Here are the notes from the co-housing meeting that took place at Barb and Lori’s house on December 3. In attendance were Barb and Lori, Marc and Kris, Becky and Mathew (in person) and Sandra and Luke via Skype. We reviewed some central questions that Kris had sent out, but also talked generally about location, etc. as well. Jessica wanted to be there but couldn’t make it for logistical reasons.
Participatory process: Do we want to be involved in the design of the buildings and the community? It’s a lot more work, but it gives you more input. Standardization is a good way to keep costs down, so you can pick a light fixture etc. but the rest is more or less the same. Or we could customize everything. But the central question is this: Does everyone want to be involved in designing the community if it is a greenfield — i.e., built from scratch — project? (Unanimous yes vote from attendees).
Neighbourhood design: One feature of co-housing communities is that everything is designed to encourage interaction, a sense of community, with shared open space etc. Kris said it’s harder to do that kind of thing in existing developments because they aren’t designed to do that. Sandra says it sounds like we’ve made a decision already, thinks we could do that with an existing development. Barb says we haven’t made that decision, we could still impose those kinds of principles even with an existing development (general agreement).
Common facilities: In most co-housing, the common areas are designed for daily use, designed to encourage social interaction and participation, a general community feeling. Luke says he thinks it’s important to have that as a principle (everyone agrees). Sandra said she added some detail in her email response about what kinds of facilities she thinks are necessary.
Resident management: In most cases, residents manage their own communities and contribute work and effort — participation is optional, but it is an expected part of the community. Non-adversarial relationships and interaction should be a focus, Kris says — we need to make sure it’s not Farm weekend-style interaction with yelling and general abuse.
Non-hierarchical: Key feature is group decision making and group authority, so no one person has control or power. There will always be “burning souls” who drive things forward, and some people with more information and more desire, but it’s important principle to uphold, that everyone gets input and has a say — and it’s okay to call people out when they are not doing it. Have to try to develop different skills in order to make it succeed (i.e., Type A doesn’t always work).
Cooking and eating together: Another important principle, along with diversity, neighbour support and co-care, outreach to others. We could hire people to do the work or the medical care, or we could do it. Kris says part of the appeal of co-housing is that if something happens to you, others will help you or contribute to your care.
Senior only? Would it have to be senior only, or do we want younger users to start with? Bring in younger users over time? Or maybe as we age we try to get people in their 50s or 60s. Benefit of multi-generational is you have more different activities, but younger families also tend to be more insular. So maybe we orient the community for us but not place any limits on it and are open to younger members.
Location: Barb says it’s hard to imagine being too far from a major city — says she likes to go out for dinner, to bridge club, to curl etc. And it’s good to have other communities we are part of apart from just the co-housing group. Doesn’t have to be Toronto, could be somewhere like Peterborough as long as there is stuff to do. Ideally, we would need to be 10-15 minutes away from things at most, to be 30 minutes or more is too much. Barb and Lori said they have stuff that connects them to Toronto but at some point definitely see moving out of the city and then just coming back for a day or two here or there for clubs, meals.
Luke says he prefers rural, doesn’t matter if it takes time to go to town, he wants to be far enough so he doesn’t make it to the hospital if something happens. Over an hour is pushing it. Becky says it’s more about the people I’m with rather than where we are, so it’s not that important where it is. Where we live we don’t really have the ability to go to a bunch of places for dinner etc. so wouldn’t have to give that up, but can see how it might be tough for Sandra, Barb and Lori etc.
Sandra says Stratford has lots of great features like hospital, good restaurants etc. Kris suggests listing what urban amenities or features we really want, and then see what places fit that model. Sandra likes walking, likes to be able to car share, wants to do that as long as she can. Could buy an apartment building, industrial building that is being made into lofts etc. Has community built up in Stratford and don’t really want to give that up.
Is Peterborough what we want? Or would Guelph work? Or something like Belleville or Barrie or Stratford? Sandra wants to know what the appeal is of Toronto — she finds all the things she needs in London or Waterloo or whatever. Marc says things like theatre and music are important, going for dinner, etc. Kris says we should look for something that might fit our purposes and then look at whether the area fits our needs and whether it will work. Marc said other groups have had a hard time finding properties or getting them rezoned etc., so we need to look for what we want. Everyone needs to be looking and thinking about what they want, what they need to have.
How soon? We could wait for five years and then start looking seriously or we could start right now. If it’s Peterborough then buying something before the 407 extension makes sense because it would be cheaper. Kris asks whether she is pushing too hard, is this the right pace, general agreement that we are moving at the right speed, probably the realistic time frame is somewhere between five years (too short) and ten years (too long). Kris is going to Colorado and will visit some co-housing communities, what should she ask? What went wrong, what didn’t they foresee, how did they solve it, Luke wonders what happens with pets, Becky wants to know what happens when people age, how don’t they deal with that.
Kris is going to look into rezoning for the Farm and properties around Peterborough, talk to the planning department etc. Is there a time limit on when we need to make a decision? Need to think about that. Is there a significant cost? Do we need to do a greenfield or could we renovate an existing building? Barb says we don’t want to restrict ourselves too much when we are looking so keep options open. What do we do if we find something? How do we proceed? If we can rent it out and carry the cost then Barb says she could possibly finance it.