Keeping a community small allows the opportunity for everyone to know each other. The type of architecture could be single family homes or multi-family, multi-story buildings. In my last post, we talked about what cohousing is and what it means to its residents. How do we start a cohousing community? Karen Gimnig, Associate Director of Cohousing Association of the United States, suggests a more affordable type of building to make it easier to buy into an urban community.
“In Berlin and other European cities, mixed-use retail residential is more a way of life,” said Karen. “I think that our culture is moving in that direction. But such developments in our cities tend to be expensive with larger units. When cohousing groups form that want to build single family homes, they often give up on affordability in order to get it built. $400,000 for a home is pretty typical. We can build smaller.”
“Modern trends lean toward sustainability and greater density,” said Karen. “You can build ten 4000 square foot houses or forty 1000 square foot houses instead. The model cohousing community has about 30 units, so developers don’t get the economy of scale of more typical residential developments. The answer can be in building several (perhaps eight) nearby communities under the same permit. Some communities have changed their ordinances to suit cohousing,” said Karen.
above: Carre Lumiere (France) by LAN architecture. Photo © LAN Architecture.
“Social Housing – New European Projects” showcases
affordable-housing design strategies across the continent
This example of urban living is sought after by many aging baby boomers and millennials alike. Small cities like Dunedin and Safety Harbor, and larger cities like St. Petersburg could make ideal sites for this kind of cohousing due to downtown revitalization and availability of restaurants, entertainment, museums and galleries.
If anyone could sell it, St. Petersburg could sell it.
The biggest barriers are zoning and density issues. The only options we currently have for cohousing are properties zoned for multi-family. If you have large acreage zoned residential/agricultural or residential rezoned to multi-family to create cohousing, it could accommodate a modest common house, two automobiles per unit (generally a requirement) and 4 or 5 units per acre. Joining walls and building up can offer greater density resulting in more units in the same space. The first thing a cohousing group must do is establish a relationship with their jurisdiction’s planning staff to identify obstacles and encourage ideas to create solutions.
Once you have a core group of people who want to start a community, how do you market the project? How does a developer know if building a cohousing project is going to be successful?
Architect Katie McCamant leads Cohousing Solutions and cowrote the cohousing “bible” Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities, with Architect Chuck Durrett, introducing the housing model to the U.S.in 1994. It is the “must-have” book for cohousers, or anyone interested in more people-friendly neighborhoods.
“If you want to start a new community, your first step is to form a group of would-be cohousers,” stated McCamant on the Cohousing Solutions website. “It can seem daunting at first when it’s just you and a few friends who’re interested, but most successful cohousing projects begin with just a few burning souls and motivation!” Her community building checklist is paraphrased below
Project Feasibility - Site qualities, cost to build homes, other risks: will a property work for your group?
Site Search & Acquisition – Research feasibility and negotiate the purchase terms.
Building Your Development Budget and Setting up your Homeowners Association (HOA) - Research competitive mortgages, management documents, policies, and budgets from other cohousing project HOA’s and engage with a cohousing professional. Raise investment from your member base and others.
Finding Your Professional Team - A successful long-term partnership will require finding a development partner who understands your business model to arrive at an appropriate sharing of risk. Engage with a cohousing professional to guide you through the entire process.
Design Programming - Your architect should be receptive to the needs of the group when designing the neighborhood and its homes and should fully understand the uses of common houses.
Marketing - What kind of group is desired? Who are they, where are they, where will the community be built? Begin by utilizing your core group’s social media to connect with others. A marketing professional and /or a cohousing professional may be the most efficient way to build a marketing program to find potential group members.
“Don’t market the buildings. Sell the relationships,” said Karen. “The longer people live in cohousing the more collaborative they become. 40 or 50 people in a close, collaborative community have a great life and if we could arrive at that model, these projects would sell out faster than we could build them. In my wildest dreams, 10% of our population could be living in cohousing communities.
I think for most people who have lived ten years or more in a cohousing community, it has changed them in more ways than they could have imagined – in a really good way.”