SF Backyard Neighborhood & Learning Center

Unfortunately, the people who attempted to found San Francisco Backyard Neighborhood and Learning Center had to give up on buying real estate in San Francisco because housing prices grew more and more unaffordable for most people.

  Their plan was to buy a multi-unit building in San Francisco, with the vision of taking down fences with neighbors and sharing learning facilities. They put a lot of time and effort into research and planning, so we are leaving their founding documents on this site for people who might find them useful. The information below was current as of July 2011.

Vision Statement

Our vision is to create a cohousing community in the heart of San Francisco where children are self-directed learners. We value diversity, social and ecological responsibility, mutual learning, and joy.

Mission Statement

We want to experiment with ways to live sustainably, responsibly, and joyfully as part of a vibrant, densely populated city. We intend to do this by creating an urban retrofit cohousing community with selected shared indoor spaces and with sunny backyards shared between neighbors. We will accomplish this in the following ways:

  • We will begin by purchasing a multi-unit building with a sunny backyard within the next year. We like the North of Panhandle neighborhood of San Francisco because it is centrally located and has many large multi-unit Victorians and Edwardians with large south-facing backyards. We also like the Duboce Triangle, Mission, lower and upper Haight, Castro, and Noe Valley neighborhoods.
  • We will reach out to neighbors to collaborate on projects and take down fences, sharing selected indoor and outdoor spaces. Our intention is to provide an excellent environment for children to practice self-directed learning, improve our ability to practice sustainable living, and perhaps even enable us to be a seed for an urban ecovillage.
  • We will consume as little as possible and reuse everything we can. This means doing things like producing food and goods in our backyard, conserving and using renewable energy, collecting rain and reusing water, recycling building materials, and conserving and sharing whatever else we can.
  • We will provide a safe and nurturing environment for the children of our community and for children of other families to socialize, play, observe, and learn from whomever or whatever they may happen upon in day-to-day life. The common area will have many opportunities for children to observe nature; interact with older and younger children and adults; run, climb, and jump; experiment with materials and processes; garden, cook, build, repair, and sew; dance and make music and artworks; play games; and, through it all, learn valuable life skills.
  • We will strive to model respect, cooperation, and interest in learning and creating. When children observe adults working collaboratively in a respectful and cooperative way, they learn how to treat each other well and how to organize and execute their own learning projects.
  • We will learn from children. We are fascinated by their honest expressions of their feelings and unfiltered experience of the world around them. Involving children in our processes will enhance everyone’s joy.
  • We will take a proactive approach in regards to developing healthy interactions and relationships with other people. We will consciously make an effort to continue to learn and grow regarding how to have healthy interpersonal relationships. In particular, since children are central to our group, we will study and help each other work together to cultivate our skills related to theories of communication, learning/playing, and discipline. Ways we will do this can include a “continuing education” paradigm, in the form of a book club, classes, dialogues, lectures, movies, etc.
  • We will use decision-making techniques developed over the years by cohousing groups and other intentional communities to be more productive and better at resolving conflicts, for example, agile planning and consensus decision making.
  • We will build lasting community and a sense of ownership and control over our environment by collaborating and participating in the design and maintenance of the shared community.
  • We will strive to be diverse and non-dogmatic, not requiring any one lifestyle, diet, or spiritual or political purpose.
  • We will reach out to networks of people outside of our own group and try to serve as an inspiration for many similar neighborhoods in San Francisco and other cities.
  • We will keep joy in mind as a worthy goal.

The House We Are Looking For


Preferred era/style: redwood-framed (pre-1926), 3- to 6-unit Victorian or Edwardian with original details, 3,000-6,000 square feet, less than $300 per square foot, with functioning kitchen and bathroom in each living space.

Can need: paint, refinishing floors, window replacement, roof resurfacing, updating systems, redoing bathrooms or kitchens, minor electrical or plumbing work.

Cannot need: foundation work, structural renovation, termite remediation, major electrical or plumbing work. (Has to be loanable: have functioning kitchen, bathrooms, electrical and plumbing systems.)

