Low Cost & Affordable Cohousing [was Two homes for sale at Westwood Cohousing in Asheville, North Carolina -- update about links.
From: Sharon Villines (sharonsharonvillines.com)
Date: Sat, 20 Aug 2016 08:51:06 -0700 (PDT)
There are a lot of posts in the archives on affordable and low income 
cohousing. For construction tax breaks and government subsidies “affordable” is 
generally defined as 80% of the cost of housing in the neighborhood or area. 
Low income is defined terms of household income and size.

The U.S. government regards housing costs at or below 30% of one's income to be 
affordable. So the definition in most cases will be in relation to your income. 

> On Aug 19, 2016, at 9:46 PM, Virgil Huston <virgil.huston1955 [at] gmail.com> 
> wrote:

> . My question is, is there anywhere in the US
> where cohousing is actually affordable for the unwashed masses?

The larger question is whether there is any ownership path for the unwashed 
masses in any part of the US. We tend to believe that cohousing will solve all 
the housing problems of the free world. Cohousing isn’t an alternative 
construction scheme — or at least not radically different enough to solve any 
construction costs. In fact with all the environmentally sustainable desires of 
cohousers, it will be more expensive. 

There were many hopes early on of building straw bale and native adobe 
communities. This was not feasible in in urban and suburban  communities and 
not even in small towns. Or even for the majority of those attracted to 

My own explanation of why there is not more low cost housing in cohousing is 
that communities get planned with the idea that a range of incomes will provide 
the coverage to finance low cost units. I don’t think this is feasible. Low 
income is socioeconomic, not just economic. By necessity, the daily social 
expectations are very different. For parents it becomes latch key kids vs full 
time nanny. And birthday parties with entertainment vs a birthday cake and 
staying up late. Maybe with the child’s name on it. 

The range of diversity in residential contexts can be stretched only so far. 
People like to live with people like themselves. “Diversity” isn’t “maximum 
possibile diversity.” Party animals don’t thrive next door to people who like 
to read and drink wine in front of the fireplace. If one person believes that 
granite counter tops in the CH is the only option and others think formica is 
the best thing since plastic, the daily aesthetic and financial conflicts will 
be too great to form a close community. Someone will be uncomfortable. They 
might be friends in another context but living together is not the same thing 
as being friends.

Thus I believe the only way to build low cost housing is to start with the 
premise that everyone in the group will qualify for low income housing programs 
or that the needs/wants will be limited to construction that is under a certain 
cost per square foot. 

If you are doing rehab, I think one standard would be that the building(s) has 
to be livable when at least some of the people move in. Low income people can’t 
afford to pay for renovations on top of paying for their current housing. There 
is no cushion in low income households.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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