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Cohousing creates communities by design

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"There are also some architects and development managers who understand the concept and will work with the group."

The biggest hurdle, she says, is often the people themselves.

"It's almost always a group of people in a living room who don't even have land. Turning them into a business group that can stand by its decisions and raise the money takes a lot," says Scotthanson.

"Often they think professional assistance isn't going to do anything but add to their costs, though in fact it saves them money."

Cohousing counseling
Because cohousing uses a consensus model for decision making, one person can stall a project indefinitely, or even bring it down. Counseling is often required to develop the necessary decision-making skills.

Tree Bressen, a full-time freelance group facilitator based in Eugene, Ore., works with many types of intentional communities at different stages of development to help with the social aspects of community building. She says she's been brought in to resolve issues from concerns about equitable workloads to pet policies.

"It's a mixture of both policy-level procedures and cultural factors," she says.

Bressen says if she is brought in early in the process, she can train future residents in the basics of decision making by consensus, verify the group's common values and help develop a clear procedure to deal with deadlocks.

Reshaping existing communities
While many cohousing communities were purpose-built, Parsons says the difficulty and expense of finding suitable land will probably lead to more creative retrofitted options, already common in urban areas.

N Street is among the most successful examples. It's now grown to 19 houses, says Wolf, 12 on N Street and seven on the next street. In the open space in the middle are gardens, a play area, a hot tub and sauna, even a chicken coop.

"We have a distributed model, rather than the centralized model in which the Common House is the community center," he says. "The laundry is in one place, the compost heap in another. It's designed to encourage spontaneous interaction."

Davis, Calif., is a university town, and N Street Cohousing mirrors that.

"We're a lower-income community," Wolf says. "We're about half young adults and half families with children, and we work hard to maintain that balance.

"Houses are very expensive in California. People either need help to buy them or they come together as tenants in common. Sometimes they finance their house by tearing down the garage and adding a second unit. "

About 40 percent of the houses are rentals, he says. "Most of the core families rent for years before an opportunity to buy a house comes up, but once they buy, they're settled in for the long term."

Creating a permanent community in which new owners of homes have to keep the fences between properties down may require changes in zoning or easements, Wolf says. "In the beginning we used easements. Later we got the city to rezone our block as a Planned Development."

Next: "Cost savings is an advantage in all cohousing communities."
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