Preferred neighborhoods: North of Panhandle (Nopa), Duboce Triangle, Mission Dolores, Inner Mission, Haight, Hayes Valley, Castro, Noe Valley.

Preferred site: 3,000 or more sq. ft. lot, with backyard south, east, or west, preferably south. (Preliminary research indicates that lots in Nopa are 25 to 30 feet wide and 137 feet deep, while lots in the Mission are 20 to 25 feet wide and 100 feet deep or less, depending on how many streets are cut through the block.) Ideally, it will have adjacent neighbors open to “unfencing” or selling to other mini-cohousing groups who want to share backyards with us; another possibility is to be next to a landlocked parcel owned by the city or an absentee owner.

Membership Policy

Equity members

  • Have attended at least two planning meetings.
  • Will have at least one representative at most planning meetings.
  • Have accepted the group’s existing policies and requirements.
  • Have paid an initial $200 deposit into the operating account.*
  • Will be able to deposit $60,000 into an escrow account for a down payment as soon as the group is ready to make an offer on a specific property.**
  • Have done enough research to be confident that they could get a home loan for $300,000 minus the amount of their down payment.
  • Have been accepted as equity members by the existing equity members.

* The operating-account deposits will be partially refunded if the group disbands without spending all of the money. If a specific family withdraws, their share of the operating-account deposits will be refunded if it is replaced by another family who joins as an equity member.

**The escrow deposit will be fully refunded if the property is not purchased.

Associate members

  • Think it likely that they will become equity members later but are not yet ready.
  • Have attended at least one planning meeting.
  • Have accepted the group’s existing policies and requirements.
  • May sit in on planning meetings and make occasional suggestions, but they are not guaranteed a unit, they cannot vote or block consensus, they do not have access to the group’s online planning tools, and any document or policy changes made as a result of their preferences would be provisional.
  • Are expected to contribute toward expenses related to meetings.
  • Have been accepted as associate members by the equity members but are not guaranteed continued membership.

First Steps for Applying to Be an Equity Member

  • List any features you would add to the group’s lists of required and possible features.
  • List your preferences regarding your square-footage needs, which floor you prefer to live on, and whether you prefer to live in the front or the back of the building. When determining your square-footage needs, keep in mind that you will be able to use the common area for bicycle parking and many toys, tools, books, etc.
  • Begin the process of becoming prequalified for a fractional TIC loan at Sterling Bank (415-970-9889, ext. 12204).
  • Bring your checkbook to your third or later planning meeting to pay $200 into the group’s operating account as an initial deposit for group expenses if you are accepted for equity membership.

Required Features of the Community

(Each feature in this list is required by at least one equity member.)

Common Space

Bicycle parking on ground floor

Tool library, not accessible by young children (can be just a cabinet at first)

Library with books, magazines, pictures, CDs, DVDs, software, and other items to lend to each other (could be just a few shelves at first)

Guest bedroom, used as an additional play area when there are no guests (attached bathroom desirable but not required)

When possible, shared extra toilet on ground floor, preferably in a room by itself (no sink needed if utility sink is nearby)

When possible, shared extra shower and/or bathtub on ground floor, preferably with door to guest room

When possible, shared extra kitchen area on ground floor (OK to start with toaster oven, hotplate, and microwave)

Facilities for resident and guest children of all ages to do self-directed learning together, starting at least with a shared backyard and large indoor playroom and then adding facilities when possible

Ability to have guest children and adults in the shared playing/learning areas every day

No leaf blowers or other motorized tools that could be replaced by moderate manual labor

bathrooms and kitchens(-ettes) for each individual living space – in addition to a common kitchen (and common bathroom) within/as part of the communal area

Philosophy/Principles

Involved residents (full representation at monthly meetings and participation in working groups)

Mechanisms for ensuring that potential residents meet the existing residents, understand the vision and rules, and agree to them

Respect for each other, including respect for children as full human beings

Express philosophy and principles concisely and concretely, e.g., 10-point mission statement

