Sustainably Low-Cost Housing
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sat, 22 May 2010 12:33:18 -0700 (PDT)
I changed the name of this thread from "Strategy for Affordable Housing" to "Sustainably Low-Cost Housing" for two reasons:

(1) We aren't getting down to the price point (to use some jargon) necessary for cohousing to be inclusive, and
(2) Many of the solutions don't keep low-cost housing low cost.

Low cost housing by my definition is for people earning less and much less than $40,000 a year. The median household income in the US in 2007 was $50,233.00 and it included the income for all working members of the household.

What is it in cohousing? Retired people living on low incomes in cohousing should not be included in these calculations because in all probability they purchased their units with earnings on previous homes or from savings and carry no or a small mortgage. I fall into this category and my mortgage costs are far less than my young neighbors because they are mortgaged to the hilt. The monthly difference for me and a young person in a unit exactly like it but fully mortgaged is about $2,000 a month, or ~20,000 a year. And that is with unusually low interest rates. When rates go up again, I will still be at the same rate, and new purchasers will be paying much more.

Sustainably low-cost also means low cost to maintain. it won't fall apart in 10 or 20 years or leak so much that it can't be heated. Or lose its subsidy. Cities can and do sell subsidized housing that then becomes market rate housing. Funding programs are cut.

The income figures:

52 weeks X 40 hours = 2090 hours X $10 an hour = $20,800 income, minus taxes.

$15 an hour gets it up to $31,350.

I know a lot of people working for $20 an hour, $41,000.

33% of income spent on _all_ housing costs would be $6,864 to $13,530 a year. Leaky houses alone eat this up very fast.

I don't know what they current figures for disability support.

At 2-3 times income level, this would put home prices at $41,600 - $62,400 at the bottom level, and $82,000-$123,000 a the upper level.

I don't think the current focus on affordable units is radical enough to provide housing at this income level.

To be representative of the general population, at least half of the community would have to earn below $50,000 per household --even with two people working. In the communities that have included subsidized housing, have the number of units gone above 10% of units? Or even gotten up to 10%?

I'm not criticizing cohousing as being a middle-class movement as some have done. I understand that given the assumptions and circumstances, it had to be. One of the reasons being that it was strictly a do-it- yourself project and it took professionals to understand how to do it and able to spend the incredible number of hours it took to get it done. And even then, many, many failed.

But now the concept has proven itself. A lot of the questions have been answered and a lot of information is available. It might be a good time to begin thinking strategically about the other half.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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