Re: common house as a public building
From: JoycePlath (
Date: Mon, 16 Apr 2001 10:10:02 -0600 (MDT)
The most public common house that I know of is my community, Marsh Commons in 
Arcata Ca. We began with an existing 8,000 square foot building that was way 
too big for a common house for twelve homes, Half of the building became 
rented office space when we renovated the building in 1995. This arrangement 
has helped significantly in making our portion of the building affordable and 
has enriched our lives by having an Internet provider, audio equipment repair 
place, and space for our community who sometimes rents office space close to 
Because we were faced with extraordinary financial burdens during the 
development process we started renting our common house area for three years 
before moving into our homes.  Once we became accustomed to the extra income 
everyone agreed to continue encouraging community groups to rent our space.
My favorite story is wandering through the common house a few years ago to do 
my laundry and discovering a Green Party meeting with guest speaker Winnona 
LaDuke.  That evening I sat right down and figured I could get along without 
clean clothes for day.  Other groups who have used our space include Earth 
First, the ACLU for nonviolent resistance trainings, yoga groups, the folk 
life festival, workshops on taking your bedroom off the grid (they build 
photovoltaic collectors these and installed them on a nearby home) and a 
Humboldt State University class that used our kitchen to can organic 
vegetables they had grown.  
Recently we have upgraded our common house furnishing from Salvation Army 
specials to a coordinated array matching tables and chairs, pleasant sofas 
and rocking chairs by the fire place, and enough plates, silverware and 
glasses.  Since we have some members who absolutely objected to spending 
money on these items we managed to get consensus only after some members 
suggested that the upgrade would allow us to rent the common space to more 
upscale organizations which would pay for the $3,200 spent on furnishings.  
So far it is working.  The balance seems to be to take care to treat our 
scheduled CoHousing time, dinners, singing, meetings, and soon a book 
discussion group as sacred times that cannot be disrupted by rentals.  
Because Arcata is a small rural community with a strong left of center value 
system, many of the organizations that rent our common house have friends 
with in our community.  The feed back we are getting is that folks really 
appreciate a place to meet that feels more like a big livingroom that a 
utilitarian multipurpose room.  
 Currently we are in the process of upgrading  our recreation room so that we 
can dance on a wood floor.   Previously in was still the old smelly concrete 
floor from the old truck shop.  This project includes a wood shop with an art 
area loft above that will be limited to use be cohousers.  When it is 
completed we will be doing rentals of the large 32 by32 dance and ping pong 
area when it is not being used by us.  One of my sons has great plans for 
parties there when he comes home from college this summer.  
Again the only way that our community could get consensus to take out a loan 
for $15,000 to pay for this project was by understanding that we will 
generate at least $200 a month in rentals to pay the loan payment.  
Since our mortgage payment is a constant and rents will continue to rise, we 
assume that in a few years we will have no monthly fees for the common house. 
 In eighteen years we will be looking at a profit of at least $3,000 a month. 
 Current fantasies for that surplus include writing down homeowners fees, 
buying retreat land in the mountains where we could have an orchard and 
garden, and giving a portion of our profits to a teen center and other local 
groups promoting sustainability and social justice.  Meanwhile, because our 
common house is a separate property with a for profit partnership ownership 
structure, we get significant tax benefits from depreciation and business 
losses every year.
One more thing, by keeping the purchase of the common house separate from the 
purchase of homes (everyone does actually make both purchases) we can keep 
the purchase price of the house lower, thus allowing more families to 
qualify.  We do not always need to tell the bank about the common house 
purchase until the house mortgage has gone through escrow.
Joyce Plath
JPlath [at]
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