Build & maintain good relationship between co-ho residents and local community – join neighborhood associations, etc

Clear, written guidelines for making decisions and resolving disputes, with unanimous approval required for changes to the TIC agreement or the Mission Statement

Tolerance and open-mindedness

Residents who like having children playing/learning in the shared areas every day

Safety & Security

Constant adult oversight of young children (up to at least age 4), and some adults available for all children at all times

Part of the shared indoor and outdoor areas kept safe and appropriate for very young children (under age 4)

Earthquake-resistance retrofitting

Fire insurance covering the cost of rebuilding

Fire alarm

Nontoxic building materials and furniture (e.g., no particle board)

Reserve funds for expected and unexpected expenses, including six months of mortgage, insurance, and tax payments

Liability coverage adequate for frequent, regular guests

Clear rules about reselling and refinancing that protect owners wanting to sell their interests as well as owners who will be in a new mortgage with new co-owners

Right of first refusal for remaining owners when an owner wants to sell, with a commonly accepted method of determining market value

Site Selection

Sunny backyard, with back wall of building not shaded for much of any day of the year

San Francisco

Attempts to make agreements with owners of neighboring properties to share backyards and some indoor spaces

Sustainability

Food Production – fruit trees, garden

Compost bin for garden

Rainwater catchment

Clothesline

Washing machine with greywater filtration

Team Building

Consult real-estate lawyer experienced with TICs

Building inspector

Title search company (+ title insurance)

Possible Features of the Community

(Each feature in this list is desired by at least one equity member, but not required.)

Common Space

Minimal space dedicated to cars

Compact bike repair bench (3′ x 3′) like at Bike Kitchen

Utility sink(s) near washing machine

Bioshelter greenhouse with some UV protection, attached to the back wall of the house, for moderating temperature, playing and reading in natural light, and gardening (including aquaculture if it can be done safely)

Mat room with a thick, soft floor covering where children can build with soft materials (such as foam cubes), climb, jump, and tumble

Large sandbox with container that children can pump water from

Natural-looking and natural-sounding outdoor area (for example, unpainted wood instead of plastic)

Bamboo grove for children if it can be contained and will not harbor pests (bamboo is fast-growing and has many uses, so it could satisfy the children’s need to pick plants, as well as supply a fun place to hide)

Philosophy/Principles

Agile planning practices

Weighing value of labor contributed? (renovation and/or maintenance)

Group decision making by a type of consensus or sociocracy

Voluntary fund for loans and subsidies to low-income owners, with tax deductions for donors if possible (after the community is established)

Safety & Security

Earthquake insurance if it’s not too expensive

Site Selection

Haight area (upper or lower), North of Panhandle, or Mission District

Sustainability

Honeybees

Chickens or ducks

Collective vehicle ownership

Solar domestic hot water

Cisterns on roof with rainwater and greywater for stopping fire if city firefighters cannot (greywater could be pumped up to roof with solar and play pumps, filtered with aquaculture tanks, and used to water plants and flush toilets)

Permaculture

Quiet windmill if practical

Passive solar technology if practical

Greywater reuse to the extent that it is practical

Team Building

Designer/architect

Project manager (deals with zoning, city inspections, etc.)

Co-Housing consultant

Day work coordinator (deals with labor, materials, tools)

Realtor with limited contract?

Resources We Are Using

Books

Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities,by Diana Leafe Christian, DianaLeafeChristian.org/Creating.html

The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life & Build Community,by attorneys Janelle Orsi and Emily Doskow, published by Nolo, SharingSolution.com

Online Tools

groups.yahoo.com/group/SFBNLC

PivotalTracker.com (a free, award-winning agile project management tool that enables real-time collaboration around a shared, prioritized backlog)

xmarks.com/topic/mortgage_calculators

Cohousing Websites

cohousing.org/cm/article/temescal (the story of five families who purchased three adjacent duplexes together in Oakland and later used easements to add two adjacent houses)

cohousing.org/what_is_cohousing (descriptions of some cohousing communities)

directory.ic.org (Intentional Communities Directory)

nstreetcohousing.org (neighbors in Davis who gradually took down the backyard fences between 17 homes)

