They Chance Collaborative Living. They Lost

Claudia Ruffle had always hoped to one day establish permanent residence in a cohousing neighbourhood. She craved for connection with individuals who shared her ideals, particularly around care for the environment. But she was an introvert, so she had a hard time striking up conversations with strangers.

They Chance Collaborative Living. They Lost

Cohousing, a kind of collaborative living that originated in Denmark, gave “a structure where I didn’t have to be outgoing and could yet receive the benefit of getting to know people,” said Ruffle, 72, a former substitute teacher and administrative assistant. It helped me feel more comfortable with new people, which helped me overcome my shyness.

They Chance Collaborative Living. They Lost

So she was among the early advocates of what was envisioned as Connecticut’s first cohousing community. After more than a decade of preparation, the project, named Rocky Corner, finally broke ground in 2018 on a 33-acre site in Bethany, a suburb of New Haven.

To fund the purchase of one of the townhouses there, Ruffle and his friend sold their New Haven home. They expect to close on the transaction in 2019. But their closing date kept getting extended. And then members of the community were advised that the project was facing a cash-flow difficulty.

According to Ruffle, the couple initially planned to pay in full for their apartment upon signing the lease.

But instead, the entire project slid into foreclosure. And Ruffle’s dream — and finances — were dashed.

“That money is now gone and there’s no way for us to collect it,” she claimed. About $170,000 was lost. And neither one of us makes much money. Since then, we have been forced to endure extremely difficult living conditions.

Different Rocky Corner locals have different theories as to what went wrong. But in general, most agree that the increasing complexity of the project proved more than the group could finance or manage.

“Mistakes were made all along the line by all sides,” said Dick Margulis, a book designer and editor whose wife was one of the initial organisers of the group.

Karen Gimnig, interim executive director of the Cohousing Association of America, a national charity that helps newly developing and existing communities, has stated that what occurred at Rocky Corner is not indicative of the viability of cohousing in general.

According to the Cohousing Association, there are around 170 functioning cohousing communities across the United States. About 30 cohousing developments may be found in the Golden State, while the Evergreen State of Washington is home to about 20. Cohousing is a form of community-oriented housing in which individuals or families each have their own dwelling but share communal areas.

As with any development project, “anything could happen” during the construction phase of a project, Gimnig added. However, “this is quite unusual.”

She added that the group always recommends that anyone building such communities work with reputable cohousing developers to lessen the potential for disaster.

She noted that most cohousing developments rely on public utilities like water and wastewater, but the Rocky Corner development was located in a rural area and included setting aside farmland.

When the Naugatuck, Connecticut, branch of Ion Bank obtained title of the land through a limited liability corporation, just roughly half of the 30 dwelling units were complete. At the foreclosure sale in November, the bank made the only bid of $6.9 million. In 2020, Ion started the foreclosure process because the project still owed around $6.7 million in loans.