Our Planned Intentional Community
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Where to locate the community --Cost of land and land availability indicate that St. Lazare or Vaudreuil would be the place to go. 30 to 40 acres for around 200,000$ in this area compared to 2 to 4 acres for 750,000$ on the island of Montreal.
- How many units to have in our community and the breakdown of size of unit
- Membership screening - how do we avoid getting nutcases, perverts or criminals in our community? --Based on the Cohousing book, very few previous cohousing groups screened their new members. By requiring potential members to come to a minimum number of meetings and participating in a committee or two prior to being permitted to join, the whole cohousing community will get a chance to get to know the new person(s).
- What to include in the common area (see Common Area and shared resources)
- What the general physical design of the structure will be - develop two or three ideas based on two or three different size and shape hypothetical properties
- Money issues - what is the cost structure, how much are we going to pay, how do we resolve issues such as one family who can afford 350K and another who can afford 150K? --Obviously some people's needs will be smaller such that they only need a one or two bedroom unit while others need a three or four. As a group we have to come to a consensus as to what we can all afford, this may mean allowing a handful of members to pay slightly less to allow them to participate, or it may mean requiring everyone to come up with lowest common denominator and designing our community with that price range in mind.
- What are minimum requirements of the residences
- Getting a professional team together - lawyer, accountant, architect, building engineer, environmental consultant, municipal official(s), contruction company, landscaper
- What is our procedure of attracting new members to our community and our whole membership process?
- What defines our community - we need a mission statement to summarize what our community is about, to help potential members know whether or not they would fit
- frequency, location, duration of meetings
- What's the name of our community?
- What is the timeline of events - how soon are people able or willing to work out their financial position in order to make this community possible? Since the below steps may span six months or a year (or more), it isn't critical that everyone meet a specific date to come up with their portion of the payment.
- Purchase of the land
- Payment to notary or lawyers fees for the land purchase
- Payment to lawyers fees to cover incorporation, contracts and all else
- Payment to designer and architect
- Payment plan with contruction company
- Payment to landscaper and any other professional
- Based on readings from other websites there are two major points that need to be brought to light:
- It is important to think with the new paradigm that what is important for the community is important to us, not the otherway around. By thinking more what can we do that will benefit the entire community rather than thinking only of ourselves, we will all have a more enriched experience, and we will all benefit.
- The area of cost overrun of the development which has been seen time and again is the customization of the private homes. If we can all agree on a standard construction for a one, two, three and four bedroom home, and stick to only those standards, our costs will be much less than if each one of us had an individual design done. Our costs would be even less if many of the components of each of those sized homes are common.
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.
- Kitchen/Dining area - Kitchen designed such that two to three cooks can be working simultaneously, not a commercial kitchen but one large enough to handle cooking for large groups. Dining area large enough to hold the whole community since on special occasions we'll want every member of the community present for a meal.
- Laundry - industrial machines, a complete set in a few different locations
- Meeting room - With conference table, for anyone in the co-op to use, but also for board meetings
- entertaining room/lounge - sofas, lazy-boys, fireplace, chess and backgammon boards, art, wood, ambience, pool table
- swimming pool
- games room - pinball, video games, ping pong table, different play areas based on age
- gymnasium/exercise room - exercise machines, half or full gym for volleyball, badminton, basketball, rockclimbing, etc
- underground parking - which may include one or more of the following:
- carpentry workshop
- automechanic station with car lift
- car wash station
- freezer room for bulk freezer storage
- storage lockers
- rooftop garden - find a tree or shrub species that we can plant to block the wind and form a perimeter around the roof, have vegetable garden and built in watering system
- movie theatre - stadium style, seats 30 or 40, big screen and sound
- music room - piano and other musical instruments, music sheets, music stands, etc
- library - pool all members books, identify them in database by owner as well as other main keys
- craft room - sewing machine(s), large table, x-acto knives and boards, supply paper, paint, markers, etc
- pooled highspeed internet access for all units
- satellite or cable feed for tv signal for all units
- Outdoor garden area
- Outdoor activity area
- One riding lawn mower for entire property, shared among all owners
- Guest quarters in the common area
- Child care facilities for pre-school kids, for school age kids for before and after school, for teenagers to give them a space away from the youngest kids.
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).
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.
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.
- focus on eco-buildings?... rammed earth or straw bale alternative building structures
- Each apartment/home has a balcony on the outdoor side and a patio on the indoor side overlooking the atrium.
- Cover south facing roof with solar panel tiles, one supplier is Atlantis Energy
- Have one side or area of the building or complex that is children free so that their noise doesn't disturb the members while they are in their private dwelling.
- Tankless Water Heater system installed in each townhouse at the point closest to hot water usage; design homes such that hot water usage is all localized in one area. This means that only the cold water feed needs to be passed from the external source to each home.
- If possible, look into greywater use to supply irrigation to landscaped plants.
- Use SIPs (structural insulated panels) for construction. At Thermapan they have the panels for sale with a contractor in Cornwall who has experience using it. SIPs can be used for foundation as well as walls, ceilings and floors, so may be a cost effective method for building with respect to speed. The material is slightly more expensive than 'stick' construction, but it stays square, insulates significantly better such that it save energy dollars more than it costs.
- Steel beams - consider the use of steel beam construction in conjunction with the sips to span much larger distances and also eliminate the use of quicker-decaying wood. Again, a somewhat larger upfront cost, but the lifetime of the building will be much longer, the stability and strudiness will be improved, and more possibilities will emerge once large spans can be used.
- Our own water recycling plant? To go along with full sustainability if we are supplying our own electricity, what about investigating a method to take all of the wastewater from our community, in addition to rain fall that is accumulated, and passing it through an organic system so as to produce fresh water again? Check out the Bear River solar aquatic water recycling system. This method looks fairly straightforward but doesn't bring the water back to drink-ability, an additional system would be needed, but still all of this would profoundly benefit the environment.
- Food storage - more and more we are hearing about how having X months of food stored for the future is something we should be preparing to have. The best environment for food storage is an easy rotation in/out system in a dark room with humidity control. Not every typical residential home has the capacity to store a month's worth of food in these best conditions. In this cohousing community we could have a part of the basement set aside for bulk food storage, where we implement a system of rotation, use converted chest fridges, and purchase food items at deep bulk discount prices and then share that discount with the cohousing community. Access to this room should be made easy for large purchases of food, and easy for residents to pick up their foods. Deliveries from Parmalat, Quebon, or Lactantia could be made directly to us, the same for POM or any other bread company.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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?
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.
Canada cohousing website
Montreal federation of co-housing
Sunslates for solar powered housing
Tankless Water Heater
Solar Buildings Research Network