Re: Cohousing-L Digest, Vol 48, Issue 11
From: tom shea (
Date: Sat, 12 Jan 2008 20:58:05 -0800 (PST)
First of all, thank you for all of your postings.  As you probably know I just 
started to contribute to these discussions and I find the entire process great. 
 You (and many others) put forth great ideas and suggestions for people like 
I am indeed speaking of affordable as "ability to pay" rather than a refection 
of regional market price.  You also raise the concept of egalitarian community 
(build to the same standards).  Do you think that putting everyone on a level 
playing field in this manner from day one would discourage potential future 
investors (i.e. community members) once built units return to the market, or 
for that matter prevent initial investors?  Is there enough individuality on 
the interior of units to prevent this from occurring?  Would different 
standards apply to rental units verses owned?


Message: 7
Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2008 15:25:34 -0500
From: Sharon Villines <sharon [at]>
Subject: Re: [C-L]_ Owning units in cohousing communities as tenants
To: Cohousing-L <cohousing-l [at]>
Message-ID: <1C953A07-91A0-4055-BF69-E94A78208EEE [at]>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII; format=flowed; delsp=yes

On Jan 11, 2008, at 10:35 AM, tom shea wrote:

> Can a cohousing community be constructed and structured such that  
> the purchase price for say a 2 or 3 bedroom home is under $200,000  
> while including some principles of green design?

Green materials still increase the cost of the initial investment  
though good design Is available to reduce costs as well -- orientation   
to the sun, for example, which will vary with the climate. Good  
insulation properly installed.

One community built houses with the second floor plumbed and wired but   
not finished so people had lower upfront costs and could finish the  
space themselves or when they could afford it. Another built small  
apartments that could be rented out for extra income.

For children, a good architect can design private spaces that don't  
qualify as a separate room. In some areas, taxes are based on number  
of rooms, not market value or square footage.

"Affordable" by most definitions (a technical term defined differently   
in different locations) usually means average market price, even 20%  
above average market price in some areas. That can be quite high if  
there is currently no affordable or low-income housing to bring down  
the average. So what most people mean is low income housing for those  
with below average homeowner incomes or fewer up front financial  
resources. Most cohousing communities need buyers who can afford to  
put $5-10,000 down and leave it there until the units are built. Many  
households can't do that.

Personally, I think the best way to get low income cohousing is to  
insist that all units be built to the same standard. In my experience,   
if people who can afford more expensive housing are included they will   
want more variations in design and features that will cost more. They  
will say they don't in the beginning but then reality sets in. I also  
think this mix must cause problems further down the line when they  
want more expensive standards applied across the board than other  
residents want or can afford.

Before the current downturn in housing prices my two bedroom unit had  
tripled in value in 7 years. We now have people moving into our  
community who paid much more for their units than some people who  
moved in 7 years ago, some of whom received government grants as first- 
time homeowners. This has brought up discussions about  the quality of   
furniture in the commonhouse, the available facilities, renovations,  
the look of the bulletin boards, etc. Aesthetic differences as well as   

To do low income housing you also need to look at other resources --  
those only available to build low income housing. This is simpler in  
most locations if the whole complex is low income housing. Although  
some of these programs would not allow you to pick and choose  
residents, this may be something you can manage artfully.

The primary costs of constructing housing is still determined by  
square footage. Building attached units rather than single lot houses  
is more economical. Smaller is obvious. In one community the one  
bedrooms that the bank didn't even want the community to build because   
there was "no market for them" were the first to be reserved.

We have single parents with one child living in one bedroom and a den  
-- 650 sq ft as I remember. In one case a mother and an adult son. So  
people do make do with what they can afford. I would also build a  
small commonhouse with 1-2 large rooms that can be subdivided and  
rejoined as necessary. No two story ceilings.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing,Washington DC


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