Affordability and Affordable Housing Developers
From: Joelyn Malone (JKMalonecomcast.net)
Date: Tue, 3 Jul 2007 18:04:10 -0700 (PDT)
Here in the Twin Cities (MN), my partner at Cohousing Advocates and I have found a wonderful way to build affordability into at least a few cohousing projects that we've been taking the lead on. The housing market in the Twin Cities has taken a complete nosedive, and the only condo projects being built now are for niche markets (very high luxury) or projects where the developers were so far along they couldn't afford to stop building. Thus there are many vacant lots where developers have acquired the property or have been given development rights; and in some cases gone all the way through the city approval process, but aren't building because they believe there's no market for them. We've identified several non-profit developers in this situation (as well as some for-profit), and have selected two that we are currently working with to re-design their projects to turn them into cohousing communities. They are thrilled to hear that we believe we can bring them buyers, and are willing to give us time to develop core groups for the sites because as one says, "it's not going anywhere any time soon". We've just started our venture and are currently recruiting members for our first project. You can read about it at the Rivoli Bluff Cohousing directory listing at www.cohousing.org (or at www.CohousingAdvocates.com).

So, how does the affordability component work? First, the City of St. Paul has an interest in the development and has provided 100% subsidy funding for the cost of the land. (It was a brownfield site that's been 10 years in the process of clean-up, and with massive amounts of new dirt added to the site after the contaminated dirt was hauled away - partly to level out parts the site that were on a slope.) So, all buyers share in that piece of the savings. Second, the developer has already secured financing for shared equity for a number of low to moderate income households, which could reduce prices for those homes by up to 20%. Equity-sharing means the neighborhood development association bears 20% of the cost and holds that equity in a land trust, and then requires sharing of 20% of proceeds when a house is sold so that it can retain affordability for the next owner. Third, there are city funds as well as state/federal funds (through HUD) to provide additional assistance for closing costs and down payments, for very low income buyers and for first-time home buyers.

The second project we've gotten assurances on is still in the site negotiation stage, so will take 2-3 years to complete. Meanwhile we'll be forming a new group for that site as soon as the affordable-housing developer (PRG Inc.) gets control of the land. It is also an urban site, near transit and with bike paths and green space adjacent to it. There's at least one more development that PRG Inc would like to have us involved with. This one is totally ready for construction except for retrofitting the design for cohousing, if we can find buyers. (As long as we don't change the footprint, it won't have to go through city approvals again.) It's in a transitional neighborhood (i.e., less desirable part of town). It is near a transit hub and the University of Minnesota, so could end up being a very good spot as far as location and having a small ecological footprint. We've put that on hold for now in order to focus on Rivoli Bluff -- unless other potential buyers seek us out! As originally designed (pre-cohousing common space inclusion), with the affordability subsidy, modest 1-to3- bedroom units were priced at $119,500-$169,500 and market rate units were priced at $139,500-$214,500. I'd be happy to talk to anyone who is in a city with a similar market situation, to share how we found these "quick-start" willing-to-do-cohousing developers.

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