Re: Re: low/mixed income cohousing
From: Lynne Farnum (lfburrhus.harvard.edu)
Date: Wed, 10 May 95 10:30 CDT
Joani raises the interesting question of whether low-income
people would be attracted to cohousing groups even if there
were some affordable units.

The terms "low-income" and "affordable" are subject to a 
wide variety of interpretations.  Low-income may include the
working poor, who have steady work but are barely scraping by 
in terms of meeting their family's basic needs; or it may be
taken to mean only the desperately poor, unemployed or welfare
dependent, living in substandard housing in scary neighborhoods.
Affordable is sometimes legally defined as costing 80% of the
median price of housing in a given geographical area, but around
Boston that could be close to $200,000; certainly not something
than low-income people can "afford" in the usual sense of the 
word.

In our local cohousing scene, there are many interested people
who I would consider low-income: retirees; recent graduates with
huge loans to pay off; single parents with modest incomes and 
high child care costs; social service workers whose jobs are 
fulfilling but pay very little.  Many folks like these love the 
idea of cohousing but couldn't come up with a down payment even
if they could handle a mortgage.  If we could build some units 
they could afford, they would not only join but would be among 
the most committed members.  (Often the very same ideals that 
make someone attracted to coho also lead to employment choices 
that don't yield big bucks.)

On the other hand, it is unlikely that a predominantly white, 
coho community, perceived as either suburban or yuppie, is 
going to attract poor minority families from the inner city.
There are a number of reasons, but the overwhelming one would
be that no one is eager to share huge financial and emotional
risks with people they feel nothing in common with.  Why should
they?  It comes down to cultural similarities/differences.  
People like those I mentioned in the preceding paragraph can 
have low incomes (around here under $20,000 is low) but feel
perfectly comfortable with two-career families that make $100,000--
because they share a fundamentally middle class background, 
educational level, and values.

Lynne Farnum


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