Re: Affordable / rental cohousing
From: Wendy Willbanks Wiesner (
Date: Tue, 10 Sep 2013 14:06:47 -0700 (PDT)
A multitude of excellent points made in this discussion about cohousing and
affordability.  What a complicated subject,  but one surely worth the
struggle, the effort.

It was this realization--combined with a passion for housing that could
transform people's lives--that led a group of us to come together around
affordable cohousing.  Two years ago, a group of advocates with affordable
housing, legal, finance, and cohousing backgrounds formed a 501(c)3,
Partnerships for Affordable Cohousing (PFAC), and has been tackling
cohousing affordability on a multitude of fronts, including the ones that
Katie McCamant identifies.

One suggestion Katie makes, to contact and cooperate with local non-profit
affordable housing entities, is an area where PFAC has a laser focus.
 Where new and existing cohousing communities have asked for PFAC's help,
we have both made and managed these connections.  At the same time, PFAC is
cultivating relationships with national organizations having the capacity
to work with cohousing communities across the country.

This has been no simple task; some of you who have already approached your
local housing non-profit and/or agency already know this fact.  The biggest
obstacle to making these relationships productive is the widely-held notion
that cohousing is not affordable.  So why would an organization dedicated
to affordable housing find benefit in interfacing with cohousing if it is
not a viable (affordable) approach?

Of course it is a chicken and egg issue; for cohousing to be on a wider
scale more affordable, the support of these housing non-profits is
essential!  Today, the dollars that these organizations control go to
conventional forms of less socially/environmentally/economically-impactful
housing, making IT more affordable.

For many who have experienced the true value of community, this doesn't
feel right.

PFAC's Board is comprised of people who care about and truly believe in the
value of cohousing and who have connections in the affordable housing,
legal, and finance worlds. As a non-profit with a specific affordability
mission, PFAC can perform the role of intermediary/translator/
facilitator/mediator between these three worlds. Now that we have defined
our mission, we are rolling up our sleeves and getting to work, work that
we hope you will support in the coming days.

On Sun, Sep 8, 2013 at 6:35 AM, Fred H Olson <fholson [at]> wrote:

> About a month ago there was a flurry of messages about
> Affordable / rental cohousing but unfortunately it was a
> fast and furious discussion into which crept some accusatory
> (you dont have enough rental) and understandable defensiveness.
> There were so many messages that I (as list manager) had
> a complaint of too many digests.  I increased the maximum size
> of digests to try and decrease the number.
> But now that things have settled down a bit including several days
> with no messages, I want to bring up  Affordable / rental cohousing
> again.
> One message that may have not gotten the attention it deserved was
> from Kathryn McCamant, co-author of _Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach
> to Housing Ourselves_ which introduced cohousing to the US 25 years ago.
> Her architectural firm is at
> Her message has an overview of the difficulties in
> including rental in cohousing in the United States.
> The message was a reply to a message with a "digest" subject line:
> A few comments on her mesage and the topic:
> Kathryn McCamant wrote:
> >... general recommendation I am hearing from various sources is
> >keeping the total number of rentals to 30% or less will help your
> >community be sure that you can get the most competitive mortgage
> >financing rates.
> I (Fred) think if most communities aimed for 10-20% affordable rental
> that that would be an admirable goal and my guess is that is far
> higher than we average now.
> One of the observations from N Street cohousing in Davis California (a
> college town which may be relevant) is that some of the people with
> the most "newcommer enthusiasm" for cohousing were renters.  They may
> have been in a stage of life where buying was not an option and they
> may have moved on after a year or two but during that time they tended
> to be active members.  And who knows maybe where they moved on to
> included a more permanent cohousing situation.
> Here in Minneapolis amongst community activists, rental housing is
> viewed with some reluctance because it is perceived that renters
> have less of a stake in their housing and therefore in their
> neighborhood.  But I contend that this is not necessarily the case for
> all renters and that if rental units are mixed in with homeowners
> it is less of a problem.
> Recruiting renters for a cohousing community becomes critical to find
> people who really want to live in cohousing rather than those who just
> want a nice place to rent.  And of course it is complicated by fair
> housing / anti discrimination laws.
> A community in Denmark that was owned by a non-profit / goverment
> organization (it was Denmark) that we visited that had little say in
> the recruitment of residnets and it is my impression that this was a
> factor in their being a less successful than they might have been
> if the community had been more able to recruit members. Another
> community had the right to recruit members for a given period of
> time after an opening and the owner could market units after that
> period.
> Would it be possible to rent units on a short term trial basis to
> prospective members to let them and the community get to know each
> other better before entering a lease arrangement?
> I often reccommend that people exploring a community stay in the
> guest rooms to experience the community around the clock.
> Kathryn McCamant wrote:
> >If you are interested in rental or permanently affordable cohousing, I
> >would urge you to organize a group specifically with that goal and
> >approach the local non-profit affordable housing developers in your
> >region.
> I would hope this does not just imply a few execeptional communities
> with rental units. I think we would be more successful if most
> communities had some rental.  That is I would urge all forming
> communities to be "interested in rental or permanently affordable
> cohousing". It further complicates a difficult process but I think it
> is important to broaden and deepen our success.
> Some non-profit affordable housing developers retain ownership of
> units as rental or have an affiliate organization who owns and manages
> the rental. Partnering with them to own some cohousing units seems like a
> viable option.
> Another route to affordability (tho not rental) that has been
> discussed here is the Land Trust route.  Having a Land Trust own a few
> ( or more?) units in cohousing seems worth exploring.
> Fred
> --
> Fred H. Olson  Minneapolis,MN 55411  USA        (near north Mpls)
>      Email:        fholson at      612-588-9532
> My Link Pg:         My org:
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