Re: [C-L] Common house design, rooms, and room sizes?
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sun, 8 Feb 2015 07:27:41 -0800 (PST)
> On Feb 8, 2015, at 8:43 AM, R Philip Dowds <rpdowds [at]> wrote:

> But be realistic about money as well.  A big divide in disposable income, 
> with a few households facing real difficulty in paying their proportionate 
> share, can become a chronic problem.  Better to face it squarely now, rather 
> than be surprised about it when you move in.

I agree with Philip on this one. It becomes an often silent but deeply felt 
issue in every budget discussion and with every expenditure, that some people 
can afford it. And some will have to leave or even move out years later when 
costs keep escalating. All the elbow grease they put in to reduce costs when 
under construction fades when their higher income or trust-funded neighbors 
want a sauna or a pool. 

This is why I continue to think that for a really low income community to work, 
it has to be really low income all the way. It can't be mixed and remain low 
income. Many people make the choice to be low-income -- to be peace workers or 
to have 5 foster children or to take a lower paying job they love. The don't 
want to give that up to heat the CH. Or renovate a kitchen that is larger than 
it needs to be.

A range of income levels isn't necessary to have diversity. Some communities 
have managed to have Habitat for Humanity units and various subsidized units, 
but the problem is not just at the beginning--its all the way down the road as 
maintenance, improvements, and added benefits take their toll.

And reserves. A condominium without savings to pay for a new roof is much less 
valuable and marketable than one with the money saved to replace it. Reserve 
specialists have found that low savings leads to deferred maintenance that then 
costs even more to do later.

At Takoma Village we have healthy reserves including maintenance, replacement, 
and emergency funds. Reserves are more than 40% of our budget.

After you figure the costs of annual maintenance and utilities, etc., add 40% 
of that cost for future replacements. An experienced property manager can tell 
you what maintenance will cost per square foot for the average condo. It's 
worth having one review your plans and be realistic about how much of that cost 
can be reduced with labor contributions.

My rough estimate - and Philip would know better -- is to use the cost of your 
common house divided by 50 years to estimate required annual savings. In that 
period of time, you will be replacing almost everything in it. For the parts 
you won't be likely to replace, like the foundations, you will make up in 
inflation and the demands for upgrades. Maintaining value and the happiness of 
residents requires upgrading to future standards. Common houses have to keep up 
with the future common standards because new residents will expect them.

Our recent new residents were appalled at our exercise room equipment because 
it was all donated, except for a universal gym purchased by those who wanted 
it. The other equipment was old when donated and was for residential single 
family use in the first place. We quickly got a proposal for ~$8000 for 
reconditioned semi-professional replacements for everything. While long time 
residents had been asking for a replacement for just the treadmill for years, 
they didn't know that. The community approved all of it.

So new residents do upscale communities. Which in the end is a good thing but 
you have to account for those costs.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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