June 11 2017 minutes

Attendees: Marc, Kris, Mathew, Becky, Barb

Review of visit to Ann Arbor: Lori said it seemed like a cult, but it definitely worked, three separate communities but very close, shared meetings, anyone could come from each of the three to common dinners, etc. Kris says one interesting difference was that the first group (oldest) had just switched from pure consensus decision making to 2/3rds; Barb says this makes sense, asking for absolute consensus makes decisions harder to arrive at, because one idiot can hold everything up… they were able to change the rule because there was a clause in their agreement that said for such decisions only 2/3rds required.

All organized as condos, all the ones we’ve seen and talked to have been condo structure; Barb says these were all working-age people so needed to finance the ownership, didn’t have money saved up to make big down payment.. co-op structure seems better suited to co-housing in every way but financing is easier (parked this for later discussion)

One interesting conclusion was about renters — at Nyland in Colorado were treated as not an active participant, but in Ann Arbor voted on everything but financial decisions, came to general meetings and participated in decisions etc… if people want to become members but don’t have a lot of money, do we want rental structure as well, rent-before-you buy etc.; didn’t look appealing based on Nyland but seemed more like members of community in Ann Arbor… even though condo structure doesn’t allow you to kick people out, make it clear that it’s part of the deal and people who aren’t interested will move on.

Two-Acre Wood in California people said they were all very different, didn’t really socialize much; shared goals but otherwise not much in common; smaller community than many others (14); Kris says lot of things they did in Ann Arbor were right, except common house was very institutional-feeling… kitchens were nice, good setup; part of the reason for the institutional feel was because it was designed to be multi-generational, kids, etc…

Marc says Ann Arbor felt like they really did community right, everyone felt a part, felt invested, would be good to emulate that; Kris says the one Ann Arbor community said one mistake was going for full consensus, it’s difficult because if your community is all Type A who are used to having their own way and wanting to do what they want, joining a group where committees tell you what to do, whether you can cut down a tree etc. can be difficult… what is the right line? How much freedom vs. rules… Two-Acre Wood regretted having such a small lot, tried for years and wound up with a smaller one, had to kick people out.

In Yulupa, Calif. there were some who complained that they had lost the community feel, partly because they had brought in new people who just wanted a home/condo, so had lost touch with the co-housing part of it… was interesting that they had spread out their shared stuff (common house, gardens etc.) throughout the community, so that meant people walked around through all parts of the community and mingled more… Ann Arbor had no cars allowed, except for fire trucks etc.; parking at one end, large planters on wheels.

Barb says visiting made it more tangible, made her more interested, but Lori somewhat less; for her, the group being mostly Barb’s friends is a potential deal-breaker, something all the nice flooring or soaring wood ceilings won’t fix… visit made the point that we need way more people, 15 would probably be a minimum — also made the point that once you have a location, it makes it much more real and that tends to attract (or repel) people based on whether they want to live there or not… deciding on a structure also important because will determine financing and that will determine who joins or can join.


Barb and Mathew talked about what they found in their research, most of which is contained in a Google Doc in the Cohousing Google Drive folder. There are links to background documents created by the CMHC and other groups aimed at describing the benefits and risks of different models, including co-op, condominium, co-ownership and life lease. There are also links to other co-housing groups that have faced similar discussions, as well as details about the Solterra co-ownership model, etc.

The bottom line is that condominium projects tend to take a long time to get approved by municipal regulators (Kris said that the local planning person said 5 to 10 years) but they are much easier to finance, since everyone owns and has title to their own house/unit and can therefore get a mortgage, etc. That in turn means a smaller down payment and lower rates, typically (many lenders require as much as a 30% down payment if it’s a co-op structure, and the rates tend to be higher). So that’s something to consider.

From a management point of view, Mathew said the co-op structure feels better suited to what we are trying to do with co-housing, because it allows the group of members who own shares in the co-op to set all the rules they want to about how the community functions — who is admitted and who isn’t, who gets to stay and who doesn’t, etc. Co-ops explicitly have the right to do this because of the Co-op Act, whereas condos do not.

Interestingly enough, however, while the communities the group visited in Ann Arbor are condo structures from a legal standpoint, they still managed to influence who joined and who didn’t simply by making it obvious what kind of people they preferred to have join the community. The membership model, even though it didn’t have any legal backing the way it would as a co-op, seemed to be enough to attract certain people and keep others out.

Barb and Mathew said they would boil down the structural issues into several key questions that could sent out to the group as a survey to gauge interest in different models — asking about the benefits/disadvantages of having to come up with a large down payment (co-op), importance of having equity that could be sold easily (condo), etc.

Membership Drive:

Kris asked if everyone thought it was time to do a membership reach-out of some kind, and everyone agreed it was — even if some of those who expressed interest might drop out later once an actual property or financial structure was chosen. Kris suggested a meet-up somewhere in the Peterborough area, with some marketing around it — Facebook posts, maybe a newspaper article, etc. Mathew suggested maybe reaching out to the people mentioned in a Peterborough news article from 2015 — a woman who was interested in co-housing for her disabled daughter, and an architect with a special interest in co-housing.

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