Government Websites

ccld.ca.gov/PG487.htm (Community Care Licensing, California Department of Social Services)

cde.ca.gov/sp/ps (California Department of Education)

dbiweb.sfgov.org (SF Department of Building Inspection)

sfassessor.org (SF Office of the Assessor-Recorder, Parcel Information)

sf-planning.org (SF Planning Department, Codes & Zoning)

Legal Websites

AndySirkin.com (website of the law firm Sirkin & Associates; has many useful articles about buying property in San Francisco as tenants in common with space assignments)

g3mh.com (website of the law firm Goldstein, Gellman, Melbostad & Harris; has fewer articles than the Sirkin site, but they have additional information and are more current)

hsc.org/legal101.php (“The Legality of Homeschooling: Complying with California Law,” by the HomeSchool Association of California)

Real Estate Websites

EveryBlock.com

maps.google.com (satellite and street views)

Redfin.com

SanFranciscoRealEstateBrain.com

sfarmls.com (SF Multiple Listing Service)

Zillow.com

Meetings

Planning Meetings

We have monthly planning meetings in a member’s home. These are for people who are serious about buying a multi-unit building within the next several months, but the last hour is reserved for discussion with potential new members or other interested people.

If you would like to attend a planning meeting or arrange another time to talk, please contact us for location information.

If you are interested in being part of a home education co-op, we can put you in touch with people who want to do that. (Some of them are planning to live in the cohousing community, and some of them are interested in being guests in the cohousing common area.)

Open Meetings

At this time, we have no plans for another open meeting in a public place. Please see “Planning Meetings” above.

November 2010 open-meeting announcement:

What:
Open meeting of San Francisco Backyard Neighborhood and Learning Center

When:
November 14, 2010
12:30 to 2 p.m.

Where:
CPMC Davies Campus, North Tower, Level B, Conference Room B-2 (near the cafeteria)
601 Duboce Avenue, at Castro, across from the N-train stop at Duboce Park
San Francisco

Map:
www.cpmc.org/visiting/directions/directions-dav.html

Contact:
Kelly
sfbackyard.wordpress.com/contact

San Francisco Backyard Neighborhood and Learning Center will be having an open meeting on November 14th from 12:30 to 2 p.m. (location information below). We intend to establish a cohousing community in a multi-unit building in San Francisco within the next few months, with the vision of adding adjoining properties later. We want to build on the momentum of the September meeting, where three new families joined us in a lively discussion of our Mission Statement and other documents.

Before attending the meeting, please read our public prospectus, available at our website, and make a list of any questions or comments you might have. We will have information about the current members at the meeting. The format for the meeting will be short introductions by current and prospective members, followed by questions and discussion.

In the last meeting, we discussed our vision for self-directed learning, green improvements such as water conservation and solar power, and how sharing can enhance community while keeping a balance between privately owned and common spaces and property.

We look forward to you joining our discussion and encourage your contribution to the development of our community.  For more information, please contact us at sfbackyard.wordpress.com/contact.*

Children are welcome. If children get too loud or restless, parents can take them to the park across the street.

* We have planning meetings on the third Sunday of every month from 12 to 3 p.m. Planning meetings are for people who are serious about buying property within the next several months. Those who are interested, but not yet sure whether they are ready to buy, are welcome to observe these meetings. The last half hour is reserved for visitors’ questions and comments. If you would like to attend a planning meeting, please contact us for location information.

* We could also arrange another time to visit and have discussion.

September 2010 open-meeting announcement:

Kid-friendly, eco-friendly SF mini-cohousing group seeking co-buyers for multi-unit building

Since last December, three families have been meeting monthly and working toward buying a multi-unit building together in San Francisco. Our goal is to be the seed of a neighborhood cohousing community with shared backyards, or even an ecovillage.

