The Cohousing Development Process – Part Two

While all cohousing communities have a different journey, many share similar steps. This two part post shares an overview of how Richmond Cohousing is traversing the Cohousing Development Process. Part One explores how a few “burning souls” build a group structure, expand membership, and partner with a Developer, while this portion explains the process after site selection.

Site selection and acquisition can occur in any number of ways but typically the group defines a set of characteristics and works with development partners and other professionals to identify sites that meet those characteristics. Once a preferred site is selected by the group, the group and/or Development Partner secures an option on the property, conducts feasibility analyses, and determines whether they want to commit to that parcel or keep looking. Once the group has secured control of their selected site, the community design process can begin.

The process of land acquisition, community and home design, entitlements and public approvals and construction of the community typically takes somewhere between 1 and 3 years, although a number of factors can either speed-up or slow the process. Setbacks can be the result of national forces such as recessions or changes in regulations, or the result of local challenges such as getting needed entitlements and approvals or addressing resistance from surrounding communities. Many cohousing groups experience some setbacks along the way but the determination and creativity that comes from a well-organized and committed cohousing group is a powerful force for overcoming obstacles and reaching successful completion.

While the developer is at work managing the technical and construction aspects of the project, the group plays an important complementary role. They engage actively in a contributing to the community design process by giving input and approval to site design, common house design, and home designs. They also give input on other factors such as green and sustainable elements, aesthetics, efficiency, and cost-saving measures. Most groups have design charrettes (workshops) with the entire group, but also create a small team of trusted members who serve as a liaison between the group and developer, charged with keeping each side informed and passing key questions and information back and forth.

At this stage of the project the group continues the work of finding the future neighbors who will complete the community. This means marketing and outreach to raise awareness about the project and providing support and guidance for new members who need to be welcomed, engaged, and informed about their new community. New members will need support in learning about existing community practices, agreements, and governance. The group will also ensure that all potential full members are in a position to afford their future home; potential members should seek bank prequalification or preapproval (if they need one) early in the membership process.

As construction proceeds and the membership numbers grow, the group shifts more of its energy and attention to planning for life in the community after move-in. They will make decisions about community agreements and policies such as managing community meals, sharing work contributions, annual budgets and homeowner dues, conflict resolution norms, pets, establishing community traditions, using common lands, whether to have solar panels, chickens or a swimming pool, etc, etc. Working through these issues and possibilities creates fertile ground for getting to know one another better through community conversations, listening to different perspectives, and finding common ground and mutually acceptable solutions. The time the group puts into this work grows members’ capacities for working collaboratively for years to come.

The final step in the development process is moving in and beginning day-to-day life in cohousing with people who have become not just neighbors – but friends.


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