Barb, Lori, Becky, Mathew, Marc and Kris got together for a delicious dinner (thanks Lori and Barb!) before the meeting. This did complicate things during the meeting, as it was hard for the phone attendees to be heard, both because of the animated discussion, and perhaps the amount of alcohol consumed.
Next time, we will start with a reminder/lesson in muting your mic when you aren’t speaking. Other (remote) attendees were Dave and Jenn, and Brenz.
Finances: We started with a discussion of the financial survey. The 7 people who filled it out, as well as the meeting attendees who hadn’t, basically seem to agree that we want a co-op type of structure, with control over how it is run and who can join. However, many of us want to finance our contribution, and don’t have a lot of money to put into it up-front. This means that we have to look for some more creative financing options, but we believe that is possible.
Perhaps some people rent, or they get a smaller unit, or we find a model that’s easier to finance. To ease fears about the difficulties of selling, one co-op model had a six-month rule where if someone wanted to sell and the co-op board members didn’t find someone suitable within six months, then the owner could sell to anyone without requiring approval. This idea appealed to the group.
Barb said some things need to be understood up front, and it seems clear that we are leaning towards control and figuring out the financing later, and if some people can’t make that work then maybe that’s just the way it is.
Site visit: We then discussed Kris’s visit to Wolf Creek Lodge in California. Of the 10 cohousing communities that she has visited so far, this one seemed to her like the closest fit to the model that we are thinking of. The physical structure of the building was appealing, with 2 wings around a central common house, with deep, sheltered balconies connecting the units, and more upscale furnishings and decor in the common house.
A lot of what makes it feel like a community is intangible, Kris says — how they work together. Everybody just signs up for things and the system works. Everyone does a common meal once a month, and some people just cook the same thing every single time, while others vary their menu offerings. Most people came to the dinners.
There was a discussion about the ideal number of units. A number of people felt that the 30 units at Wolf Creek was too many, and that if we get too big it becomes unwieldy, but others thought a larger community would give more diversity of companions. Size preferences ranged from 12-16 units, up to about 30 units.
The majority seemed to feel that 16-20 units would be acceptable. However, some people were still unenthusiastic about cooking for 30-40 people. There was also a fair bit of discussion about the desired number of common meals per week. Barb and Lori thought that they would rather have dinners with a variety of smaller groups, in the individual units, rather than frequent common house dinners with the whole group. The questions of size and common dinner frequency were unresolved.
Marc and Lori both felt strongly that we should be moving forward quickly, ideally having the project built in 5 years. Jenn said that she wouldn’t be ready to retire and move in 5 years. A number of others also felt that a 5 year time frame was unrealistic. This issue was also unresolved.
Meeting visit: Next on the agenda was Kris and Marc’s attendance at the Hamilton cohousing group’s meeting in October. Their impression was that there was a very wide range of meanings that the attendees at that meeting attached to the idea of cohousing. Some were focused mainly on the cost-savings gained by sharing accommodations (including some looking specifically for low-cost social housing), others were interested in environmental advantages, while others were looking more for community, but at a wide range of costs.
The first speaker in Hamilton had emphasized the importance of making sure that you were compatible with the people you were sharing a home with. This includes things like agreeing on whether you will pay others to do chores like cleaning and yard maintenance, have assigned/chosen chores for everyone in the group, or have a casual arrangement where people did things when they saw the need.
Our current meeting group all agreed that everyone should contribute to the community with a clearly defined set of tasks, and that those who were unable or unwilling to do physical work would contribute in some other way, with financial or administrative contributions. One community had a board where you signed up for committees, and if no one signed up then they hired someone to do it.
We discussed the idea that after you had been resident in the community for a long time, your required labour could be reduced or eliminated, and there was general agreement. Marc said that one point of having a bigger community is that as people age or die we hopefully get more younger people.
Everyone agreed that they were interested in cohousing for social, rather than economic reasons – that they saw it as a way to build community, not a cheaper housing solution. Economic savings would be a nice side benefit, and people have different limits on the amount that they can spend. But as another speaker in Hamilton had pointed out, our strategy should be to build community first and figure out the money later. Everyone always focuses on the finances, when the important thing is to build relationships and have a clear idea of what we want our community to be.
The name: We then discussed the name and write-up that we want to adopt for a website and Facebook group. Mathew explained the appeal of “Sunsets on the Deck”, with its suggestion of people enjoying their senior years in a relaxed and attractive environment, and said that he already owns the domain name and has set up a website. He then showed http://sunsetsonthedeck.com, the website that he has created.
Everyone agreed that a less formal, more interesting name was desirable, but not everyone was enthusiastic about that choice. Lori suggested “Silver Sneakers” (however the website for this is already taken), and Jenn suggested “When Friends become Family”. Other name suggestions included Happy Hour and Really Kinda Busy. We agreed that everyone should think about the question over the next month. We also agreed that whatever we chose didn’t have to be a permanent solution, but it’s good to have a name to go forward with, and we can always change it later.
Everyone liked the blurb describing what our group is all about.
Timing: We asked everyone what they thought the probability was that they would proceed with a cohousing community with the current group. Brenz said about 50/50 and that Steve wasn’t enthusiastic about winter, and Dave and Jenn said 50/50 as well. Lori said about 30%, while Barb said 70%. Becky, Mathew and Kris also said 70%, while Marc said 100%, either with this group, or with other people if this group didn’t work out.
Lori expressed her belief that we need to get ourselves figured out first before we try to get more people, and that we should have started it 10 years ago. She feels that we have to get going right now and get something built and then expand from there, or buy an apartment building and go with the people who are committed to it now.
Barb asked Mathew why he was interested in cohousing given that he really wanted to live at his Golden Lake cottage. He replied that he wanted to spend July and August at the cottage and a few months going south in the winter, but that left 8 months when he would need to live elsewhere. When she asked why he didn’t want to extend the cottage time and then just go south for the winter, he said that at the cottage or a Florida condo, it would just be him and Becky, and he wanted more people than that. He was here for the community.
We all agreed that at some point as we age, it would be ideal to be surrounded by people who will support you, but one difference between members of the group is definitely whether they want to start doing that soon, both to build community and because they think they’ll enjoy that, and those who think that sounds great in the far future.
Barb said that she wanted to go south for 4 months every winter, and would thus also be spending 8 months at the cohousing community, just different months. Jenn said that if it’s summer she wants to be at a cottage. It seems manageable, even desirable, that someone, but not necessarily all of us, will be onsite throughout the year. But we all need to determine our vision of how and where we will be spending our time.
Next steps: Next steps are to think about the name, and Kris wants to meet up with some of the other cohousing groups in Ontario and see what they’re working on; perhaps some of their members would be interested in our vision. Marc said we haven’t spent enough time on finding a location or potential locations; the Farm is still on the table but we also want other options. Kris said that the Nyland guy told her that once you have a location then people very quickly decide whether they are either in or out.
Marc said that the Farm is a fallback plan so if we can’t find anything else, it’s easy to acquire the property, and it would be easy to rezone. We also thought that it would become more appealing if we added a cottage property on the lake. We agreed that we would begin to reach out to other cohousing groups and interested individuals. We didn’t set a date for the next meeting.