RE: question from a grad student
From: Odysseus Levy (
Date: Tue, 16 May 2000 18:26:29 -0600 (MDT)
What a cool question!  This is a very topical question for the Seattle
Cohousing community

Liz, you might also want to talk to Kara Black from Duwamish cohousing (in
West Seattle).  This was a huge concern for them, and for Kara in

The city of Seattle has been very, very helpful to the Seattle cohousing
project.  For starters, they are giving us a great price on our land, and
just lately when we hit a major cash crunch they have agreed to let us pay
interest for the land instead of paying for the cost of the land up front.
They also have a policy of not charging real-estate taxes on projects in our
area if we have a certain minimum number of low income residents.  That
could work out to be a large savings.  There are some catches with this tax
free status, so we may not go with it, but it is a wonderful carrot to
encourage us to try to get more low income members.

No, the problem is not government, it is the bankers.  We are scrambling to
get everything in place so that we can start construction in July.  If we
don't start in July we will soon be up against the infamous Seattle rainy
season, and will probably have to delay the project another year.  And the
hard cold reality is that if we want to build, we need to make our
development bank happy.

The problem is, our development bank wants us to pay 23% of the project cost
upfront plus any expected over-runs.  And we recently got an updated bid
from our contractors only to find that their prices have gone up 15% since
last Fall -- the Seattle building market is absolutely out of control at the
moment.  Even this wouldn't be too much of a problem except that the banks
we talked to won't attach a monetary value to our common facilities.  So in
effect, we have to consider the common facilities as a cost over-run.  In
practical terms this means we have to come up with that much more money up

The need for this upfront money has put an enormous strain on our lower
income members.  Fortunately we have some deep pocketed members who have
decided to pay most of the money for their unit over a year in advance.
That gives us just enough money to pull it off.

Nevertheless, one of our lower income members decided to downgrade to
associate member because she couldn't sleep nights.  Several others are
still hanging on, but their sleep is apparently not that good either.

Here's my dream:  Create a non-profit community oriented bank.  This bank
would specialize in cohousing and co-op community loans across the nation.
The bank would act like a normal commercial development bank in most
respects except that it would be specifically focused on cohousing style
loans and would do a much, much better job of servicing this segment.  To
get it going there would need to be a large seed money infusion, but after
that it should be self sufficient.  I never thought that my dream would be
to start a bank, but after seeing how much it has dictated the course of our
project, I now understand how vitally important banks can be.

-----Original Message-----
From: cohousing-l [at]
[mailto:cohousing-l [at]]On Behalf Of E. Rice
Sent: Tuesday, May 16, 2000 4:06 PM
To: Multiple recipients of list
Subject: question from a grad student

I'm a graduate student at University of Washington School of Public
Affairs. I'm in a policy class, and a group of us are looking at issues of
housing and low-income affordability. I, in particular, am looking at
cohousing as an option for the city to get more behind in terms of
low-income housing development. I know many cohousing groups seek
diversity of all kinds, including income diversity, but I'm wondering how
well you feel it works, and how city incentives to create affordable
housing as part of the cohousing unit help or inhibit its creation. I'm
also wondering how those who are part of the cohousing movement in general
feel about the ability of cohousing to address issues of availability of
low-income housing options, especially in cities such as Seattle in which
real estate prices have increased to the point where it is difficult to
maintain affordable housing.

Hope you don't mind me posting to this email list. I would love any input
anyone has on this matter.

Thanks for your time

Liz Rice

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