Re: Creating more affordable cohousing - a personal story...
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sat, 29 Dec 2012 10:03:51 -0800 (PST)
On Dec 29, 2012, at 11:44 AM, Ann Zabaldo <zabaldo [at]> wrote:

> So if you're selling or renting on the open market and John or Mary Doe comes 
> to purchase or rent and meets all other qualifications you must sell or rent 
> to him or her.

As I understand it from experts, though they are not lawyers, this is not 
exactly true. You can have reasons other than race, color, national origin, 
religion, sex, familial status, or disability. You can reject buyers on other 

Discrimination suits usually require a history of suspected abuses or be pretty 
obvious. If 5 gay couples have been rejected not just by one buyer but the 
whole community, that's a pattern. In a neighborhood with no Hispanic residents 
that is surrounded by Hispanic communities, the case is strong. And it still 
has to be proven.

In cohousing, there are usually very good examples of people living in the 
community that could be used to demonstrate that the protected classes are not 
discriminated against. The marketing materials are likely to welcome people who 
are different. In cohousing as a movement, there are many, many examples of 
communities inviting the protected classes.

Wikipedia articles:

The Communities Association Institute has done articles on this. One thing they 
caution about that can affect cohousing is loose lips. One Board member's 
casual question about whether the community can handle another person with 
disabilities or is becoming dominated with couples or singles can be 
unreasonably misinterpreted as a community position and used as evidence. At my 
college we couldn't ask questions about a person's family being willing to move 
200 miles for them to take a job or whether commuting was realistic. While this 
was important in judging whether this person would be a fully available worker 
or one who would stay on the job long-term, it was viewed as possible 
discrimination based on familial status, and certainly a personal question 
unrelated to stated qualifications.

Loose lips is a reason to have knowledgable people showing houses and doing 
pre-sales interviewing. When everyone is involved it can be a problem. They 
need to be educated.

> You can design a home w/ a suite for each member while you share the common 
> areas.

Think of mansions & castles where each cluster of an extended family (and the 
staff) had a wing.

> Work w/ a professional developer.  No matter how much you THINK you can save, 
> a professional developer will save you time, energy and money.

As Ann knows after developing two cohousing communities and working on several 
others, it takes many years to learn how to develop residential real estate. 
You can't learn it off-the-cuff without paying the  same price the developer 
has already paid to learn from other professionals and then to learn from their 
mistakes. Developing your own community as many early communities did because 
there were no willing developers will cost you a bundle resulting in more 
expensive housing. That's where cohousing got the reputation for being composed 
of exclusively middle-class communities -- only the middle class could afford 
to take the risks.

(Yes, I know not all were middle-class and some units were affordable, but on 
the whole people making $24,000 a year with no assets were not able to even 
think of living in cohousing.)

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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