My first post. Vision, disability and affordability.
From: Fred H Olson (
Date: Sun, 11 May 2008 06:23:02 -0700 (PDT)
joanne baek <joannebaek [at]>
is the author of the message below.  It was posted by
Fred, the Cohousing-L list manager <fholson [at]>
because it was in html only which the listserv doen not distribute.
Welcome and thanks for your first post Joanne, sorry about the
--------------------  FORWARDED MESSAGE FOLLOWS --------------------

I signed up on this list a few days ago, and was quite amazed at the
discussion around mobility accommodations, and wanted to write a
thoughtful contribution.  The digests kept coming though, and the tone and
direction of the discussion kept changing.  So I realize now, these
discussions are like rivers, and I better just jump in at any time, rather
than wait until I get my bit all organized and thought out to make my
final say on the subject.

Now that affordability is also on the table, I'm going to jump in on all
fronts at once I suppose.

One thing I have realized here so far, is that we define community in so
many different ways.  For me, at the heart of this word, "community," is
my hope and vision (and erroneous expectation of everyone thinking this
way) of working toward a global relatedness and inclusivity that includes
absolutely everybody.  Imagine my surprize when I realize that the needs
of wheelchair using people aren't important to all other people building

In the end, I do not think exclusivity is sustainable.  Racism, sexism,
able-bodiedism... moneyism... it's not going to work in the long run.
Working together on approaches that solve access issues for all is going
to be the means of becoming a community, even a global community.

I am "chemically sensitive," which means that I need clean fresh air, and
an absence in the air of commercial and chemical products like cleaners,
fabric softeners, fragrences, etc.  Survey show that 15% of the population
at least is now chemically sensitive, and these and many more people
benefit when these chemicals are not released into the air.  For a
cohousing project to accommodate the chemically sensitive would be far
less costly than to accommodate wheelchairs, and I think provides a good
test issue of attitudes about providing access.  The major changes needed
are in the products people chose to buy and use which offgas into the air,
and yet few chemically sensitive have found positive responses to
inquiries of cohousing groups.

So I think a real desire to care about others and see how to work with
their needs is important.  I mean, it's important to me, and these are the
kinds of people I want to create and build with.  I would suspect that
people living in consensus model communities learn to be better at hearing
and caring about others needs, but I don't know that for a fact.

Affordability is also a special need and interest of mine.  I live below
poverty line, and this has kept me out of cohousing as practiced in the
US.  Codes, cost of land, etc., do make conventional building costly, but
I don't think it's hopeless--it's just more than I can manage on my own.
I appreciated Rob Sandelin's mention of the lot development model; I had
envisioned the same thing as an "evolving campground" model: organize the
land into campsites with facilities, with each site as a future home site
as people are able to build up.

I live in an area where people build in a certain area with only mud and
recycled materials, or with what their budget allows, and the county pays
no attention.  Elsewhere, if you create a post and beam stucture you can
meet code--then use mud and straw or earthbags or cob for infill.  I am
again, below poverty line myself, and expect mud will be 90% of any thing
I finally build, with the majority of money going into windows (passive
solar design) and PV panels.  Lastly, permits at least, do not always
apply below a certain footprint, which here is 200 square feet.

For what I consider much higher end than what I can presently afford, see
the wonderful $88,000 house which is built and discussed on DVD and book,
building with awareness.

Land?  I have some acreage in South Dakota looking for the right community
of persons to build there.  There is plenty of mud for building!  On my
own I don't even have money for legal issues (semilandlocked property) or
fencing, much less drilling a well.

So I am saying, I do feel the affordability envelope can be pushed
downward a great deal... but I know I have failed to figure out the whole
package on my own, just as those building far more expensive cohousing
homes didn't figure out their building process on their own either.

I guess that will do it for my first post!


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