March 4, 2017 minutes

Attendees: Marc, Kris, Mathew, Barb, Lori, Sandra, Jessica, T. Alex, Brenz, Dave

Co-housing visits: Kris got the sense that in some communities the common house doesn’t get very much use, which seems to defeat much of the purpose of having a cohousing group, some like Silver Sage use it a lot, they rent it out to people but also have regular events. Lori suggests maybe we should have an events co-ordinator, Kris says we should think about when we build the common house, do we do it earlier rather than later? Barb says we might be further ahead than some because we already socialize with each other.

Also, what’s the right size of community? Nyland had 100 adults, units quite large, so not as much impetus to get together in the common house. Kris is visiting some smaller ones in California, worth thinking about how big we want it to be. Bigger means more people to do things, more variety in terms of age, etc. but also less of a small community feeling. Several communities near each other in Ann Arbor, Kris suggests a road trip, Brenz may check out some of the communities in Oregon.

Everyone who Kris and Marc spoke to, even at the places that seemed like a failure like Hundredfold, said they were glad that they did it and were happy to be there, even if financially it didn’t really work. Top lesson was to study the site, think about the plan and make sure you have everything you need to — Hundredfold had a great place but after they bought it they realized they didn’t have any water, had to build a huge road, etc.

Everyone mentions the “burning souls” who push the idea forward and have the energy, but consistent theme was that some people who start as part of the original group have different ideas about how things should go and they wind up dropping out. Bob at Nyland said everyone has to figure out what your vision is and go after that, obviously there are compromises but you have to know what you want before you go in.

Bob mentioned “care fatigue” — he said in your neighborhood, there are people who are sick and dying but you don’t know about it. In a cohousing community there are going to be lots of people in that condition but you will have to do something about it because that’s the whole point. So he joked that the best thing to do was to get sick or die first, because then everyone else would be happy to look after you. So that’s something to think about if we have a smaller group and we are mostly seniors.

Barb says building the common house early is going to take more money, so probably need commitments up front before that happens, likely wouldn’t be able to do it in stages the way some communities have. Sandra says she thinks smaller would be better, but also maybe the common house needs to be part of the same building, like a condo setup, so that you don’t have to leave your house and go through a blizzard to get to the common house.  

Marc says he and Jessica talked about the need to have a covered or indoor path from the units to the common house, since we are building in Canada. Maybe there’s a tunnel or the basements are connected and that’s an option for when it’s cold, but you don’t have to use it.

Silver Sage is all really close together, most of the units are connected to the common house, but there are some duplexes that are separate. Arthur said that it was long and stretched out so he didn’t have as much to do with the people at the far end, so might want to think about how we organize it to encourage that — maybe have wings that curve inward so you can see each other.

Dave said that a central courtyard would help encourage social interaction. Some might want to live in the apartments that are connected to the common house, others might want to have a separate unit, and we can do both.

Do we want to brand it as a senior community? Or should we just keep it open to whoever, so that we can bring in new blood, kids etc.?  Something to think about.

Trent Lakes planning: Kris mentioned a community in Caledon called Whole Village that worked for years on the planning, got it all worked out with the planning department, but then there was a NIMBY movement and a bunch of people who would be their neighbors protested and the municipality refused to approve the zoning.

They were a bunch of hippies and they were going to take a single-family farm and turn it into multiple housing and also a working farm, neighbors thought there would be too much noise, the farm wouldn’t work, etc. The cohousing group took it to court and won, but they had to modify it somewhat.

Talked about using a Plan Of Condominium, there’s a lot of research and investigation that needs to be done. The Buckhorn (Trent Lakes) planning department said that The Farm is in a “species at risk” area (but agreed that pretty much all rural land is) and that it would need to be taken into account.  We would also need to do a hydrological assessment, and have a plan for sewage.  

They suggested strongly that we have a planning consultant who can help with all this. They also said that it can take five to ten years, Marc suggested that we should probably get started. Second option is that we have multiple units but it is just zoned as tourist-commercial and it is owned by a corporation or whatever and we each rent from the corporation. So it would be a co-ownership or a co-op structure, it is a lot cheaper and it could get approved more quickly.

Need to do more research on co-ownership vs co-op vs condo, what are the legal ramifications, what legal protections vis a vis ownership of individual condo units vs. owning shares in a corporation. Need to do more research into the differences, and also need to consider that banks are more comfortable with lending to communities that are condo style rather than co-ownership.

But Barb and realtors make the point that there are other entities who will lend apart from just banks. Sandra wonders whether there are any government programs or grants or whatever that would provide funding because it’s for seniors — Kris says Silver Sage got the land because they agreed to keep a certain number of units as affordable housing.

Barb got volunteered to head up the committee looking into condo ownership vs. co-ownership or other structures and the benefits and disadvantages etc., Mathew said he would help as well. Sandra and Dave said they would start looking for potential government grants for seniors housing or whatever. Lori said she would talk to Barb about maybe going to Ann Arbor to visit some communities, and Sandra expressed interest as well.

No one expressed much interest in attending the Nashville conference other than Marc and Kris. Kris also asked should we be asking for contributions to pay for things like going to conferences or hiring planners and consultants etc. Brenz said we should think about what things might be personal expenses for education or knowledge vs. expenses that we should pay for collectively, like hiring people to do things.

There were some technical difficulties with the teleconferencing, but in general it seemed to work pretty well.   We should continue to investigate and try out different software to see which works best.

Action Items:

Barb and Mathew to investigate condo vs co-ownership vs co-op vs … from a legal and financial point of view.

Dave and Sandra to investigate grants (both public and private) for affordable and senior housing.

Marc and Kris to visit communities in Ann Arbor, may be joined by Barb and Lori, and Sandra.

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