Our co-housing model moves ahead

Thirty people joined us October 23 for an information session on our co-housing plans. Over the course of two hours we:

  • provided a presentation exploring our ideas in more detail
  • gave people a chance to discuss with each other their own ideas for co-housing
  • engaged in a q&a session
  • and explored next steps.

We’ve now sent a survey to the participants to identify their interests in proceeding. Some important considerations.

  • our house will have a shared kitchen, not individual kitchens. For some people, that’s a little too close. They’d prefer co-housing (cohousing) organized around fully self-contained suites. That’s not our model, but we’ll try to help them find each other.
  • our house will have a no pets rule, at least initially. Understandably, that’s a deal-breaker for some.
  • a couple people find our model too costly, or would like to pursue a different timeline.

And we’re delighted that several people have said they want to meet with us regularly and explore our model in more depth.

These are preliminary results with about two-thirds of the questionnaires completed.

We’re holding another information session November 13 to accommodate those who couldn’t get in to the first session. We do not expect to hold further sessions after that. However, we will continue trying to make connections among people wanting to pursue co-housing.

Baba Yaga: The witch that became a cohousing development

Had a good conversation yesterday with Beth Komito-Gottlieb, the interim chair of Baba Yaga Place, another Toronto group that’s working on a different sort of cohousing concept.

In Russian folklore, Baba Yaga is the fearsome witch with  iron teeth. She lives in a hut perched on chicken legs. By the time it got to France, Babayagas’ House had morphed into 25 self-contained flats for senior women who want to live in community and support each other as they age. It opened in 2013, with funding of four million euros from various levels of the French government.

In Canada, another group modelled on the French development has become even more inclusive. Its principles include:

Governance: A self-managed model where key decisions are made by the residents themselves;
Commitment to equality, equity, and social justice, with a particular focus on the empowerment of women;
Interdependence :
Respect for each other’s personal autonomy and privacy, while supporting each other;
Community engagement:
Involvement with the political, social, and cultural life of the broader community; and
Environmental responsibility:
Commitment to environmental sustainability and environmental justice.

Those are good principles!

Baba Yaga Place in Canada is now sharing its vision with others. Beth tells me it could include as many as 30 units and may form part of a larger development —  maybe two or three floors dedicated to Baba Yaga in a high rise condo development, for example, or part of a surplus school no longer in use.

As part of the group’s focus on the empowerment of women, the largest percentage of those units will be reserved for single women, with a smaller number reserved for couples or single men.

“We do still live longer,” Beth points out, “so there are more of us as we age. And older women are more often vulnerable, more often living in isolation or poverty.” Because of this, Baba Yaga is also exploring ways to subsidize the units when necessary.


Decisions, decisions

A group stands or falls on the quality of its decision-making. Some decisions are trivial; some appear trivial in the moment but loom large later on (or the reverse); some are so clearly fraught with consequence that a misstep here could doom the whole enterprise.

So if participation and collaboration are among the values shared by your group, you’re going to spend a lot of time and energy making decisions.

With that thought in mind, the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) recently took a look at systems to support decision making. After all, as they point out, it’s not always possible to gather everyone in the same place at the same time. And then you find

Should we admit the Death Star into the Galactic Federation?
Should we admit the Death Star into the Galactic Federation? The witty and instructive demo from Consider.It, a decision-making support system.

yourselves asking: “Do we have enough people in attendance to make this decision? Can people weigh in by e-mail if they can’t be at the meeting? What if the person who came up with the proposal is absent?”

Most decision-support software has evolved as business tools, unsurprisingly, and may require some ‘translation’ to work for a co-housing group.  FIC looked at sociocracy, and Loomio, two powerful and worthy systems.

But my favourite, by far, not least for its surpassingly cool demo, is Consider.it, a tool that dares to ask the question: Should we admit the Death Star into the Galactic Federation? Each member of your group can add their pros and cons to the discussion, then rank their overall support or opposition to the idea.

