Re: affordable cohousing/ personal investments
From: Racheli Gai (
Date: Mon, 25 Jan 2010 09:54:54 -0800 (PST)

I want to relate a couple of examples of how a number of individuals within our cohousing community have gotten together in an effort to open up some housing opportunities for people with less money.

The two examples are about the same house. A number of years ago, parents of one of our members moved into one of the units as renters. A year later the owner was selling, but demanded more money that they could come up with (they were on a very tight budget, and even if they could come up with a down payment, the monthly payments would have been too high). A number of community members loaned them money*, so that they could make a larger down
payment, and keep the monthly payments affordable.

Recently, this same couple moved to another, smaller, unit - which they're renting, and have
put their house up for sale.
At the same time, another couple in the community (with two kids) split, and under normal circumstances the man wouldn't have been able to buy that house (I don't want to give too many details, but he couldn't qualify for a loan, among other things). He's a greatly valued community member, and staying in the community would also mean that the two kids can be here full time, while if he moved elsewhere they would have only
spent half of their time in coho-land.
So, two other households plus the man who will be the renter got together and bought the house.

What are we planning to achieve?

1- In the more general sense: Find ways to invest our money so that it does good work. In this case, we chose to invest in our closest of local communities, but opportunities exist to put your money to good work in many places where it's sorely needed - both locally and globally.

I had a chance recently to look at the list of companies that TIAA/ CREF invests in (it's a huge retirement fund) - I was appalled to discover what kind of investments were considered "socially responsible"... The fact is - most of us don't know what our money is doing, and it's often doing bad things. It's also the case, I think, that after last year's melt-down it seems that people should re-evaluate what it means to have their money in the stock-market: Who benefits, who suffers, is it really safe, and
(dare I ask) -- is it really moral?

2- In the local sense, of our community, we aim to provide affordable housing. The house lends itself to being shared by a number of people so that the rent can stay extremely reasonable. We have decided as part of our agreement among ourselves that we won't seek the highest payers, but will strive to find people who will benefit the community. We'll also try, to the extent that we can afford it, maintain the place in green fashion. (eg: We are replacing carpets with greener and less toxic floors; we will replace aging appliances with ones that are efficient and not made by GE... etc.). It's perhaps a good place to mention once again that by keeping a house non or low on toxins we allow access to housing for those who are disabled by chemical sensitivities (in addition to other ways that green is beneficial).

3- We bought the house for significantly more than the current appraisal. It's very likely that we didn't "have to", and that we could have negotiated a lower price. However, the people who sold it are in real financial straights, and in terms of our goals for the house, paying more for it made only a moderate difference. (It might have been a different story if we bought it with the intent to sell it in a few years.)

My intent in relating the above is to encourage people to think creatively about their own resources. How we spend our money is probably the place where we have the most power. Everyone has to buy food, find a place
to live and so on - and our choices make a difference.

I also wish to point out that by taking other issues into consideration people don't have to give up their ability to make money. The rental will, hopefully, provide us with some income. Not a lot, and not perhaps the maximum we could get if money was the single consideration, but it's important to underline the fact that the above scheme is not a charity. It is possible (or so is the hope) to make some money while achieving some other worthy goals,
so that - for those of us with progressive politics - we walk our talk.
This isn't risk free, of course, but the stock market isn't risk-free either, as we all know too well after last year's

* I know the above description is vague, and this is a tricky issue, because those who loan money don't allow the borrowers to loan from others. I don't remember how exactly we got around the restrictions, but obviously where there is a will there might be a way... I can probably find out if anyone is interested in the fine details.

Sonora Cohousing, Tucson.

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