Re: Governance & Income Inequality
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Wed, 11 Feb 2015 05:00:03 -0800 (PST)
At Cornerstone, we have something of the same problem with the four affordable 
limited equity homeownership units, resale of which is managed by the City, for 
the benefit of households selected according to criteria of the subsidy 
program.  Most “low income” households moving into Cornerstone are looking for 
affordable accommodations with convenient access to decent schools and jobs.  
They are not looking for a cohousing experience — indeed, have never heard of 
cohousing — and accordingly, don’t always integrate readily with the cohousing 
lifestyle.  Cornerstone is prohibited by fair housing laws from “interfering” 
with the City’s selection and placement process.

And yet … Cambridge, MA, is famous for its socioeconomic diversity and 
fine-scale integration — which is to say that, in most parts of the City, the 
well-educated and well-off live within shouting distance (no disparagement 
intended) of the limited income or near-poor.  Block by block, we’re all 
scrambled up.  At City Council meetings, it’s not unusual to see widely 
divergent cohorts conversing, or even pushing the same issue.  So the City, and 
much of its residency, is committed to hunting for ways to bridge the gaps 
between rich and poor.

I personally am opposed to segregated living:  Not just segregation by 
ethnicity, of course, but also segregation by age or by income or by special 
needs.  Multi-generational, mixed income cohousing is definitely a challenge, 
but one worth working on.  As the somewhat sad tale of Petaluma indicates.  We 
fill entire buildings or neighborhoods with problematic households — then 
wonder why these “communities” behave like nuclear reactors without damper rods.


> On Feb 11, 2015, at 7:39 AM, Fred-List manager <fholson [at]> 
> wrote:
> I consulted on the Petaluma Avenue project for two years. It is an
> affordable rental housing project, physically designed as cohousing…it
> succeeded at being affordable, but not so well at being cohousing.
> A few of the major reasons:
> o As a subsidized affordable housing project, residents were chosen
> by lottery after proving they met low/moderate income requirements -- NOT by
> their interest in cohousing. So the intentionality that is baked into most
> of our communities was missing.
> o Many people who qualify for housing subsidies have more challenges
> in their lives (single parents, disability,  mental health issues, and of
> course not a lot of money) than the majority of us in "traditional"
> cohousing, which translates into challenges regarding the amount of
> participation & planning the typical cohousing community requires.
> o HUGE diversity, beyond what I've seen in any other cohousing
> community. Some folks were low-income because they were off-the-grid artist
> hippy types, but had middle class educations, values, assumptions, and
> entitlement; others because they came from generational poverty. NO shared
> values.
> Many of the folks who came due to low income thought this was the most
> beautiful, friendly, amazing place they’d ever lived. Many of those who came
> because they knew about cohousing were extremely disappointed because they
> did not have as much agency/decision-making power as they thought they ought
> to have. (Remember, this was a rental and folks came in after construction
> was done. They wanted to be in charge of things the way the rest of us are
> in our communities…and much of that is NOT available in the affordable
> housing context.)

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