Cohousing developers find the chicken or egg question easy to answer. Cohousing’s conundrum is much more complex.
Timing is all – almost. You have to have members, a cohousing site and finance all at the same time. It is a story.
To start you need the right number of committed people, but can commitment ever be judged until there is a site and there is commitment you can measure in pounds invested.
To get a site you have to be able to move as fast as a developer and that needs the finance in place.
Finance is all about risk and if you don’t have a committed group, and you don’t yet have a site the risk is high – too high to expect a queue of lenders at your (as yet unbuilt) door.
If you are lucky enough to start with the finance (the nest egg) even a small group can find a site and buy it; with a site the group grows and cohousing becomes viable. But it is rare for one person to have that nest egg and, if it needs cooperation to get the funds together, that needs legal agreements, a formal group; in other words committed people (who are not chicken).
Somewhere somebody has to take a leap into the unknown.
To arrive at Cannock Mill Colchester for our cohousing we took this leap after years of trying to get round the problem. We once thought that getting into partnership with a housing association would resolve our financing problem. But this relationship only added another dimension to our timing conundrum. To members/site/finance we added ‘housing association’s agenda’. It may work in some cases, but not for us, precisely because our timing never synchronised: when we had enough members happy to work with the housing association, the housing association didn’t have the right site to offer, and by the time they had, our cohousing group’s expectations had changed due to a change of membership.
We eventually grew to understand that achieving ideal timing would be close to miraculous; or at least so unlikely as to persuade us that waiting for the winning ticket would be longer than the wait for Godot. We know that our own life clocks are ticking and we want to be able to enjoy cohousing before arthritis prevents us from gathering the eggs from our cohousing chickens.
Our solution has been to take a risk, a very calculated one, and one which has consolidated our sense of purpose and cooperation. We bought a site and invested our own money. Our bet seems to be paying off. Cannock Mill is a site that is attractive for new members; a site we own, with well-developed plans, brings a growing group and less financial risk. That cohousing clock is about to chime and we are all very excited by the prospect.
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