Re: The $200,000 invisible wall
From: James Nordgaard (
Date: Mon, 18 May 1998 11:40:39 -0500
I think one big factor, or at least two big factors that contributes
to this kind of wall are; retrofit vs. new construction, and cities
with high (astromonical) real estate values.

Building new housing is always going to be costly.  Retrofiting an
existing building, if a suitable place can be found, is often less
costly, and far more flexible in allowing diversity in unit
size/costs.  Monterey Cohousing, in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, is
fortunate in finding a building to retrofit into 8 units, and still
have 6,000 square feet of common space left over.  

The community also built 7 new townhouses, making it a mixed use
community of 15.  The costs of the units in the old building ranged
from under $30,000 to close to $100,000.  The new townhouses ranged
from about $100,000 to about $160,000.  There hasn't been much turn
over, but there are built-in rules limiting the appreciation, so
prices of the units shouldn't ever skyrocket.

There are shortcomings to retrofiting of course.  First is overcoming
the common suburban "repulsion" against anything "old".  Second is the
time and energy involved in retrofiting.  This I would call
"community-building,"  which you simply don't have when the community
starts when everyone moves into prefinished new constuction (unless
you are forced to be developers of the project). Also, it may be hard
to find a suitable existing structure; but every city has these, it
just takes time to find them.

There can be enormous costs to retrofit of course, especially if you
have to bring a structure up to modern standards.  However, to one's
advantage is a city or county eager to have a property finally
occupied and producing tax revenue, instead of being a perpetual
burden.  The property Monterey acquired costed a lot to retrofit, and
will continue to be more costly to maintain in the future (than new
contruction), however, since these costs are borne over time, instead
of up front, retrofit still allows much lower income households than
new construction.

The final problem, which is obviously not a problem in Minnesota, is
cities with skyrocked real estate prices.  Once again, retrofit can
often be a better deal (and allow a diversity of household incomes),
especially if it's in a redevelopment zone.

So I would urge anyone in the process of starting a new cohousing
community to STRONGLY consider retrofit, or combination retrofit and
new construction, especially if you are concerned with a having a
income diversified community, one not contributing to urban sprawl,
and one whose members have a strong common bond to the community (the
physical part, and well as social), from the beginning.


Jim Nordgaard /\ jimn [at]  /\
J. River, Inc. - Monterey Cohousing Community - Green Party of MN
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