FAQ

EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT BUILDING AND LIVING IN THE RACHEL CARSON ECOVILLAGE . . . almost

Please Note: The answers here should all be prefaced with “It is likely that…” or “Probably…” since we are just beginning the formation of the ecovillage. Some (like the cost of the units) will depend on information we don’t know yet. Others will depend on what the community decides. Here is the best approximation we have to the answers at this point.

THE ECOVILLAGE

What’s the relationship between the terms “ecovillage” and “cohousing”?

While the connotations of these two terms often lead to different interpretations, they may be used interchangeably. Ecovillage may bring to mind a more land-oriented, often more rural development, while cohousing is more likely to be used for an urban community. But these differences are by no means definitive. While individual ecovillages and cohousing communities are quite diverse, they are based on the same principles of sustainability and community, and they are formed and operated in the same ways.

Will Rachel Carson Ecovillage be age-restricted?

Rachel Carson Ecovillage is a multi-generational community that welcomes people of all ages.

How many units will there be?

We’re aiming for 30, but it may be feasible with as few as 25 or as many as 35. Cohousing communities in North America range in size from 9 to 44 households. CoHousing Solutions, an experienced developer, recommends 25 to 35 units to achieve a balance between development economies and social dynamics. Communities of this size are small enough that you know all your neighbors, but large enough to accommodate a diversity of people and share responsibilities.

Cohousing attracts a wide range of household types: single people of all ages, couples and single parents of infants, toddlers and school-aged children, couples whose children are grown, and young couples without children.

Are the units “complete” with kitchens and living spaces?

Yes, each unit is complete with kitchen and living space, studio units may be designed to combine living/sleeping space due to the smaller size.

What will the sizes of the units be?

We anticipate four sizes: studio (500-600 sf), one-bedroom (700-800 sf), two-bedroom (1100-1200 sf) and three-bedroom (1300-1500 sf). There may be two types of two-bedroom units.

Will any units have bedrooms on the ground floor?

Yes, one bedroom and at least some two-bedroom units will have ground-floor bedrooms. Whether there are more or fewer units with ground-floor bedrooms will reflect the input of the ecovillage members into the design process. We anticipate making units accessible or accessible-ready.

Will the units be attached to each other?

Yes, for savings of both first costs and monthly energy bills, they will be built in groups of two to four townhouses.

What makes the buildings “high performance” buildings? How will the units be heated and

cooled? Will they have solar panels?

The buildings will be super-insulated for energy efficiency and durability. Our goal is to be certified by the Passive House Institute, the “gold standard” of sustainability programs. The construction will be based on computer simulations of energy and the management of heat and moisture in the building envelope. This can reduce demand by as much as 75%. To eliminate combustion from inside the units, they will be heated and cooled electrically by small efficient devices such as ductless heat pumps. We expect to incorporate photovoltaic panels onto common facilities to provide some electricity. We also anticipate that the buildings will be solar-ready, though the reduced demand for electricity may require long payback periods.

Won’t high-performance buildings be more expensive?

With an experienced team, the cost of a Passive House certified building is no more than 3% above the cost of a conventional building.

 Will there be private outdoor space?

Yes, each unit will have its own small outdoor space.

I like the idea of a smaller unit, but what about out of town guests?

As in most cohousing communities, the Common House will have guest suites that can be reserved for guests.

What will the common facilities include?

The Common House will include a large dining room, a kitchen, mailboxes, and guest suites. Depending on what the community wants and can afford, it might also have space for workshops, smaller living spaces, or a community office.

Will there be space for members to grow some of their own food?

Yes. In fact, there may be several options for gardening.

What’s meant by “healthy” materials?

Healthy materials are non-toxic. A healthy environment is created by avoiding any materials that have been shown to have a negative effect on health. Our design standard includes excellent air quality in the units.

Where is parking?

Rachel Carson Ecovillage will be neighbor-friendly, and cars will be parked at the periphery of the development in clustered spaces or garages. By walking from their cars, residents are more likely to encounter their neighbors with a quick hello or a longer catching-up. The interior of the site will be car- free. Groceries can be transported in wagons kept in the garage. The site will allow for emergency vehicle access and moving trucks.

