Re: Thinking outside the box: Targetting Fine Homes that All People Can Afford.
From: Martin Sheehy (
Date: Sat, 15 Jul 2006 10:53:30 -0700 (PDT)
You are truly blessed, Mr. Kuntz.
  > I'd like to suggest that you be more careful with your words. When
> you state that cohousing is "targeting" the wealthy it implies
> intent, which I feel strongly is absent in the cohousing movement.

Unquestioning acceptance of the dominent paradigm does imply all the
intent that predictable consequences will flow from predictable
pre-conditions. The "cost of housing" is by no means fixed, and varies
widely by geography but also varies widely by specifications.

The is nothing intrinsically preventing trailer parks from "going
co-housing": what's so difficult about eating together and
groundskeeping chore-sharing that it can't be done in trailer parks?
Yet the term "trailer" and "co-housing" clash with a resounding boom.
Obviously the paradigm of co-housing has something "more expensive" in
mind. That can't be accidental, and intent has to be an element of

> Of our 37 households, I think it's fair to say that few to none of us
> is "wealthy." Most of us are middle-class, some barely that, and
> many of us are struggling to make ends meet, and indeed, are
> sacrificing in many ways in order to live in cohousing. I personally
> drive 50 miles one way to work at a job that pays enough money so
> that I can afford to live in cohousing.

Most Americans are wealthy beyond the dreams of kings of old. We have
no vulnerability to polio and smallpox, which knew no distinctions
between royalty and the wretched. Our beer is cold in the fridge all
summer long, and most of the poor have indoor plumbing, things recently
added to the kings and queens palaces in the last century.

By comparison, 2,000,000,000 Earthpeople have been born and will die
without ever seeing a toilet.

Habitat for Humanity builds homes on 5 continents and all 50 states.
They are the 5th largest builder in the US. They build homes for an
average of $56,000 in the US, higher in some urban areas, lower in some
rural areas. That is a standard for size and price which is technically
feasible and considered acceptable for people to live their lives in.
When the cost and size greatly exceeds this standard one can
legitimately question the rationalizations why more is needed, why more
is deserved, why more is required. There are elements of intent present
in formulating the justifications to greatly exceed the standard of
"decent housing". If Habitat for Humanity is not "decent housing", then
what is the standard and how was that formulated?

> I feel fairly comfortable asserting that our developers did not
> "target" the wealthy. (To be fair, they would not have turned away
> the wealthy, but in my experience it is not the "wealthy" who want to
> live in cohousing.) They chose to build a second community in Ann
> Arbor, Michigan because there was a high level of interest in
> cohousing in Ann Arbor, even though housing prices (and hence land
> prices) are high. Developing land costs a lot of money, and is
> risky, and someone has to bear that cost and that risk until all of
> the homes have been sold. I think that -- especially in today's real
> estate market -- it's going to be hard not to "target the wealthy" in
> regions of the country where home prices are high.

The vast majority, higher than 99% plus a high fraction of that last
1%, whom know little about real estate and construction. You are at the
mercy of what you are told. The 5th largest builder in the USA has
waiting lists everywhere they operate -- there is never any risk that
they will have unsold units. Despite the fact that they are
"non-profit", examination of records of local chapters shows that
executives for Habitat are sometimes paid double, up to five times the
local average wage for their area. Not counting perks, their salary is
high enough to buy one or two of the homes they build each year.
Non-profit, in this case, means only that no dividends of profits are
paid to stock-holders, not that considerable monies are not throughput
and not that high salaries are not disbursed.

> I respect your opinion and am solidly on your side in wanting to see
> more affordable housing of all kinds in this country, including and
> especially cohousing, but there are certain realities on the ground
> that have to be acknowledged, even if you feel strongly that those
> realities can and should be changed. One of the main realities is
> that typical contractors have no interest in learning new building
> methods or working with alternative materials, and if you insist that
> they do, they will do so, and charge you double.

Money is an incentive for behavior: it is offered for complient
behavior and withheld from deviant behavior. You have just advocated
for the reverse, that deviant behavior be rewarded.

