How to Start an Intentional Community - Day 1

David Oesper

Yana Ludwig presented an expanded version of her “How to Start an Intentional Community” training recently. Here are my notes from Day 1 of 3. Maxeem also attended, so feel free to add to this, Maxeem!

Gathering co-founders early on really helps. A good founders group usually has 3 to 8 people.

Seek out professionals as much as possible. Some of them you will need to train, and some of them need to have direct experience with intentional communities to serve you well. Unfortunately, lawyers will charge you to educate them about what you’re trying to do, and few of them have had any experience with intentional communities.

Train these: real-estate agents, lawyers, financial planners, and accountants

Find these: architects, process consultants, land use planners (generally permaculturists are more adaptable than landscape architects for community projects)

Property Search and Acquisition

  • Create search criteria, based on your vision.

  • Create an ownership model, entry and exit plans, based on your vision.

  • Have a business plan before you start the search and more than enough solid commitments to make it real.

  • Watch the market for a while.

  • Work with/educate a real estate agent who can competently partner with you.

Some Thoughts on Location

Costs: Coastal communities and liberal cities tend to be expensive

Politics: Good news / Bad news. Not having hostility is good, but where is there sufficient need that people will commit?

Urban/Rural: Trade off between good jobs & internet with LOTS of distractions and expense.

Climate & Climate Change: Water, growing season, good soil, wind and snow loads (handling these increases building costs); expected and already-occurring climate disruption impacts {I'll add one more which is relevant in the desert southwest: dust in general and dust storms specifically-thanks, JWB, for bringing this up recently!}

Proximity to resources: City stuff, hospitals, water, “alternative” culture, nature, public transit, etc.

Another community nearby: Mentoring is an excellent model. You may want to deliberately choose a location close to an already-established intentional community.

One question came up about forming an intentional community (IC) with both a rural and an urban component. Yana replied that an IC with both a rural and urban component could work, but there would be additional costs associated with purchasing and managing two properties.

Determining Your Legal Structures

One person owning the property is a very, very, very bad idea.

Get very clear about core ownership and derive structure from there.

Particulars are STATE SPECIFIC; you will need a lawyer licensed where you will incorporate.

Private or Collective Ownership of Housing

  • Educational Non-Profit 501(c)(3)

  • Land Trust (Community or Conservation) [Create a Conservation Land Trust only if a large amount of land is left undeveloped]

  • LLC (shares/membership) [Fast, but a bit clunky to live with longer term if you have people coming into and going out of your founders group]

  • Co-op (shares/membership) - sometimes “limited equity co-op” [Popular in urban areas]

Caution: Many of these require a Board of Directors, and this can lead to dual and competing power structures within your group. Yana recommends that your Board of Directors be your full membership. You still can have / will need officers, though.

Key considerations:

  • You can own property in the best way for your vision, including consideration of equity strategies and tax implications

  • You are able to select members (HOA seems hardest for this)

  • Have clear entry and exit processes that you have run past a lawyer

  • Land is available where you want to be

  • Ease of changes to bylaws and members

  • Community is legally protected from bad actors

Two important resources:

  • Nolo ( - DIY legal aid organization, will tell you when you need to go to a lawyer

  • Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC, - In the Bay area - they know a lot about intentional communities and alternative communities, land trusts, etc.


  • Bylaws are a pain to change.

  • Strongly recommend attaching more flexible documents such as membership lists, membership processes, and decision-making at the daily level and referencing them in your bylaws.

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