Re: a strategy for affordability
From: Megan McDonough (
Date: Tue, 25 May 2010 04:45:22 -0700 (PDT)
Hello all -

Where I live (in western Massachusetts) I know of *no* local jurisdictions
that restrict the size of the house you build.  Only a couple of subdivision
neighborhoods where restrictive covenants were established by the builder of
the subdivision.

Most towns have zoning that lists minimum lot sizes and setbacks that create
more suburban looking neighborhoods than the tight cluster most cohousing is
looking for.  However, many towns have adopted cluster subdivision or
conservation subdivision bylaws that encourage tight clustering of homes in
exchange for preserving open space on a rural lot.  The town I live in
adopted a cluster subdivision by law in response to a local resident trying
to build a cohousing style ecovillage.  It took him 3+ years to work with
the town, revise the zoning, etc before he could build - but now he has laid
the groundwork for new cluster development projects in town.

As far as house size is concerned the biggest issue is appraisals &
mortgages.  The appraisal industry is conservative - and usually does not
include green features in their appraisals.  If you build a small super
insulated 1 bedroom house it will get compared to other 1 bedroom houses in
your area for establishing the price - the fact that you put extra effort
into the green features won't be accounted for.  You can't get a mortgage
for more than the appraised value.

Banks only want to mortgage houses that they will be able to resell if
forced to foreclose.  Banks may resist mortgaging super tiny houses.
However, if you are talking about super tiny - you may not need a mortgage.


Message: 6
Date: Mon, 24 May 2010 23:40:18 -0400 (EDT)
From: bb [at]
Subject: Re: [C-L]_ a strategy for affordability
To: "Cohousing-L" <cohousing-l [at]>
       <1403. [at]>
Content-Type: text/plain;charset=iso-8859-1

Sharon writes:

> One problem is that banks are getting very picky so you have to have
> an income that will support the larger mortgage before you can get
> the property to rent. In my experience, that you plan to rent isn't
> considered proof of income.

Yes.  For the example costs from the builder I quoted, the one
disability income covered the mortgage of both 700 sf units.


> One of the issues that will come up or not come up but greatly
> influence the zoning decision is the fear that people who need
> small, inexpensive homes will not take care of them so there will be
> a blight in the middle of the neighborhood.

> In my neighborhood the city has started moving in group homes. Group
> homes are intended to deinstitutionalize people by integrating them
> back into communities. But they are placing these homes close
> together, three in one block, because it's easier for the
> staff. They not fulfilling their purpose, and the homes are not kept
> up like the neighboring homes homes. The lawns are threadbare from
> cars and trucks parking on them. No flowers are ever planted. The
> staff comes and goes without ever saying hello -- and this is a
> saying hello neighborhood.  When people complain they are accused of
> discrimination and NIMBY.

> A local zoning board seeing this has a vision in their heads of what
> low cost housing will bring so that vision will have to be
> addressed.  That's why many intentional communities end up in rural
> areas. No zoning restrictions.

All instances of "too many laws".  The cost of buying a lot, erecting
a building, and burying plumbing is not the problem.  The laws are.

Anyone who claims the legal red tape is not a big deal should be able
to come up with the names of 100 jurisdictions that currently allow
small homes cheaply, with sufficient due diligence to satisfy both a
homebuilder and a mortgage lender.  But if you believe that much legal
research will take years, if that many jurisdictions exist at all,
that's my point.


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Saturday, June 12th 9am-5pm
Guided tour of coops, cohousing, green homes and land trusts to learn about
ecological community living options.
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