Re: How is "cheap" green? / "rehashing" (also some suggetions for the original poster)
From: Kristen Simmons (
Date: Sat, 12 Jan 2008 14:23:31 -0800 (PST)
Things are never dull on the cohousing listserve!

I'm extremely grateful to the answers I've received to my previous posts
about forming cohousing, from people who have been around the coho block a
time or two. I assume that some folks in list serve land just ignore my
posts, if the topic doesn't them. I do the same with the posts that don't
interest me.

As someone who is part of a forming cohousing group and also an architect,
my initial reaction to the "how cheap is green" question is to bristle a bit
because it seems to overly simplfy the isues. My group has spent a LOT of
time talking about both affordability and green/sustainability. These are
such complex AND hard issues. My answer to how cheap can green be is: It
depends. What do you mean by green, what do you mean by cheap, and cheap for
whom? Something that is "cheap" for me now might have very expensive
consequences for future generations, the populations of other countries,
etc. But I digress. My point is that it's hard for some of us to have purely
philosophical conversations on the listserv and not pleasurable. But that's
me. :-) So, I'll stay out of the fray on this one.

The original poster asked about how to make (green) cohousing affordable, if
this is even possible. Well, it depends. :-) I've been researching this
for about a year and a half. My first recommendation is to learn more about
development financing in general. Katie McCamant did a Cohousing USA webinar
on cohousing financing in December. Great information! Coho USA will be
making available for purchase soon. This might help wth some of the
questions about the costs of new contruction in general.

My second recommendation is to determine what you mean by affordable. There
are many definitions out there. HUD is a good place to look for this,
because many groups (nonprofit developers, special sources of funding) use
these definitions. For example, if you are looking to build housing that is
affordable to people who earn 60-80% of the median AMI, you might want to
work with a non-profit developer who can tap into different financing
sources than a conventional developer could.

As for sweat equity, lot model of development seems to work well. Another
option that my group is considering is to call our units "lofts", which will
allow our developer to get a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) on the units in a
unfinished state. This might be helpful to us energetic DIY'ers, but won't
make it affordable for anyone who has less capacity. (FYI: typically, units
cannot be sold until the development entity has CO's on the units, which
limits sweat equity. Our building code may allow us to use the loft
designation, which might allow the units to be sold in a more
unfinished state.)

Some other communities that you might want to look at: Cobb Hill (VT), which
has over 20 acres and a farm. A new community that is forming in Northern
California that will be affordable for the median AMI. I think that this is
a CoHousing Partners project. I don't know the name. I also met some folks
from Maine at the NE Regional Conference. they were looking to build
gradually as funds became available. I'm not sure what they are doing now,
but I do have contact information, if you are interested.

Lastly, from someone who has spent some time doing life cycle analysis,
reducing first costs (the unit purchase price) can sometimes lead to more
expensive monthly costs (for utilities, including heat). Sometimes people
are priced out of housing even though they can afford the mortgage, because
the utilities and maintenance are too expensive.

Good luck!
a member of Stony Brook Cohousing, now forming in Boston, MA (where heating
prices always seem to be rising!)

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