Adding new materials experience and alternative materials adds to the
competitive knowledgebase of contractors. Many of you may be familiar
with paying high prices of tuition to learn professional skills, and
paying more to update those skills as time goes by. For some reason in
the case of contractors you propose that the customer pay them a
premium for neglecting their own continuing education and also paying
their educational scholarships to learn. In what other profession is
this standard the norm?

> If you have the time, energy, and skills to build your own home,
> that's great. However, as a single mom of an infant son (at the time
> of construction), with a full-time job but limited carpentry skills,
> I would still be living in a tent.

But somehow you acquired more money than the cost of sweat
equity-reduction and childcare to afford more than Habitat for Humanity
homes requiring 500 hours of participant's investment. Suppose your
time was worth some figure, picking $10/hr for easy arithmatic, then
your sweat equity would have been worth $5,000. Mortgages generally
triple the purchase prices, so your sweat equity is a $15,000 reduction
on your lifetime mortgage payments. Habitat for Humanity accomodates
the mobility disabled and the blind, but still finds sweat equity work
they can do that helps overall.

> I do not feel, in other words, that cohousers in particular, or even
> cohousing developers, are overlooking the less fortunate. But
> developing land requires accepting risk, and most people (except the
> exceptionally wealthy, who can afford to be charitable) can't afford
> and/or are not willing to take on that risk without the promise of
> getting something (generally, profit) in return.

When one cannot think outside their frame of reference, the "box", then
nothing exists except what is in the box. There are four builders
bigger than H4H, but there are tens of thousands which are smaller. You
have noted the 10,000s but there is one too big to fit in your box who
houses more people every year than many of that multitude of developers
not in the top 5. The many, let's call them "losers" who can't qualify
for the big 5, have shown how to be losers and still fleece the sheeple
who can't fit the alternative into their box.

> If there are those on this list -- if you are one of them, Marty --
> with deep pockets, who can afford to put up large amounts of their
> own money and not care if they ever see any of it again, I encourage
> you to start a cohousing construction company with affordability as
> its primary tenet. Affordable (co)housing, especially for retirees,
> is certainly a worthy cause. But it is not a cause which can be
> supported by those of us who are still struggling to keep our own
> heads above water.
> Jenny Cook
> Great Oak Cohousing
> Ann Arbor, Michigan

You are struggling to pay a mortgage that is much higher than it could
be, driving 50 miles per day to feed the cannibals who are eating up
your life. They live in homes nicer than yours, the mortgage banker and
the builder, and chances are their mortgage is paid off thanks to you.
Now you are sending their kids to college, a nice expensive college.

Is there a way out of the box?

I have proposed a way out of the box. I have received limited feedback,
mostly suggestions on how to get back into the box.

I have asked for, and received some valuable suggestions (here on this
list, and elsewhere), about aspects of my box, which requires sweat
equity to keep prices down, and requires non-profit structures to meet
other realities, and requires novel building construction techniques
and alternative materials. In exchange I prepared spreadsheets showing
the economic feasibility of paying off the mortgage in about one year.
My box is nowhere inside your box and yours is nowhere inside mine. I
didn't start with "affordable housing" as any goal -- I started with
the best housing that modern knowledge is capable of creating,
regardless of costs, and then figured out to how to keep that while
replacing most costs with totally satisfactory alternatives (in some
instances large inprovements in quality at lower prices).

The people who already are invested in housing will of course prefer
their box -- either that, or else hate themselves for being stuck in
second-best choice -- and people being what they are will find ways to
deny there is any universe outside their box.

At the moment I have my "community", which includes the neighbor across
the street who got up and drove me to the emergency room at 4:00 am
last January, and it also includes a couple of fox that come into the
yard to eat food I put out for them, and a family of ravens whose
babies I helped raise this spring. A doe and her two fawns traipse
through the yard around sunset to go to the creek to drink. Frankly it
would cost me too much to live in your community. Not wealth that I
would have to pay out (but that certainly exceeds my budget), but in
terms of wealth that I would have to give up that I have here and can't
be replaced there.

Sincerely, Lion Kuntz
Sonoma County, California, USA.

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