CoHousing Solutions Newsletter | September 2019
Building a cohousing community takes heart. It takes vision, perseverance, collaboration, and compromise. But more practically, it takes land.

No matter how big your cohousing dreams might be, they won't come true until you have a viable piece of land to build on. That is why whenever one of our clients lands a property contract we celebrate!

This September not 1, not 2, but 3 CoHousing Solutions client groups went under contract!

That’s $9 million worth of real estate!
So, what does it really take to get land under contract?
Well, it is no easy feat. It takes a concerted, focused effort to make it happen. The path to getting land under contract looked different for all 3 of these groups. Like most cohousing communities, they all had a long list of people interested in living in their future neighborhood, but the tough work of getting land under contract was done by just a few households (typically 3-6).

When Katie McCamant starts working with a cohousing group one of her first questions is: "If you found a great property next week, would you be ready to move on it?” That means that the group has money ready for a deposit and feasibility work and are confident they can raise the rest of the money (or at least have the confidence to try).

It also means that they have built interest in cohousing in the area and have an audience to reach out to once they have land. If cohousing is a brand new concept within the region, it may take awhile to recruit people to join a new community and participate in funding the development costs.

Once there is land under contract, everything shifts quickly into high gear and there needs to be enough people and funds to move the project forward effectively. We work with our clients to get them ready to do just that.
Only one of the three communities that recently got land under contract is ready to take its announcement public. So without further ado, we would like to congratulate Middlesex Cohousing in Littleton, MA on this milestone achievement!!
We interviewed Middlesex Cohousing's founding member, Victoria Thatcher, to get their story. . .
In the beginning...
The story of Middlesex Senior Cohousing begins in 2016, when Victoria Thatcher convened a few friends to talk about a question that was worrying her and her husband more and more:

"where will we live as we age and need help?"

She and her husband, Mayhew Seavey, were realizing that their second-floor rental apartment wouldn't work for aging in place. Rent was steadily increasing each year, and buying a house was not an option in the superheated housing market of Metro Boston. Although Victoria had lived in the apartment for over 20 years, the high turnover rate in the neighborhood had made it so that she had never really associated with her neighbors beyond the cordial "hello". With no family around, she worried that she would have no one to help her as she ages and needs help, and if she lost her husband she would be totally isolated.
Getting acquainted with cohousing...
A friend lent Victoria the book Senior Cohousing: A community Approach to Independent Living by Charles Durrett, and she quickly gathered up her friends. Together, they took turns reading the book out loud from start to finish. After turning the last page Victoria picked up the phone and called Durrett.

"I asked him if there were any communities in New England, and he said 'no, we'd have to build it.' It took us a few days to come to grip with that sobering reality!"
Durrett soon connected Victoria to Pat Hundhausen, cofounder of Quimper Village cohousing, who was able to provide some mentorship. Hundhausen helped Victoria strategize a presentation, and her friends would come over before the start of their work day to help her plan.

"We also realized that we would have to be willing to invest a few thousand dollars of our own money to get the project off the ground, and we were OK with that."
Taking it public...
In May of 2016, Victoria and Mayhew gave their first public presentation at the local library. To their astonishment, despite their minimal publicity efforts, 80 people showed up. They realized that housing for seniors was a huge concern for everyone in the area, and there was a real demand for the cohousing alternative. So, in the fall they ran Durrett's 10-week workshop, Study Group 1.

"The idea was to generate a core group from it. But even though it was over-subscribed and we worked so hard on it, nothing came of it."

They kept plugging along and hosting info sessions, and by January 2017 they had finally pulled together a small core group. However, as that group struggled to gain momentum people began leaving it. Despite a big turn out at each info session, they couldn't find anyone new to come on board. Everyone was too doubtful that acquiring land in the Metro Boston area would be possible, and there was no competing with big developers. By the spring Victoria and Mayhew were worn out, and ready to fold their tent.
The turning point...
In June of 2017 Victoria had a conversation with another cohousing founder on the West Coast. She told Victoria that her group had been working with Katie McCamant, who was available for hire as a consultant.
"That was it - we called her immediately. From that first phone conversation, Katie put our feet on the path, gave us a list of to-do's, and we started moving forward."

Over the coming months, Katie helped them create a membership structure, form an LLC, and interview developers. In June of 2018 they partnered with Matt Blackham, a respected local developer. Finally! They had a professional army behind them, dedicated to making their dream become a reality.

With Katie's help, Victoria developed what turned out to be a highly effective marketing, recruiting, and membership strategy that she calls "the funnel". It involves a series of strategically planned information sessions, potlucks, and newsletters, which all serve different purposes. They began implementing this new system in June, and by the first week of September their group had jumped from 5 to 20 individuals! Since then members have come and gone, but that number has been fairly stable ever since.
Finally finding land...
Finding land had been a long and difficult process. They had continuously been priced out of the Metro Boston area, and battled with antiquated zoning structures. Since their conception in 2016 the group had written two proposals for two different properties, and been rejected both times. But their third time was a charm.

In April of 2019, ten months after their developer began searching for land, the community made an offer on a property in Littleton, MA. A small farm town west of Boston that is transitioning into a suburb. In September they signed a Purchase and Sale Agreement.
The challenges...
Learning new technologies has been essential to moving the project forward, and that has been challenging for the group. Getting familiar with the platforms used for their website and newsletters, as well as video conferencing and document sharing has been a big learning curve.

"It's hard but it's also wonderful, all of us in our 3rd act learning these new things. It keeps us young!"

Another challenge has been implementing sociocracy, a dynamic governance system. It has been a crucial part of their effectiveness, and keeps them focused on process and good relationships. Victoria believes sociocracy has actually beneficial to their marketing.

"People are rightly worried about process and equivalence in a project like this, but they see we are committed to this great system of governance and feel safer in stepping forward."
The most challenging piece of their journey has been dealing with restrictive and antiquated zoning systems.

"We read recently that something like 90 percent of all developed land in the US is zoned exclusively for single-family housing. That is why we have a housing crisis in America. Towns have antiquated zoning, and residents don't want to change. They fight to keep you out, even as their own young people and seniors are forces to leave for lack of appropriate and affordable housing."
The fact that three cohousing groups acquired land this month is not only a huge win for the groups themselves, it has also been a huge win for sustainable housing. It means that there will be three more multi-family, sustainable housing options in three cities across America. It means that upwards of 70 families will avoid moving into single-family homes in the suburbs, and set an example of what sustainable living can look like.

And we think that is worth celebrating.
Stay tuned to see who the other two communities are that got land under contract this month!
We're Here to Help!
We provide development consulting services to help you create your sustainable neighborhood . Our team pioneered the development of cohousing in North America, and we have helped create dozens of successful communities.
Our newest venture involves training passionate cohousing entrepreneurs through the year-long 500 Communities Program .
Photo by Ed Asmus
Architecture by McCamant & Durrett Architects
CoHousing Solutions
(530) 478-1970
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