Re: affordable housing
From: rphilipdowds (
Date: Wed, 1 Jan 2020 06:48:12 -0800 (PST)
Ann —

Thanks for your detailed reply.  Since it references me, I’ll offer some 

I am an architect (off the clock) — and accordingly, might be viewed as a 
professional with prejudices against "low class", "low life" design and 
construction, like, maybe, “mobile" homes.  But: Not so.  Many designers 
smarter than I have invested time and money in promoting hi-tech and assembly 
line manufacturing techniques to dwelling unit construction.  One of the most 
famous is, of course, Levittown (actually, a set of seven suburban 
developments) — but even before Levittown, Sears was offering economy-oriented 
home building kits in its catalogue.  Of the urbanized models, the early famous 
one was Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 at the Montreal Expo.  And of course, there 
are some examples of outstanding “mobile” home park designs that resemble 
ordinary neighborhoods more than decrepit industrial tandem trailer parking 

For a bunch of reasons I will not detail here, these various innovations have 
not made it into the mainstream American development paradigm.  We can (and 
perhaps should) continue to flog these approaches, hoping to get an affordable 
result, but I am not optimistic.  Ann, you itemize some key factors that 
militate against affordability: zoning, income, and tax policy.  I agree.  And, 
you indicate some glimmers of hope that you think warrant greater appreciation. 
 My response would be that ADUs will have traction in some low- and 
moderate-density areas — but mostly because (as you point out), tax-paying, 
property-owning voters may favor them, for their own financial benefit.  This 
is no guarantee that ADUs will be contributing to the affordable housing 
solution.  And, like in Tampa, we can indeed discover some inner-city trailer 
parks.  Even so, activists in other cities and towns are not beating down the 
doors to create “trailer park” zoning.

I will stick close to my original premise.  What’s thwarting affordable housing 
is inequality of wealth and income.  Inequality is killing representational 
democracy in America.  Inequality is killing us.  Our wounds are severe, and 
our Band-aids are small.

Philip Dowds
Cornerstone Cohousing
Cambridge, MA
On Jan 1, 2020, 7:50 AM -0500, Ann Zabaldo <zabaldo [at]>, wrote:
> Hello Sara — I hear you. WE hear you. We who have been working in cohousing 
> for a while have been dealing w/ affordability - - for a long while.
> Manufactured housing- a,k.a. mobile homes — is most certainly an answer to 
> the high cost of housing in some areas of the country. The issue for urban 
> areas is Ta Da! Zoning. Most urban areas will not allow “trailers” in 
> residential areas. The stranglehold of single family residential housing 
> seriously reduces more affordable multi-family housing even if the housing is 
> conventionally stick-built. I can hear the collective call of property 
> owners: that level of density, whatever it is, will bring down property 
> values! Traffic will increase! Homes that sell for less than the prevailing 
> prices in a neighborhood are perceived as reducing property values.
> But if people are willing to live outside a city in more rural areas then you 
> might be able to create a multi unit community using manufactured housing. 
> EXCEPT … around here in the DC area once you get out of the urban areas you 
> run into “greenbelt” zoning — that is, in order to keep the rural areas rural 
> the zoning is established at 1 house per 5 acres. For just 5 houses you would 
> need 25 acres. Plus you’d also need zoning that would allow clustering in 
> order to create cohousing. Farther out in rural Virginia the zoning is 1 
> house per 50 acres. So going farther out may not be the solution.
> What you are hearing from Philip’s email may be frustration at trying to 
> create housing to fit zoning, income and tax structure instead of these 
> structures — zoning, income and tax rules serving people and the housing 
> “shortage” for moderate income households. Or more simply: trying to fit the 
> square peg of affordable housing into the round hole of zoning, income and 
> tax regulations. I’m making suppositions. Philip can answer for himself.
> Arlington and/or Alexandria, VA, suburbs of Washington, DC, this year passed 
> regulations allowing homeowners on certain size lots w/ other included strict 
> criteria to build a “granny flat” or Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) in the 
> back of their premises. The ADUs are one response to the lack of available 
> housing in those suburban cities. The wailing that went on by homeowners 
> predicting the negative impact on property values could be heard where I live 
> which is as far north of those cities as you can get and still live in DC — 
> approximately 7 miles away. I predict those ADUs will actually INCREASE 
> property values making the affordability crisis in those cities even worse. 
> Why? Because what homeowners would not like a steady income stream of more 
> than $1,000 per month that requires so little effort?
> BTW - there are exceptions to everything I wrote. Tampa, FL has had a mobile 
> home park within its city limits for over 50 years. It’s located in a less 
> desirable part of town in a very industrial area. But it’s there! In 
> Missouri, as I understand from folks at Dancing Rabbit ecovillage, there are 
> no building restrictions— at least in the rural areas. That’s why the DR 
> ecovillage decided to build there.
> Sara — if you will allow me … the most important you can do if you are intent 
> on building affordable housing using manufacturde housing or Tiny Homes, is 
> for you to research where the city or county will allow you to build 
> clustered housing using those two options. This research will give you 
> clarity and more importantly give you power to make decisions.
> Let the list hear from you. We are interested in what you find out.
> BTW — where are you located?
> Happy New Year!
> Best --
> Ann Zabaldo
> Takoma Village Cohousing
> Washington, DC
> Member, Board of Directors
> Mid Atlantic Cohousing
> Principal, Cohousing Collaborative, LLC
> Falls Church, VA
> 202.546.4654
> “If the earth was flat, Cats would have pushed everything off it by now."

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