DEVELOPMENT

When will the units be ready to move in?

If all goes well, in 2022. We are targeting a construction start in spring 2021. The ecovillage will be built as a single project under a single construction contract. Until we have more information, we are assuming the project will take 12 months to build.

What will the homeowners own?

Each household owns their unit (the structure) and an equal share of the common facilities. The form of ownership is condominium. According to the terms of the bequest of the campus land to Chatham, the university must retain ownership of the property. The ecovillage will have a long-term (ie, 99-year) “ground lease”.

What will the housing units cost?

The sales price includes both the unit and the shared common facilities, and it covers the cost of construction, planning, and development. This is based on other recently built communities and can only be taken as a general idea of the range of prices:

Studio $150 – $200,000
One-bedroom $200 – $250,000
Two-bedroom: $320 – $380,000
Three-bedroom: $400 – 490,000

Will we be able to take part in Chatham University activities or use their facilities?

The public is already welcome to enjoy the campus trails and the natural environment, free public concerts and events, and dining at the Barazzone Center. The ecovillage will work with Chatham to expand access to academic functions and other campus amenities for a monthly “activities fee”.

What will be the monthly fee?

Monthly maintenance charges will include operating expenses, insurance, debt service, and capital reserves but do not include utilities for individual units. They will also cover the activities fee and a share of the ground lease. The amount will be determined by the community. The fee typically runs in the range of $150-350. Communities that have a program of shared volunteer work are able to keep their fees lower.

Where will the financing for the ecovillage come from?

Short-term construction financing will be arranged by Rachel Carson Ecovillage LLC (our legal entity). Terms will depend on the number of committed units. Owners will take possession as soon as the construction is finished. Permanent financing will be the responsibility of each homeowner, just as in conventional housing.

If I can’t afford to buy a unit, is it possible to rent?

This is yet to be determined. From time to time, a homeowner may rent their unit for an extended period during which he or she is unable to occupy it. A few communities have (or are planning) one or more units that might be shared by two or more individuals or households. In this situation the unit might be held by more than one person as joint tenants or tenants-in-common. Alternatively, one person or household could own the unit and others sharing the home would be renters. At the present time, there is no community in which the homeowners’ association owns a unit and rents it out. Renting residents usually have all the same rights and responsibilities as owners, except in matters relating to expenditure of money. Typically, renters are welcome to attend meetings and participate fully in discussions of community matters. (Courtesy of Cohousing Solutions)

Will there be a selection process for membership?

No. Experience has shown that self-selection is the best way to form a community. The community attracts people who are looking to be active members of a community.

Is there a developer?

No. Rachel Carson Ecovillage will have a professional project team to develop the project but will not depend on a developer to fund the pre-construction work. Ecovillage members will fund that work through their early deposits in their unit. To make the ecovillage a reality, we will need 10-20 households to choose to buy a unit and make advance deposits up to the total of their down payment ahead of construction. The equity deposits will be used to cover the costs incurred in planning: outreach, design, engineering, public approvals, and other expenses. The units will be priced to cover the cost of the development without a developer’s profit.

How do people join the Ecovillage? What does it cost?

Please refer to the “Become a Member” section of the website for details. The “path” to membership is a three-step process: Inquirer→Explorer→ Equity. Fees paid are non-refundable because they are used to cover the costs of developing the project. However, they are counted toward the cost of each household’s unit. Once we are living in the community, we may offer associate memberships to non- residents interested in participating in meals and other activities.

How is risk managed in the development of the Ecovillage?

Without a developer, risk is shared by the Equity members. The risks in developing cohousing are often related to acquiring property and the approvals to build on the property. Building on the Eden Hall campus significantly reduces those risks. The biggest uncertainty is whether we will attract enough members to commit to the project early enough to get it to construction. There is no point prior to construction when the project becomes a definite “go”. Instead, the development process, as long as it continues to move ahead, progressively reduces the risk and makes the project more certain. The most critical factor is adding new members in a timely way.

