Mexican Cohousing

December 22, 2011

The following article was originally published at CohousingBlog.com on December 3, 2011. It was titled "Rancho La Salud: Mexican Cohousing. Interview with founder…"

Today, as promised, we are featuring an interview with Rick Colishaw, one of the founders of this Rancho La Salud Village.  This new community is currently in the forming stages and located right near Lake Chapala.  It is primarily a community for retired American expats with extensive convenience and health services provided, but it is open to everyone.  Read below or browse their website to learn more!

What is your (and the owner, Jaime Navarro’s) background?

Architect, specialist in passive solar and energy efficiency for 15 years, founder of built-green program in Colorado, and architect for cohousing project in Colorado Springs.

“Rick Cowlishaw has been an architect in Colorado and several other states.  He specialized in energy efficient and passive solar homes.  Rick later worked for the State of Colorado in the Colorado Office of Energy Conservation where he headed up the residential section.  Cowlishaw created the Colorado Green Program for the state.  This was adopted by the Denver Homebuilders Association as the Built-Green Program and spread to other areas of the state.  Later the National Homebuilders Association adopted the Green Program which led to 38 states in the US adopting of similar green programs.  Since that time he has worked as a design consultant in a new type of housing called Cohousing.  He has lived in Cohousing for 14 years.  Rick brings to Rancho La Salud Village his knowledge of passive solar architecture, green building, self-sufficiency and building community.

Jaime Navarro is Rancho La Salud’s owner and developer.  He specialized in organic agriculture, sustainable living systems, family business management and coaching.  A Lakeside resident, business entrepreneur and neo-farmer since 2008, he actively participates in the Lake Chapala Green Group and has committed his life to bringing back healthy organic foods, intelligent sustainable cohousing and multiversity education and coaching, for the integral evolution of human consciousness.  He lived, studied, and worked in the US for 15 years as a research fellow and lecturer at UCLA and The Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, CA.  He later returned to Mexico and served as Dean for the ITESM (Technologico de Monterrey) Graduate School of Business at Guadalajara and lectured extensively at US, Canadian, and Mexican universities before settling at Rancho La Salud Village.  Jaime and Sara are its founders and first dwellers.

Why Cohousing in Mexico?
I retired to Ajijic Mexico, met the developer and decided to assist with Rancho La Salud Village.  It is a dream project for me in that it includes many of the elements I have learned over the years, but never been able to include in one project.  These are cohousing, passive solar heating and cooling, passive hot water heating, electrical generation, water harvesting, green construction, living healthy life-long learning, and designing for aging-in-place.

Why the Retail Shops?  (Primarily for convenience of residents?  To bring in income? Do you think the retail shops will have enough customer base to survive?)
The retail shops are fairly common here along the highway and in front of a gated community.  They seem to rent quite well over time.  We have room for just 3 or 4 small shops, so it is not a large economic risk.

The retail shops in our case will provide services to the residents and are integrated into the community.  One side faces the highway with parking, the other faces into the community.

One shop will sell organic produce, some grown by the residents and some grown commercially.  We have an acre under cover with a commercial organic greenhouse across the street.  The homeowners will have access to use a small portion of the greenhouse and for outdoor farming.  We will be the only totally organic store in the area, and expats love organic produce here.  We hope to have residents in the community that enjoy making  jellies, jams, pies, breads, and flavored oils and vinegar.  In the same shop can be displayed for sale art work done by the community members.  This includes oils, watercolors, pottery, and jewelry.  Yes, extra income, but for the enjoyment of it.

There are four other gated complexes within walking distance from which to draw clients.  The shop owners can bring the product to them by carrying their product in the back of trucks directly to these and other communities.  In our community they can walk door to door and the residents can walk down to the shops for what is available.  Yes, for the convenience.

There is another reason.  We plan to intentionally create jobs for the Mexicans, perhaps even start ownership of a business with micro-loans.

A second shop will be a laundry, picked up and delivered for each residence.  Part of this service includes ironing.  The laundry draws business from the other surrounding communities.  This should do quite well economically.  Just imagine setting your laundry out, then etting it back ironed on hangers two days later.  This is a convenience.

