Our Planned Intentional Community


Why Cohousing?

Traditional forms of housing no longer meet the needs of many people. Values that people once took for granted - family, community, neighbourhoods, a sense of belonging - must now be actively planned for.

Pioneered primarily in Denmark and now being adapted in other countries, the cohousing concept re-establishes many advantages of traditional villages within the context of modern lifetimes.

Today's housing seems set up to crowd together unrelated and cocooned (nuclear) families whose only link with each other is that they happen to live side by side. Much attention is devoted to ensuring privacy, with little attention to providing for community life.

A more flexible format is needed to suit the variety of families and living arrangements in today's world.

By having this greater sense of community, our children and families will grow in a more nurturing environment. By pooling together our resources we'll save in economies of scale and enjoy common areas that any of us alone would not be able to posess.

What is cohousing?

Taken straight from the cohousing.ca website, cohousing is defined as thus: "The term cohousing describes the process by which a group of people work together to create and maintain their own neighbourhood. By participating in the planning and design of their housing development, residents form the bonds which are the basis of ongoing community. Cohousing emphasizes a supportive, inter-generational community, common facilities and participation by all members using a consensus process to make decisions. Its setting can be urban, suburban or rural and can involve building houses or rehabilitating existing structures. The design can take a variety of forms, depending on the wishes of the group, however the homes are always self-contained, have access to shared facilities and the overall intention is to create opportunities for interaction among neighbours." Many of the common questions about cohousing are answered at cohousing.ca's FAQ page.

Where we are

We are currently at the very initial stage of this process. Right now we are doing some preliminary research and are seeking to increase our membership. What we need is to know whether you are certain you want to be a part of this community, or even if you can't decide but are interested. We'll be having meetings on as regular a basis as we can to provide updates as to the progress of our community, and also to enlist help to do research. When we have a decision to make, we'll want feedback from everyone, no matter if you plan on joining the community or not, but it will be only the people who are joining the community that will make the key decisions.

Notes

What you'll find on the rest of this document are notes, ideas, plans, topics, links and more - all the things that we need to think about or decide upon as we make our community a reality. There's a handy table of contents at the start, but we welcome you to read the whole thing.

Contents

Meetings

We'll need to have regular meetings as this project advances in order to make decisions as to the direction, scope, parameters and details of the project that need to be established. The method used to reach decisions and have discussion is the consensus method, and is described very well at the cohousing.ca website. Prior to each meeting, informal discussion among members via email and other social activities will bring up points that will create an agenda. Once an agenda is established, a meeting is called, someone is chosen (on a rotating basis) as the moderator or facilitator, and they pass through the agenda point by point. We'll need to set time limits to meetings - since there are so many topics and decisions that need to be made, any point that isn't covered in the alotted time will have to be pushed to the next meeting. Priority will be given to points of the agenda that need a timely response.

Included at meetings will be the reports provided by individuals (and later, teams) who have done research. As an example, at the first meeting, volunteers will be asked to perform specific tasks, like doing research for the location, determining the costs for the Common Area and shared resources and so on, and at the next meeting they will provide their report, and we can either make a decision on their report, or acknowledge that more research is needed.

Points of discussion and decisions we need to make

With respect to the meetings description, we need to setup an agenda with points to discuss and decide upon, so the following is a steadily growing list of topics and points that we will need to discuss. This list will grow and change as we get further into the project, and vague topics presented currently will eventually evolve into detailed points that we need to discuss.

Common Area and shared resources

First we need to estimate the cost of each of the below shared resources (and any others that other members think of), then we order them in terms of priority. Finally, based on whatever accumulated budget we have, and what we can envision becoming possible in the future, we decide how far down the list to go.

Construction

STRUCTURE

Square structure similar to STS design, enclosed atrium area in centre with swimming pool and indoor garden. First level is all common area, broken up into areas as described above. Second level is smaller apartments all on one level, levels three and four are two level homes where bedrooms could be in the upstairs (4th floor) and the rest of the housing is on the main floor (3nd floor).

ALTERNATIVE STRUCTURE

If square footprint above is too large since land is difficult to come by, consider a taller, narrower structure where there are two or three levels of below ground parking, first and second level is all of the common areas, third, fourth, fifth and sixth are the residential areas and then there is still a roof. Include an elevator into these plans as that would prove necessary.

ALTERNATIVE STRUCTURE

Two rows of townhouses facing eachother with an enclosed pedestrian walkway. At the midpoint of the length of the rowhouses, leave room for the common areas. Create underground storage and parking area beneath the entire structure (ie contiguously under the north townhouse row, under the pedestrian walkway and under the south townhouse row) - similar to the Windsong cohousing community.