What are the advantages to committing early?

One advantage is that the earlier you come into the group, the more opportunity you have to be a part of the planning, though as a “pioneer”, you’ll be putting more time into the development process. You will get an earlier place in the order in which units will be selected. Also, there is a financial incentive for joining the group early in the way of a discount applied to your final unit price.

Who will build the project?

Selection of the general contractor is an important decision that will be made once we have an initial (schematic) design. In high-performance design, the contractor is an essential part of the planning team. The firm will be selected on the basis of the quality and cost-effectiveness of their past projects, recommendations from clients, their capabilities in high-performance construction, and their interest in the project.

What kind of approvals are needed?

Richland Township will require approval of the project for compliance with the Eden Hall campus master plan and approval of its proposed land development plan. The Allegheny Valley Sewer Authority has to approve a request for water and sewer “taps”. The project will also have to obtain a building permit prior to construction.

I’d like to financially support Rachel Carson EcoVillage in some other way besides becoming a member, is there a way to do that?

Yes! Monetary contributions can be made in varying amounts via our Donate Page – your gift will help to cover marketing and outreach efforts as well as increase the events we host for the public. .

ECOVILLAGE LIFE

How do common meals work?

Common meals (even if some people’s schedules permit them to attend only irregularly) are the glue that holds cohousing communities together. Cohousing communities usually prepare between two and five meals per week in their common house. The meals are prepared by a team of 2-4 persons for however many diners sign up for the meal in advance. Eating common meals is always voluntary. There’s been a lot of experimenting with policies about meals over the years. While there is a good deal of variation in the way the cooking (and cleanup) responsibilities are structured, typically, each person is involved in meal preparation and/or clean-up once every 4 or 5 weeks. There is also variation in how the common meals are paid for, but you only pay for meals you eat. Common dinner prices typically range from $2.50 to $3.75.

How does the consent form of governance work?

“Dynamic governance” is a model that more and more cohousing communities are learning in order to make decisions in a timely way with the benefit of full participation and effective use of everyone’s time. Residents report they even enjoy working together. Communities that learn and adopt this approach to governance early tend to find it most helpful. Community members can learn it in our own workshops as well as online events, reading, and practice. For more, see https://www.cohousing.org/sociocracy/.

Who makes decisions about things like pets and meals and volunteer work and maintenance?

The community as a whole decides on its goals and principles. Then its working groups will decide on the questions that affect everyday life. Ecovillages with a strong sense of community end up with very few rules.

Will there be a work or participation requirement?

One of the basic principles of cohousing is collaboration, so aside from the practical benefits of voluntary work by residents, it is generally valued for its community-building benefits. In a self-managed community, there is always an abundance of opportunities to pitch in and get involved, with a wide variety of work to fit the talents, interests, and limitations of individuals. Most communities ask residents to choose what they would like to do (affinity-based work), which tends to work surprisingly well. Typically, the community asks all residents to take part in community decisions, to take a turn at common house meal preparation, and to participate in seasonal workdays. Total volunteer time may average 3-8 hours per month. Those who participate in this way often report that working closely together with others is an especially satisfying way of connecting and feeling a strong sense of community.

What happens if I need to sell my unit?

Any household leaving the community can legally sell their property, and there are a number of ways that communities arrange for sales that protect the interests of both the seller and the community. The ecovillage, for example, may ask all members to sign a voluntary agreement that they will not lease or sell their unit to anyone who does not wish to participate fully in the community. Almost all communities maintain a waiting list of persons interested in the availability of houses, and community members agree to invite prospective buyers from the waiting list before putting their house on the market. This generally facilitates house sales, since the waiting list is a self-selected set of interested buyers. It is to the benefit of the seller and to the rest of the community to see that the new buyer wants to take part in the community, so typically they are asked to attend at least a meal and a community meeting. When it comes to resales, experience has shown that homes in cohousing have held their value or have appreciated faster than the market as a whole.