Affordable home ownership models
From: Rebecca Lane (
Date: Wed, 7 Aug 2013 20:11:34 -0700 (PDT)
I've been following the convo about affordability, and would like to offer a 
couple of points, as this is a topic I've spent a lot of time on! I'm glad to 
see it talked about.

First, cohousing is a community design/build model, not a finance model. Most 
housing in the US, for better or for worse, is firmly in the for-profit 
commodities market, and cohousing is no different as it has been developed thus 
far in the US, with a very few exceptions. 

As Katie pointed out, and she definitely is in a position to understand this, 
development costs are high, and are hard to affect. Construction is one of the 
most highly regulated industries in the country, and that is but one of the 
reasons why costs are high. Access to capital is the number one barrier to 
affordable housing -- indeed, since the housing & finance sector implosions, 
access to capital is a barrier to middle class homeowners as well. 

The affordable housing models which exist are these: publicly subsidized & 
owned rentals; private, not-for-profit subsidized & owned rentals; and 
assistance for down payments for private homeowners, both equity limited 
(self-help programs) and full market equity options. These are largely from the 
not-for-profit sector these days. Finally, community owned assets, i.e., 
community land trusts. 

In each of these models, someone other than the resident pays the full cost of 
construction. The final costs of construction or remodel must be met somehow; 
usually via a combination of government, foundation, and private donor dollars, 
and some inputs (rents, subsidized mortgage payments) by residents. It is no 
small feat to put together a finance package for a subsidized project. There 
are some very talented people in the affordable housing industry who specialize 
in this.

If you're interested in the most cost effective affordable housing model, the 
community land trust (CLT) model is it. The subsidized investments are a 
one-time event, and in exchange for a below market purchase price, the income 
qualified homeowner agrees to a very limited equity ownership proposition. 
Thus, the subsidy stays with the dwelling at resale, to benefit another's come 
qualified owner. (With every other subsidized model, the subsidy dollars are 

A CLT owner can live in the home as long as they wish, and can win the lottery 
the day after they close; they simply cannot sell for full market profit. This 
model takes both the market risk and the market reward out of private, 
for-profit home ownership, and treats the asset, the dwelling, as a community 
resource, to be used by many families over it's useful life. It is a radical & 
elegant notion of ownership, in my experience. I was a CLT homeowner in the 
early 90's & I love the model. is the organization I helped found, 
and built with, in Morgantown. My Goddaughter & her husband now live in the 
modest home I built. It's an amazing CLT.
Marsha, shifting our economic structure away from capitalism is unlikely to 
happen anytime soon, but there are scores of CLT developments around the 
country. There are a few that I believe are both a CLT & cohousing; one in 
Bellingham, WA, one in Martha's Vineyard, MA, and one in Carrboro, North 
Carolina (please correct me if I am wrong). 

If you want to create an affordable cohousing community, I encourage you to 
consider the CLT finance model. The communities we want to live in we're 
created by someone! You can learn more about CLT's at this website:


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