Re: Unprogrammed suites
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2012 02:15:22 -0700 (PDT)
Should I understand that the "basement suite" will be a small and legal 
separate dwelling unit?  Maybe a "mother-in-law" apartment, or an au pair 
apartment, or just a plain old rental apartment?  Based on this understanding, 
I would comment ...

Your condominium or HOA Bylaws should have something to say about additions, 
renovations, subdivisions and other modifications of each dwelling unit — 
something like Yes, No, or Maybe If, depending on the scope and nature of the 
modification.  Do your Bylaws allow for running a for-profit enterprise out of 
one's basement?  Rental real estate OK?  What about a psychoanalyst's office?  
Your local zoning, and/or the special permit you may have received, could also 
govern what happens in this basement.
Size matters.  33 is a good number of units for coho.  Much smaller, and the 
community dynamic may lack social ballast; much larger, and it gets hard for 
everyone to know everyone.  But if everyone went ahead and made a basement 
suite, then you'd have 66 units, which might be judged too large.
Diversity matters.  It seems as though many cohos are opposed to rentals, and 
operate on some fuzzy belief that property owners make good and responsible 
neighbors, while tenants ... oh Gosh, who knows what a tenant might do?  While 
I agree that a coho community is stabilized by a majority of equity owners, I 
do not share the fuzzy belief (or any real life experience) that property 
owners make better friends, neighbors or members than tenants.  A certain 
number of rental units will help support any diversity goals you have.  I live 
in a hyper-expensive housing market — Cambridge, MA — and it tends to be true 
that the people best positioned to buy into Cornerstone are old(er) people.  If 
you think your community benefits from a mix — like young(er) singles who may 
room up together, or young families interested in trying before they buy — then 
rental units could have a role to play.

Good luck.  And check your Bylaws.

R Philip Dowds AIA
Cornerstone Cohousing
175 Harvey Street, Unit 5
Cambridge, MA 02140

PS: Cornerstone has a bunch of Bylaws rules regarding community oversight of 
owned units being rented out to tenants. But these rules are never enforced, 
because nobody at Cornerstone seems to have the time or gumption to intervene.  
Currently, two of our 32 units are unsupervised rentals owned by absentees, and 
several other owner-occupied units have taken in tenants to help meet expenses. 
 We don't have a communal system for vetting our tenants, but then again ... we 
also don't have a communal system for vetting any new owners, either.

On Oct 24, 2012, at 2:02 AM, Beverly Jones Redekop <beverly.jones.redekop [at]> wrote:

> Hi Cohousing-L,
> We programmed our community for 33 households; 15 homes are built with 18
> more to be built early in the new year.  In the home prices, approximately
> $75,000 to $125,000 is for the unit's share of infrastructure (similar to
> what would be a lot price in a subdivision).  We have duplexes,
> three-plexes, four-plexes, and five-plexes with a mixture of townhouses and
> stacked flats.
> It seems that one owner may be proceeding with a basement suite in his
> townhouse. The suite's entrance would be through the home's backyard (20'
> deep backyards).
> We have a mentor cohousing community 45 minutes away (several owners from
> there are involved in the development of our new cohousing community), and
> I think it has several basement suites as well.
> Although I've been living here for two years as a renter (waiting for my
> house to be built) and one year as an owner, I haven't really lived in
> cohousing as we don't have our common house yet.  Do basement suites fit
> with cohousing?  What about the number of households that we programmed?
> This was a big decision in the Getting It Built workshop with Chuck -- we
> deliberated between fewer homes (more expensive and more spacious) and more
> homes (less expensive and less open space).
> I feel worried that our vision is being undermined before it's even built.
> I'm curious about the experience in other communities.
> Thank you,
> Beverly
> Groundswell Cohousing at Yarrow Ecovillage
> Yarrow (Chilliwack), BC, Canada
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