Re: Making Cohousing Permanently Affordable
From: rpdowds (
Date: Fri, 4 Jan 2013 13:48:50 -0800 (PST)
I think programs are different in differing jurisdictions, but in Cambridge, 
MA, here are the essential features of limited equity homeownership affordable 
housing (cohousing or not). 

    • Municipal zoning requires that all multi-family developments over a 
certain size offer to the City a specific proportion of "affordable units" — in 
return for which you get a density bonus or upgrade = more units on the land. 
At Cornerstone Cohousing, this worked out to 32 units on about 1.5 acres, 
inclusive of four "affordable" limited equity ownership condominiums. 
Cornerstone, in fact, was the first multi-family complex in the City to find 
itself directed by this new zoning regime. We were pioneers. 
    • The affordable units are semi-controlled by the City. That is, they can 
purchased only by pre-qualified individuals or families of a defined size and 
income level, and sold only at a price established by the City. In effect, this 
means that the developers and the market-rate units must build and provide, at 
a subsidized "below-market" cost, a certain number of affordable units. 
    • Pre-qualified households buy the unit for which they are qualified at the 
City price. But when they sell, they are not entitled to market-rate 
appreciation -- normally, in Cambridge, a lot of money. Instead, they are 
obligated to sell their units for the original purchase price, plus a very 
marginal "profit" or inflation factor. City policy is to keep the affordable 
units as close as possible to their original sale price, for as long as 
    • Officially, Cornerstone is prohibited from "interfering" in the 
City-controlled matching of pre-qualified households to units. Which means, we 
have no formal mechanism for influencing who buys and moves in next. In 
practice, however, we try to make plain to the City-selected candidates that 
cohousing is not exactly like the other condo properties in Cambridge. 
Interestingly enough, many pre-qualfied "low income" households look at the 
coho model, and say, Whoa, this doesn't look right for us -- and move on to 
some other opportunity. The "low income" households buying the limited equity 
units then can end up being reasonably well-suited to the coho lifestyle. (As I 
write this, I would characterize two of our affordable unit households as 
well-acclimated to participating in our coho affairs, and the other two as 
perhaps less well-acclimated.) 
    • Apart from these formal public / institutional programs, a subset of 
members and non-members, on individual initiative and outside our consensus 
process, have joined together to purchase a unit, and make it available to 
someone who has been living at Cornerstone for many years. It's not yet clear 
exactly what way this program will or will not be sustainably 
    • Condo fees and other community-driven charges are calculated the same for 
limited equity units as they are for market-rate units. 

I would agree with Mr Paiss that, on the whole, this works OK. In fact, it all 
comports with the "inclusionary zoning" I was active in writing and promoting 
more than a decade ago. One of the lurking, largely un-discussable issues is 
that some at Cornerstone fear the "low income" households benefiting from 
below-market buy-in actually have better income, and more financial 
flexibility, than others in the market-rate units. Could this be true? For my 
part, I have been adamantly against Cornerstone prying into the finances of 
individual households, or setting assessments from "means-testing" formulae 
reliant on such data. I'd be interested to hear if any other cohos make 
financial decisions or policies based on information about household finances. 

----- Original Message -----
From: "Sharon Villines" <sharon [at]> 
To: "Cohousing-L" <cohousing-l [at]> 
Sent: Friday, January 4, 2013 10:14:45 AM 
Subject: Re: [C-L]_ Making Cohousing Permanently Affordable 

On Jan 4, 2013, at 10:03 AM, Zev Paiss <Zev [at]> wrote: 

> They require this to be on the lien of the home and they are the ones to set 
> the sale and purchaser income requirements to limit what you can sell the 
> home for and who can qualify to buy it. It is very tightly controlled and it 
> works. 

How do they control it? Is there lots of paperwork and delay involved? Does it 
affect bank financing? 

Can prospective buyers easily figure out if they are eligible? This has been a 
problem with some programs that are based on arcane formulas only a numbers 
person can figure out and eligibility seems to change from month to month. 

How are their condo fees calculated? 

Sharon Villines 
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC 

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