Starting your cohousing community

Living with other people in one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have. It is a huge opportunity for personal growth and beneficial in many ways as has been outlined elsewhere on this website. To make living in cohousing a healthy and rewarding experience requires certain steps and commitments from all participants.

Every new community needs to undertake these steps to develop their procedures and agreements which will form the basis for their interactions and those of future members. These steps are common to most groups that agree to a democratic decision making model. Consensus decision making is one of the most effective processes available for the intimacy of a cohousing community, as it ensures a voice for all participants. This is a critical feature and one of the cohousing aspects that has been well developed.

The steps we take in our group development work is as follows:

1. Compassionate communication – First thing is to establish “how” we will talk to each other; we talk about what this looks like and what the consequences are; this establishes our communication patterns which are typically respectful;

2. Decision making – “How will we make decisions?” This is required to move forward as a group and the focus is generally to develop a consensus process as a normal operating parameter; with a super majority as a fallback for important and immediate decisions; as stated earlier consensus allows everyone to feel heard and while it may take more time ensures that everyone has contributed to the ultimate decision;

3. Operating Norms - Establish these; define them clearly as these will be the agreed upon operating standards that are expected of all group members; or if they are not in agreement to bring forward a proposal to alter or amend any particular standard.

4. Develop Organizational Structure (ie Teams, committees or ?) – The main reason “intentional communities” like cohousing work is because of the deliberate, intentional nature of the communities. It does not happen by accident or on an “ad hoc” basis. For example: Cohousing communities typically have:

  • - Coordination Team – which looks after general business activities, organizes the regular meetings of members; deals with financial and legal matters
  • Community Care which looks after the training and emotional care of the community
  • - Social Team which often plans social activities including meals, games nights, acknowledges birthdays, etc
  • - Common House Team which organizes activities relating to the household like: cleaning, maybe repairs with the Building Care and Landscape Teams; furniture, common goods, and others;
  • - DTF’s (Disappearing Task Force) – For task oriented teams which disband after their purpose is fulfilled.

This would also include meeting processes – agendas, minutes, proposals, decision making and recording of decisions and agreements

5. Establish Vision & Values - These are important for the group identity and in orienting new members to the group; this helps to establish common expectations, processes and agreements; Again this is best documented for common agreement and orienting new members;

6. Establish policies and common agreements – There are a myriad of policies and agreements; and rest assured each group will have their own unique perspective on these; Some common ones to each group include developing budgets; pet policies, policies around meals, cleanliness, cleaning procedures, chores and allocation of tasks; parking, playing, music, meals, and on and on; documented so that they can be easily shared.

It is important that all group members agree to abide by the decisions of the group and if there is disagreement that there is a way to deal with it. Life in a group is seldom perfect but it is often enhancing and with good processes can easily exceed ones expectations. After all “many heads are (often) better that one” and “many hands make light labor”

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