Re: affordable cohousing
From: Raines Cohen (
Date: Thu, 21 Jan 2010 16:50:06 -0800 (PST)
Cindy -

I'm sorry cohousing seems that way to you. I know I wouldn't have been
able to afford living in cohousing where I do without steps the
community had voluntarily taken to limit prices on 100% of the homes,
with the net effect that prices (and property taxes, as a result of
California's Proposition 13) were, when I bought in seven years ago,
more than 50% below area market prices... perhaps even more today.

I know I qualified for (and some of my neighbors received) first-time
homebuyer assistance (federal tax credits through the city) a decade
ago when I joined my first cohousing neighborhood, Swan's Market
Cohousing (in Oakland, CA), even at prices that were far below what
comparable homes in the neighborhood (without the common house and
community benefits) go for today. Note that a significant percentage
of the homes there have included ethnic/racial diversity, if not
through the original homeowner then through resales, renters,
adoption, housemates, and the like.

While some cohousing communities do have gates on them, they are
mostly half-height unlocked courtesy gates, there to keep kids or
animals from wandering in or out unsupervised, or to make a property
line visible. The feelings I've observed in my visits to more than 90
U.S. cohousing neighborhoods is a far cry from a typical
secured-access "gated" subdivision, where people choose the isolation
of closing off the outside world in a (futile) effort to maintain
illusions of safety and preserve property values. The only exceptions
I have seen are urban communities where a locked gate is a necessity
to prevent shoppers from wandering in or where the common house door
is the entrance to the entire building.

Note that most cohousing does NOT have a vetting process - the new
homeowner is choosing to live with the community, rather than
vice-versa (as contrasted with co-ops and group houses that do have
selection processes because they don't have the same legal separation
and protection from one another that the condominium model used in
cohousing provides). Of course, each homeowner makes their own choice
as to whether they are satisfied with a purchase offer, and successful
communities do make sure that prospective buyers get to meet their
future neighbors through meals and meetings and know what they're
getting into.

I've seen communities do amazing things to support and preserve
accessibility. Here's one example: just this morning, one of my
neighbors drove another neighbor who recently lost his vision to the
hospital for a check-up; I picked him up on my way back from a
meeting. If he weren't living in community, he'd have to navigate
eight blocks in the blustery weather, or rely on inflexible
paratransit options, or his wife would have to take time off from
work. We have upgraded our Common House to add a railing on the stairs
and educated the kids to prevent common play areas from creating
navigational hazards.

Looking back on your posts on this list from 2008, it sounds like
green building is a key issue for you; since that time, several
communities have come online that incorporate the latest best industry
practices in finding green substitutes for toxic materials, and which
include affordable units below the prices you cited. Have you checked
out Mosaic Commons (Berlin, MA), ElderGrace (Santa Fe, NM), Burlington
(VT) Cohousing, or Delaware Street Commons (Lawrence, KS). We've
visited all of them in the last six months, and all have homes
available now that may meet your needs; others may have resales or be
building something new or have lots where you can build that may
better meet your needs.

While some folks last year set up an independent "Low-Cost Community
Housing" list, it hasn't attracted a lot of ongoing conversation - you
might see about reviving interest there, focussed on solutions and
creative problem-solving.

One positive action you (and all Cohousing-L readers) can take to get
funds to flow to increase affordable options is to vote today on the
US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) ideas website for
the proposal to support funding cohousing neighborhoods, already one
of the top-ranked proposals, likely to get more serious consideration
if we can bop it to the top of the list (it only takes 5 seconds, give
it a "3" for maximum effect):
(redirects to the fund-cohousing item on the "HUD Ideas in action site")

Our business is all about connecting people with sustainable
communities (and vice versa), so please don't hesitate to let me know
if we can provide you with professional assistance in this process.

Raines Cohen, Cohousing Coach
Planning for Sustainable Communities (at Berkeley (CA) Cohousing)
  currently working with member communities in Mid-Atlantic Cohousing
to support an incredible regional conference near Washington, DC in
March, featuring both noted expert speakers and a do-it-yourself
Freeform conference track, where everybody is invited to lead a

Celebrating over 1,000 members in East Bay Cohousing
  Join the world's largest communities MeetUp group and find or build
YOUR sustainable community in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and

Boardmember, Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC)
  Launching a crisp new web design today. Take a peek and see more of
Communities magazine online, explore the Communities Directory, and
learn from decades of group living experience

On Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 1:59 PM, Cindy T <cindy_t25 [at]> wrote:
> Sometimes it seems to me that co-housing is often just another form of gated 
> community. In addition to cost, which prevents non-homogeneous people from 
> buying into regular gated communities, co-housing has the vetting process.   
> Many communities seem to lack any commitment to diversity, and may even 
> violate anti-discrimination laws though I'm sure the legal advisors have 
> figured out how to do that legally.
> Do we need another list, or maybe multiple lists, for people with lower 
> incomes, for disabled people, for minorities, or for people from Africa or 
> China, to create a bunch of little ghettos?  Or do we need more  communities 
> that commit to the richness of diversity and learn to work out complex issues 
> cooperatively?  It seems like the latter are sorely needed in the world today.
> Cindy T

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