Re: Affordable Housing
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Mon, 13 Feb 2017 10:01:56 -0800 (PST)
> On Feb 13, 2017, at 11:11 AM, Diane <dianeclaire [at]> wrote:
> Sure the rules we live by need periodic review to make sure they don't
> contradict each other and do remain current, but we do need rules.

The bulk of building codes are reviewed nationally by practicing experienced 
people who care about the subject. Cities most often use these codes, but 
beyond those, there are local zoning codes and other weirdnesses that increase 
the cost of housing. 

Just permitting takes so long that it can add a lot of costs because time means 
money. Prices are going up and interest payments don’t stop.

60 Minutes did a piece on a builder in a major upper NW city, Seattle (I think) 
who was being praised for the affordable housing he was building. It was like 
some of the plans we have seen for small apts or rooms around a central kitchen 
and living area. He said he was building in the west because he couldn’t build 
for an affordable price in NYC. The process and the requirements added too many 
costs. (Along with bribes.)

One group in Florida had the highest demand for one bedroom units and studios 
because that was what people could afford and all they needed. The bank refused 
to give them a construction loan if they had more than 2-3. “No one will buy 

Then there are all the communities that have to go through rezoning for 
multifamily dwellings. Or alternative materials. I talked with one group that 
wanted to do straw bale houses on land that was zoned for single family houses 
with a minimum of 3 acre lots. I said, “I think you need a fall back just in 

But they had the time and contacts so they persisted and did it. The solution 
was to build single family homes but to cluster them in the center of an equal 
number of lots. They didn’t impinge on neighbors privacy or view. But this is 
rare and it took almost 2 years to get approval for that one tiny piec. Not 
everyone can hold on that long or keep their option on land that long.

(I think the planning board thought straw bale was a novelty and would never 
happen anyway.)

There are many things that don’t make sense. A small kickstarter funded 
specialty coffee shop in our neighborhood was delayed 6 weeks in opening 
because before the city inspector came out to approve their electrical setup 
the city changed the code and required it for all new approvals even if the 
group was waiting for final sign offs. They suddenly needed $25,000 to rewire 
and wait for another long period to get a final permit.

They raised the money from the community and eventually opened. But during that 
time, several months, the two young partners had no income but were still 
paying all the expenses. 

This is why groups need to work with professionals who often know how to get 
around the requirements of a particular neighborhood. And why many communities 
just went rural where there were fewer codes.

But if you are in a neighborhood in which sidewalks and paved streets are the 
norm, it is not unreasonable that you would also be required to build these.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.