FEATURES PHASED APPROACH

How does the cost change if we build the community in stages rather than all at once? Do we build 10 living units and a skeleton of the common area with 25% of the common area complete, then when the families come in, build the units as needed, and continually add to the common area until it is 100% complete? Do we create two, three or four predictable phases of construction, in each phase accomplishing specific construction needs? Discussion with the construction company will need to be made to determine this.

Location

Price per square foot of land in the West Island is anywhere between 2$ in the furthest reaches to 8$ or more in more prime areas, and availability is low, no more than 2 to 4 acre lots. In St. Lazare or Vaudreuil, current MLS listings show properties at 0.08$ to 0.15$ per square foot for properties that are 10 to 40 acres large. Zoning restrictions in St. Lazare are mostly equestrian or agricultural, so it may be a challenge to convince the urban planning board to allow us to build our community there, but it may still be possible. Vaudreuil zoning may be a little more lenient, but municipal taxes in Vaudreuil are higher.

Financing

Each family owns the title to their unit plus a percentage of the common area. During construction and planning the whole community is incorporated which reduces liability for any one person. During the development phase of the project there are two types of members, equity members (people who have signed all of the papers and have become invested members) and associate members (people who are at the interested level or who are already in the process of becoming an equity member). For either type of member, the membership is by household or family. Both types of members will at some point start paying a monthly fee to help pay for operating costs (meeting rooms, hiring consultants, notary or lawyer fees, etc) of the development, including the possibility of needing to rent meeting space if we are too large a number to fit into a home. This monthly fee will also be tracked and accumulated and for equity members may be put towards any equity investment that is needed during the development stage. As we get further in the project, equity members will also need to foot large chunks of money on an as needed basis. Other websites in the current planning phase indicate that between 15 and 25 thousand dollars per equity member would be spent over the course of the development phase, so we should expect to pay about the same.

Based on the consensus of the group we'll decide how much of the construction and operating costs will be covered by 'sweat equity' and how much will have to be funded by the community. During construction we could do some finishing like painting, baseboard installation, trim work, etc. Once the complex is complete, sweeping and mopping and dusting the common area could be hired from outside, but would then have to be paid for by all of the members - alternatively, if we have a rotation that all members participate in, there is no cost added.

Our costs would be split into three categories:

  1. Title ownership - This includes the cost of the home, the land and the portion of the common area, everything under the notarized title of ownership, this is no different from owning an individual home.
  2. Common area capital costs - If we wanted to make a capital improvement to the complex, we would need to fund this capital improvement after consensus has been reached. This could either be by a loan from a bank that we all make payments to, a loan from a member under agreed upon terms, or monthly funding from the members until the amount accumulated can cover the capital improvement cost.
  3. Operating costs - If we're all sharing one internet feed, one TV signal feed, electricity, heating, pool maintenance and so on, these costs are perpetually ongoing, no matter where you live, and they have to be covered. The advantage here is that in one monthly payment, most of your household operating costs are taken care of and that by sharing these operating costs, there is an economy of scale that reduces the cost of each of them.

Shared costs and economy of scale

By building we can try to make deals with suppliers to get discounts on windows, doors, hardware, etc. By having one central furnace for the whole building, climate control will cost less compared to each individual unit controlled separately, especially since we are all in one building now. Bulk acquisition of staples can be made, rendering further savings ie toilet paper, paper towels, toothpaste, soft drinks, towels, cans of soup/peas/corn, etc.

Services offered to the surrounding neighbourhood/community?

Do we want to provide services to the surrounding area since we have such a wealth of common space? If we have as a resident a fitness instructor should we offer exercise programs at night in our exercise room? Music lessons in the music room? Meals for the poor?

Task List

Prepare presentation to provide information to prospective owners Pick a date, invite many people, let them know in advance that there will be a short presentation on a new community and that we're asking for feedback on the idea as well as to know who might be interested Get more information on how to start the cohousing community, including how to handle finances and ownership and agreements, how to pick a site, meeting with city officials to determine zoning restrictions and residential building bylaws, how to do a preliminary design of a community, then how to work with an architect with that preliminary design. Do research by visiting neighbourhoods looking for undeveloped plots large enough for our community.

Links

Canada cohousing website
Canconet
Montreal federation of co-housing
Ecohousing information
Coop information
Ecovillage.org
Sunslates for solar powered housing
Tankless Water Heater
Greywater use
Solar Buildings Research Network