Lessons from a Austin Cohousing that disbanded

We're sorry to announce that Austin Cohousing has disbanded, and our Kaleidoscope Village project is not going to happen.

Kaleidoscope Village

Feb. 2007 was the high point for Austin Cohousing -- that was Unit-Selection Day for twenty-three members. We put our pins in the preliminary site plan board and signed pre-sales agreements for homes in Kaleidoscope Village, which was to be a 37-unit cohousing community in Austin, Texas.

The KV project was the culmination of a years-long site search and numerous feasibility studies. We finally had found a 6-acre plot of land suitable for cohousing, with an owner who was not only willing to sell but interested in helping us develop it, and who brought along two investors intrigued by the project. One of the investors ended up pulling out before we even got started, but two of our longterm members stepped up to complete the development team. (This is what is called a hybrid development model for cohousing.)

We were hoping to move in, at the latest, by early 2009.

So, what happened?

Any project of this size has a great many moving parts, and there certainly were places where, in retrospect, we zigged when we probably ought to have zagged. Some issues might have been anticipated and avoided by a more-experienced developer team; some were probably unavoidable. But what ultimately doomed us was a two-part whammy:

o ONE: Delays. We had delays from trying to get the city to approve our drainage plan. Delays from trying to get grey water approved, or rainwater harvesting. The fire department decided it needed wider lanes. And so on. But the biggest delay was caused by a decision to regularize a problematic zigzag border with a neighboring property and obtain a better access easement. This seemingly simple matter developed into a much larger agreement involving joint drainage handling, infrastructure improvements on the other property, and rezoning. This ended up drastically slowing down site plan approval.

o TWO: The above-mentioned delays alone would not have been fatal, and we were still feeling optimistic about the project -- until we ran off the cliff of the Great Recession.

In the aftermath of the housing meltdown, one of our developer members asked to be bought out; another was unemployed for months. We were also hemorrhaging community members as people lost jobs and home equity. Several households moved back to hometowns. We knew we were really in trouble when we tried to bring in some new members and they found they could not qualify for a mortgage -- any of them.

Our last minuted meeting was September 2009; with nothing new to report, we dropped down to occasional potlucks as the project went dormant.

We still thought that the project would eventually move ahead, but in late 2011, the primary developer had a series of meetings with builders and lenders that resulted in the decision that the project was not viable in that location. Even drastically reducing the quality and scale (for instance, converting one of the duplexes into an interim common house), the price of the homes would be drastically out of line with comps in that neighborhood and would not come close to appraising with the new appraisal rules.

What Now?

Yours truly has bought a home in a neighborhood near the KV site and is working on creating a sense of community in this neighborhood. (There's a very interesting quadplex -- four separate buildings on two adjacent lots currently being rented out by an absentee landlord --- that I would love to find some community-minded people to buy. )

In community,


This page is maintained by Fred H Olson. Fred's Link page