by Barbara Opyt
Some call me an “experienced cohouser,” but I am also a “wounded cohouser.” It’s like having cohousing PTSD. I am now a part of a newly forming cohousing group http://newamericanvillages.com/ and with every hint of delay, I get spooked. When potential members express their concerns, I think “Oh, yeah, be worried—be very worried.” I hesitate to lead but know that being in a community like this means that I can’t just follow passively. When anyone asks when the community will be built, I say “in about a year.” And then I cry a little inside.
In February 2007, I took my place in line to select a unit in a 36-unit cohousing development called Kaleidoscope Village, in Austin, Texas. We had land, home designs, committed members, a developer, and a builder. We had worked hard to make sure that the unit selection order was fair, based on the individual’s longevity as a member of the community and amount of work-share performed for the group. This was a big deal because so many of us had so much enthusiasm and there were so many competing criteria: would I get an upstairs or a downstairs flat? Would I get a choice unit at the back of the property, overlooking the green space, or would it be one on the triangle by the common house? Would it be near the planned orchard or by the pond? It was an exciting day as, one by one, singles and couples walked up to the board to sink their pins into the map, indicating their chosen homes. At the end of the day, all 27 households knew they would be able to move into their new homes at Kaleidoscope Village in about a year.
For several years, I had attended one or two cohousing committee meetings per week. We hashed out policies, created a strong conflict resolution process, designed work-share criteria, carefully crafted agendas for each general meetings, and held a lot of potlucks. We tried to stay out of the developer’s way but constantly pushed to move things forward. For most of those years, we believed that Kaleidoscope Village was “about a year away” from being built.
In late 2007, I sold my house and moved into a rental home so that once the development was complete I would have no delay in completing the purchase of my home and moving in.
This was a time in my life when I was reconciling both being an empty nester and a single woman, and this community was my savior. I was no longer lonely. I had a group of friends and co-conspirators who shared a purpose and a community spirit that filled my heart and my life. It was not about building 36 “units” and a common house. It was about creating a place and a way for us to share our lives.
But then…there were delays. The city zoning office needed more information. The rainwater detention pond was not adequate. The neighbor’s property line needed to be sorted out. Each delay pushed the projected construction schedule out so that it was always “about a year away.” The year 2007 came and went, and 2008 was not a good time to go looking for construction loans.
By 2009, the project was dead. The land was still there, with a few orange flags from previous surveys and site assessments left flapping in the wind. The people of the community had scattered. Some left town, moving to be closer to family or to buy into cohousing developments elsewhere. A few attempted to continue hosting potlucks and posting to the listserv. Some simply withdrew. The meeting minutes, going back nearly 10 years, was archived, and the website came down. Escrow was returned, and there seemed no point in meeting again. The only reminders of those days are some random notes on the Cohousing-L message forum.
In 2012, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee. As I was searching for housing, I came across New American Villages and the Germantown Cohousing development. I remember walking into a Germantown meeting and hearing a newcomer ask: "So, when will this be built?" The answer was "in about a year." It stirred up my memories, including both the warmth of community, but also the intense struggles of the development process. Could I jump in and once again be a part of a group that was creating community? Given that I was also starting a new job that would be intense, I decided to watch from the sidelines and see how it played out.
It's now 2014. Germantown Cohousing is in the final stages of construction (hurry up, you builders!), and New American Villages is in the process of securing an option on a new parcel of land. I’m in a better place to devote time to cohousing, and this time I am jumping in with both feet.
I know that, to be a successful member of this community, I have to address the deep hurt that remains from my dashed dreams at Kaleidoscope. Healing needs to happen, and a forgiveness of the forces that broke my heart. I need to trust and be vulnerable again. By doing this, I choose community over self-protection. I need to once again engage with my head, heart, and hands.
I’ll write again and give you updates on the development of our cohousing community as well as the story of my own process of letting go of the past. Watch me heal.