Re: I'm frustrated- diverse finances
From: Matt Lawrence (
Date: Wed, 8 Jul 1998 09:26:53 -0500
On Wed, 8 Jul 1998, Lynn Nadeau wrote:

> We want diversity, we say. But it can be challenging. And income 
> diversity is part of that.

It's one of the toughest issues that I see and I still don't have a mental
model of how to make it work.
> At RoseWind in Port Townsend, it helps that we are a "lot development" 
> model. At buy-in, a buyer pays a sum that covers their building site, the 
> commons, the infrastructure (roads, utilities, etc) , and the common 
> house. If, when, and what a person builds is up to them. We have building 
> envelopes with setback requirements, and an advisory architectural review 
> process, but people can build, and have built, a home of 800 sq ft or 
> 2800 sq ft., with lots of custom work or none. 

Ok, I am not an expert at home construction, however, according to the
workshop I attended there is significant economy of scale in doing the
development as "production" housing.  Since I know that custom building
usually starts at about $70/sq. ft. and can hit $200/sq. ft. without too
much difficulty, I'm very much in favor of production building.

> Common expenses still require the concurrence of all lot owners, so I 
> imagine if some folks here wanted a swimming pool and others didn't have 
> money for it, they'd have to form their own pool fund somehow.

For example, a bunch of folks want a really great playscape for the
children.  Personally, I think it's a great idea, but I don't have any
children.  So I'm starting to feel that it's a "bargining chip".  I don't
think the sort of advisarial relationship is going to build the kind of
community I want to live in.

> Isn't there some way that a family like you describe can have their 
> lower-cost, lower-quality, home, and those who want more can pay more and 
> have it? Why are you all tied together? Even in groups where all the 
> units were built at once, and "to match" , there have been arrangements 
> whereby a standard was set, but that people could adjust what they got at 
> their own expense, and have more space or more custom work or fancier 
> appliances or flooring.

Work the numbers backwards.  Take the lowest percentages of overall cost
for buying the land and providing the common amenities.  I think it is
just barely possible to build the size of house that the family was
talking about (4 bedroom) for at total cost of $80K.  

>  If you break out your common house and other non-home items, then you 
> can set a firm price for that, evenly divided. The differences in homes 
> could be reflected in the other part of the payment.

Great idea.  However, the bottom line for them is $80K total.  That means
a much smaller and cheaper common house.

> Here, we coexist pretty smoothly amongst a great variety of income 
> levels. We just looked at doing something that could possibly end us 
> temporarily in debt. Could we as a group guarantee the amount in 
> question? Certain individuals couldn't guarantee a proportional share, 
> but we concluded that -- as a group-- we had adequate resources that if 
> it came down to it, we'd be able to individually loan the group enough to 
> cover it, without each and every member needing to do that.

That's a great idea.  I know that I've always been willing to help out
friends (and have gotten seriously hurt doing it).  But there's a
difference between helping somebody and giving them a free ride (and
merely guaranteeing the money isn't a free ride in my book).

> Another possibility seems to be that those with more money can gift some 
> to certain projects: say to pay for an upgrade to a wooden floor in the 
> common house dining room. That way you can even influence what it's spent 
> on. 

Right now, I'm not comfortable with that idea.  If I'm going to have to
pay for building a workshop (a very real example for me), why should I
give it to the community?  And if I find myself paying for a number of the
amenties I want on my own, I'm going to begin to resent it.  Not a good
way to build community.

> The group does have to come to an understanding of what level of 
> assessments and obligations is expected. A low-income family can get help 
> to buy in, but are they prepared to pay annual assessments and so forth?

I don't know.  I do feel that the decision was railroaded through.

> There are also cohousing groups that have a much higher average home cost 
> and level of amenities than others, if you are willing to relocate. 

I'm still looking.

Another observation:  I get the impression that the vast majority of
cohousers (or Americans in general) go home after work, eat dinner,
socialize (cohousers much more than others), watch TV and go to bed.
That's not how I live.  I have a number of projects I want to work on as a
hobby and I'd like to be around other folks who have a passion for doing.

-- Matt

P.S.  Great response, it gave me a fair amount to think about.

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