We like the North of Panhandle neighborhood because it is centrally located and has many large multi-unit Victorians. We also like the Duboce Triangle, Mission Dolores, lower and upper Haight, Castro, and Noe Valley neighborhoods.

We have met with a real-estate agent and a mortgage broker, and we are preparing to meet with a lawyer. We are looking for more families who share our vision and can buy property with us, with an estimated cost of $300,000 to $500,000 per family.

Our vision is to create a cohousing community in the heart of San Francisco where children are self-directed learners. We value diversity, social and ecological responsibility, mutual learning, and joy.

If our vision appeals to you and you are in a position to join us in buying property within the next several months, we would love to talk with you at our informational meeting on September 26 (details below). We will have materials about our progress to date and will welcome questions.

If you cannot attend the meeting but would like more information, please contact us via our website: sfbackyard.wordpress.com/contact

And please feel free to forward this announcement to friends who might be interested.

What:
Informational meeting about San Francisco Backyard Neighborhood and Learning Center

When:
September 26, 2010
Presentation 12:30 to 1 p.m.
Founding members available for discussion 1 to 3 p.m.

Where:
CPMC Davies Campus, North Tower, Level B, Conference Room B-2 (near the cafeteria)
601 Duboce Avenue, at Castro, across from the N-train stop at Duboce Park
San Francisco

Map:
http://www.cpmc.org/visiting/directions/directions-dav.html

Contact:
Kelly
sfbackyard.wordpress.com/contact

Children are welcome. If children get too loud or restless, parents can take them to the park across the street.

Save the Date: Our next public meeting is tentatively scheduled for November 14.

March 2010 meeting announcement:

What:
Cohousing/Ecovillage/TIC with Joint Homeschooling/Unschooling

When:
March 28, 2010
12:30 to 3:00 p.m.

Where:
CPMC Davies Campus, North Tower, Level B, Conference Room B-2 (near the cafeteria)
601 Duboce Avenue, at Castro, across from the N-train stop at Duboce Park
San Francisco

Map:
www.cpmc.org/visiting/directions/directions-dav.html

Contact:
Kelly
sfbackyard.wordpress.com/contact

Agenda:

Observers will be welcome at this meeting, but only the members may take part in decision making. Members will be available to answer questions and listen to comments during the first and last 15 minutes (12:30 to 12:45 and 2:45 to 3:00), and at least one member can stay after 3:00.

This meeting will be mostly of interest to families who unschool their children and would like to live close to other such families in San Francisco, but it may also be of interest to other people who support self-directed learning and would like to live in cohousing where there are many children playing/learning in the common area every day.

At the February meeting, we drafted a vision statement:

“Our vision is to create a cohousing community in the heart of San Francisco where children are self-directed learners. We value diversity, social and ecological responsibility, mutual learning, and joy.”

At the March meeting, we plan to draft specific goals to supplement that statement, and we will begin answering “20 Questions to Ask When You Share” from The Sharing Solution (SharingSolution.com). In the coming months, we hope to hire a lawyer who specializes in SF TICs and begin searching for property in central San Francisco with good potential for shared sunny backyards.

Children will be welcome at the meeting as long as they are not very loud. (We recently learned that there is an operating room above our meeting room.) If the children get too restless, parents could take them to the park across the street.

The suggested donation at the door will be $2 per person for the meeting space.

If you would like to make sure you receive future announcements, please contact Kelly at sfbackyard.wordpress.com/contact. And please feel free to forward this message to friends who might be interested.

February 2010 meeting announcement:

What:
Cohousing/Ecovillage/TIC with Joint Homeschooling/Unschooling

When:
February 7, 2010
3 to 5:30 p.m.

Where:
CPMC Davies Campus, North Tower, Level B, Conference Room B-2 (near the cafeteria)
601 Duboce Avenue, at Castro, across from the N-train stop at Duboce Park
San Francisco

Map:
www.cpmc.org/visiting/directions/directions-dav.html

Contact:
Kelly
sfbackyard.wordpress.com/contact

Agenda:

We will continue the visioning process begun at the January 10 meeting, based on the book Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities, by Diana Leafe Christian (DianaLeafeChristian.org/Creating.html).

