Re: affordable housing
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Fri, 3 Jan 2020 08:38:02 -0800 (PST)
> On Jan 2, 2020, at 10:56 AM, Ron Ingram <ingramr88 [at]> wrote:
> None of these workers were paid money.
> Zero dollars were given to electricians, plumbers, roofers, inspectors,
> etc. to be honest, we didn't have any money. None of us. But we pulled
> together and got it done. We valued sweat equity. 

Thank you for taking time to write such a thoughtful and balanced account of 
the way things are. When you describe how the small town built their church, it 
reminds me of the forming-a-cohousing-group stage. Most have more income that 
those in your small town but the need and the desire are the same. Communities 
are fully involved in doing as much as they can themselves. It isn’t always 
apparent because it’s less visible but the Yankee-do’s are hard at work. One 
reason developers and banks refused to work with cohousing groups in the first 
20-30 years is not just because the banks thought cohousers were weird but 
because the cohousers had no idea how they were going to pay for it and 
actually had no idea how much it would cost. They were just going to do it.

Renting is a step in the process of building a secure foundation for living. 
People need a place to live now, not when they have saved enough money — if you 
ever can save enough to own while renting. Many of us elders also rented for a 
large part of our lives. We didn’t have the money either. Unless you had 
parents who could give or loan you the downpayment, it wasn’t possible. 

But here we are now with many people who want to live in cohousing not being 
able to afford to, and many people who already live in cohousing, not having or 
not willing to have the money to provide them with housing that is affordable 
for them. Affordable for them means forget the 80% of market rate.

I’m dubious about the plans to have a few low income units mixed in with market 
rate units. I’ve witnessed a group that was started by a city worker who was 
living in subsidized housing and wanted a home so she could adopt a child. “I 
need more than one room.” But when she start organizing the group, middle class 
professionals who already owned market rate houses joined. Very quickly the 
goal became building market rate housing that would support low-income housing. 
She became very frustrated and felt her idea had been taken away from her. It’s 
very hard when you live from one paycheck to another to explain to those who 
live well that the expense of building a common house, for example, is above 
your means, and that you don’t want to live in a situation with constant 
pressure to pay higher monthly fees because someone wants to upgrade faucets. 
It doesn’t matter that the new faucets are pretty and force people to use less 
water, you can’t afford them. And you don’t want someone buying them for you — 
day after day. The pressure can be enormous.

This is why I think low income cohousing will happen when a group of low income 
households comes together to build housing affordable by low-income households. 
And insists on equality. That nothing will be done that can’t be afforded by at 
least 60% or 90% of the members. If there are people who want to help with 
initial financing that it be done as a loan or outright gift, not in a way that 
creates a two income level community with the smaller piece being low-income. 

What I can offer is to design and host a website and an email discussion group 
for those who are interested in giving sweat equity to build low-income 
cohousing. I can also offer policing to keep the plans from escalating to 
soaring heights of “affordable” defined as 80% of market rate in the area. And 
online research.

I’m sure there are many other people on the list who can offer skills and 
information without compromising the efforts of the group to build housing they 
can afford. 

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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