“I don’t trust its manager, Darth Vader,” reads one of the cons. I think he has unresolved daddy issues.” But, counters a pro, “The Death Star and the Sith have limitless resources.”

The pros and cons are arranged in an intuitive visual that lets you easily explore who said what and engage in threaded conversations about any individual item.

I don’t think you’d necessarily want to use Consider.It (or any other formal tool) all the time. That would feel to me like too much energy going into process for most, relatively trivial decisions.

But when you’re facing a potentially world-ending question like whether to get in bed with the Death Star, you need all  the help you can get. Besides, did I mention it’s really cool?

Deepening community

Deepening Community: Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times is the title of a wonderful book by Paul Born, executive director of the Tamarack Institute.

It’s been out for a couple of years but we just stumbled across it on the suggestion of a new friend (Thanks Jenny!)

It’s one of those wonderful books that sound so simple. As you read, you find yourself nodding and thinking “Yes, of course.” Then you realize that these “simple” thoughts are the basis of an entire way of life.

Paul himself makes this point eloquently in describing “the most important thing people can do to make a difference in the world.” Simple, he says. Bring chicken soup to a neighbour. Too easy? Not so fast. It requires real work, says Paul:

It requires that you know your neighbour.

It requires that you know they are not vegetarian and like soup.

It requires that you know them well enough and communicate regularly enough to know they are sick.

Once you know they are sick, you must feel compelled to want to help and to make this a priority among the many calls on your time and energy.

Your neighbour must know you well enough to feel comfortable in receiving your help.

And you must have enough of a relationship to know what they prefer when they are sick, whether it is chicken soup, phochana masala, or even ice cream.

Taking the bowl of soup is simple in itself, but a lot of time and effort has gone into the relationship first.

Paul suggests that our “chaotic times” — marked among other things by  economic disruption, terrorism and the threat of global climate disaster — lead us to seek community in one of three ways.

  • Shallow Community, in which we continue to act primarily as individuals and consumers, going from one interaction or experience to another. “These experiences are shallow not because they are fun or entertaining but because they do not require ongoing connection and mutual caring.”
  • Fear-Based Community, in which our sense of identity becomes linked to the rejection of the other. “A community based on fear is a dangerous place,” writes Paul. “These communities are real and they are growing. They are built by people who are trying to make sense of changes outside their control and their comfort zone…. Fear-based communities derive their sense of reality from being against community; they exist only on the basis of creating a ‘them against us’ narrative.”

    Prophetic words, written well before the rise of Donald Trump, and yet offering perhaps the most succinct and insightful description of his appeal I have seen.

  • And the third alternative, Deep Community, in which we create a place of strengthening mutual bonds and emotional resilience.

    Four practices lead to deep community, says Paul. Sharing our story, so that we know each other’s pain and joy; enjoying one another by spending time together; caring for one another (again with the chicken soup!); and then, turning outward, working together to build a better world.

“Community is not so much chosen for us as by us,” he concludes. “It is not a Pollyanna choice. It is a choice made in the midst of very real struggles in our own life and in our world.”

It’s a wonderful book and you should read it. (Full disclosure: I had the privilege of serving on the board of a charitable organization a number of years ago with Paul.) Order the book and find more resources at http://www.deepeningcommunity.org.


How co-housing will save the economy

Funny how things cluster. The day after our co-housing article appeared,  the Globe and Mail also published a column by Todd Hirsch, a Calgary-based economist. Mr. Hirsch’s column is all about the challenges of low growth, nothing at all to do with co-housing — or so you’d think.

But just at the end, as he’s talking about the issue of low yields, which has a negative impact particularly on pensioners and seniors, he recommends:

rethinking the way seniors live in closer communities, supported not by money but by the people around them. Seniors living with low incomes can suffer more from isolation than lack of money. Rather than single-unit low-income housing, we need to re-examine multi-family, communal living arrangements, maybe using tax credits as incentives for builders.

As we’ve said elsewhere, the economics of co-housing are not the primary drivers for us. But it’s good to see those particular stars aligning. Generally, once there’s an economic rationale, the policy pieces start to fall into line.

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