If you would like to make sure you receive future announcements, please contact Kelly at sfbackyard.wordpress.com/contact. And please feel free to forward this message to friends who might be interested.

This meeting will be mostly of interest to families who unschool their children and would like to live close to other such families in San Francisco, but it may also be of interest to people who support self-directed learning and would like to live in cohousing where there are often many children playing/learning in the common area.

***Children will be welcome at the meeting as long as the adults can still hear each other easily. If the children get too restless, some of the parents could take them to the park across the street or, possibly, to a nearby empty meeting room.***

January 2010 meeting announcement:

What:
Cohousing/Ecovillage/TIC with Joint Homeschooling/Unschooling

When:
January 10, 2010
2 to 5 p.m.

Where:
CPMC Davies Campus, North Tower, Level B, Conference Room B-2 (near the cafeteria)
601 Duboce Avenue, at Castro, across from the N-train stop at Duboce Park
San Francisco

Map: www.cpmc.org/visiting/directions/directions-dav.html

Contact:
Kelly
sfbackyard.wordpress.com/contact

Agenda:

This will be a visioning meeting, in which we begin to talk about specific things we want in a multi-unit building, a homeowners association, and an intentional neighborhood. Anyone planning to attend is encouraged to think in advance about their “must haves,” their “must not haves,” and their preferences. We could also start a Decision Log and begin writing a Vision Statement.

The meeting organizer, Kelly, will be the facilitator if nobody else volunteers, but she would like for people with more facilitation skills to contact her at sfbackyard.wordpress.com/contact about taking over that job. For guidance in developing an agenda, she is using the book Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities, by Diana Leafe Christian (DianaLeafeChristian.org/Creating.html).

Like the December meeting, this meeting will be mostly of interest to families who homeschool or unschool their children and would like to live close to other such families in San Francisco, but it may also be of interest to people who would like to live in cohousing where there are often many children playing/learning in the common area.

If you cannot attend this meeting but would like to make sure you get announcements about future meetings, please contact Kelly at sfbackyard.wordpress.com/contact. And please feel free to forward this invitation to friends who might be interested.

***The meeting room is fairly large, so children will be welcome as long as the adults can still hear each other easily. If the children get too restless, some of the parents could take them to the park across the street or, possibly, to a nearby empty meeting room.***

December 2009 meeting announcement:

What:
Cohousing/TIC with joint homeschooling/unschooling

When:
December 7, 2009
6 to 9 p.m.

Where:
CPMC Davies Campus, North Tower, Level B, Conference Room B-2 (near the cafeteria)
601 Duboce Avenue, at Castro, across from the N-train stop at Duboce Park
San Francisco

Map: www.cpmc.org/visiting/directions/directions-dav.html

Contact:
Kelly
sfbackyard.wordpress.com/contact

Agenda:

Unlike the July and September meetings, which were for everyone interested in various types of cohousing/ecovillages in San Francisco, this meeting is being held only to discuss buying one or more buildings together soon, probably as tenants in common, and using the common area for joint homeschooling/unschooling by residents and their guests, along with other activities. Although it will be mostly of interest to families who homeschool or unschool their children and would like to live close to other such families, it may also be of interest to people who would like to live in cohousing where there are often many children playing/learning in the common area.

The people who have shown the most interest in this type of cohousing are also very interested in permaculture, so we hope it will grow into something that could be called an ecovillage. We will try to start with at least two adjacent buildings or an extra-wide building, but we are prepared to start with only one multistory building and try to take down fences in the future, as cohousing groups have done in Oakland and Davis.

Please note: Unlike the previous two meetings at Davies Hospital, this meeting will be in Conference Room B-2, which is near the auditorium. We will also have access to Room B-3, which is separated from Room B-2 by an accordion wall, so it might be possible to have a little babysitting co-op there. If you would like to be put in touch with parents who might bring their children to the meeting, please write to Kelly at sfbackyard.wordpress.com/contact.

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