A third shop will be for medical.  A doctor will visit once a week and go house to house by prior arrangement.  There will be a visiting nurse 3 times a week.  This might include a small pharmacy.  This would be part of a wellness center for alternate ways of maintaining health.

You can see how these inter-relate to each other and the community.  They also create jobs.

What will be in the common house?

The common house will have an entry, mailboxes, small living room, large dining room, TV area, large kitchen, combo men and women restroom, two bedrooms with baths, and a small gym.  There will be a patio for outside dining for 30 people.

What kind of market analysis did you do before making this decision?

We have no formal analysis.  We do have a copy of an analysis that shows a need for assisted living that covers some of the same issues.  We did a informal focus group to see if we are on the right track.  I have a fair exposure to the expat market through the Lake Chapala Society, an expat group of over 3,000 members.  There are probably 30,000 expats along a 20 mile strip here.  And then there are the 10,000 US baby boomers turning 65 each day.

Did you have data that showed Americans would move to Mexico to retire?

US and Canadian expats have moved here and more move here every day.  I have met expats from Sweden, Spain, Germany, and England.  There are compelling reasons to move to the north shore of Ajijic, among them lovely 60 degree to 80 degree weather year round, great natural beauty of a 14 mile wide and 50 mile long lake surrounded by high mountains, great eating places, wonderful interesting people, a great number of things to do and a total cost about one-half of the US.

Are you sure that a risky development like cohousing will succeed in a less-conventional retirement country (compared to Panama, etc)?

We are doing a gated community much like others here with the addition of Cohousing.  These gated communities have been successful.  We consider it low risk because of the need of expats who have left their friends, children and grand children back home.  They have a need for “living-in-community” and of extended family which cohousing offers.  Remember, we need only 29 people who want to buy into this project.

Are you still planning to use the normal development model, getting folks to commit before any real design or building phases? 

Yes, at least from the “creating community” non-physical part of the Village.  We have developed the building layout on the site based on Cohousing principles and several sample home plans.  Part of the Cohousing model is to have early investor/residents, and we offer this.  The early investor will purchase a lot at a large discount and we will use the funds from the first 7 investors to work with consultants and to build the infrastructure.  We can begin construction of the homes at any time, as these homes are very close to “stand-alone” and can be built separately one at a time.

The early investors have several advantages.  They get their pick of the lots.  They get a large discount.  They get to work on their community – how it is governed, the regulations, and how they will work with each other.  They get to review the plans.  They get to know their neighbors sooner.

What is the timeline you are hoping for the project?

We hope to complete the Village in four years.  This much depends on the residents.

What is the target market as far income level, age, and nationality? (Any Mexican residents?)

The major market will be retired expats from 60 to 80 years old.  We would like it to be as international as possible.  The developer is a Mexican National, and we would certainly welcome Mexicans.  The issue is cash.  Loans are very difficult to get here, and more people buy for cash.

What is your marketing strategy broadly, and how does it differ from conventional cohousing?

Our approach is letting people choose this type of housing.  It will be self-selecting.  People will choose this because they see the value and want this type of community.  It will lean more toward Senior Cohousing with the extra features.  We believe that cohousing with the extras we offer in a beautiful location will sell itself.  We just need to get our story told.

How is this community different (other than you’ve already answered!) than conventional US cohousing communities? 

Very few cohousing communities are off the grid.  We aren’t either (we still tie into the electric grid, but have zero electrical bills) the rest of the project is off the grid.  We will emphasize living healthy, have life-long learning and be able to age-in-place.  We will have much of the physical work done by Mexicans although residents can do as much work as they like.

I heard much of the work will be already completed when residents move in, making it very desirable to retired folks. Can you comment on that also?

Labor here is more affordable which will allow for more services done by local Mexicans.  I believe Mexicans are very hard working and are delighted with the jobs we bring.  For instance, I imagine the Village will employ 10 to 15 people.  As we age, we can do less physical jobs but we can certainly supervise. Not having to do the physical jobs allows us to have more time to give back. We can give back to the community and we can give back to local charities.

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