared. And, because we all start out as
individuals who are drawn to the community process, discussions take time
to evolve from individual values towards a more common set of values the
whole group can identify with.

Perhaps most important is that you take time to learn about each other.
Cohousing is really about people connecting with one another. The success
of a cohousing project is very dependent on the ability of the group to
coalesce and create a bond that will carry them through the more difficult
and often lengthy stages of the development process. A group that learns
to trust and to care about one another can surmount the difficulties and
become a true community. Schedule fun time, share with the children as
well as the adults. Do things other than work or process together,
organize socials, potlucks, and recreational activities, creatively
schedule in down time. The process of creating cohousing should be every
bit as rewarding as living in cohousing!

If you follow these first steps you will have begun the process of drawing
together and bonding a group to realize a dream. You should have a core
group of people who share common goals, who have acquired some knowledge
about what it takes to make cohousing happen, and who are clearer about
what it is that they want to create. Usually this process takes about six
months depending on how often the group meets and its sense o urgency. The
group will then enter a whole new phase of commitment as they choose a
site and commit a substantial amount of money and subsequently time to
each other.

If you really want to do cohousing you need to realize that, though you've
already put a lot into it to reach this stage, there is still much ahead
to be accomplished. If the foundations is strong the group will have an
excellent chance to persevere through the next several phases. These
phases in reality can take anywhere from 2 to 3 years to complete. All the
while the group will continue to build on this base it established in the
early stages of formation. Each group will have its own tales to tell -
its own image to project. And, over time, each group will evolve as level
of commitment deepen. But, remember that it must start somewhere if it is
to start at all. So, now is the time to start putting up those posters;
and may the cohousing gods be with you!

This article by Fritz Radandt was first published in the Cohousing Journal
in the Summer 1993 edition..