Re: affordable housing
From: Lynne MARKELL (
Date: Sat, 4 Jan 2020 10:59:46 -0800 (PST)
Once again a thoughtful response to this very interesting discussion.
Yes, there is a lot of "sweat  equity" that goes into cohousing and I have 
callouses in my brain from this work. It is hard work learning how to build 
community and a building at the same time, when most of us have only owned 
individual homes.

I would recommend to the people who want do a sweat equity project that
 they realize that they will be doing both mental and maybe, physical work.
 Do use consultants and advisors who have been through cohousing development 
and social housing development.
Consider a "partnership" with a credible group/ organization that can help open 
up doors for financial assistance. It would be helpful if they could provide a 
space to meet as you will be in a lot of meetings.
Be open and real with your local community about what you are trying to do. You 
may be amazed at who comes forward to help. Your self-help approach will draw 
in local people and businesses that you may not know at the moment.

I speak from experience as a community developer who has worked with low income 
people on a variety of projects and recently on my own cohousing project in 

Lynne Markell, 
Lmarkell [at]
(613) 842-5222

> On Jan 3, 2020, at 1:36 PM, R Philip Dowds alt addr via Cohousing-L 
> <cohousing-l [at]> wrote:
> I agree with Sharon that significant income disparities within a cohousing 
> community can create tension between those who can afford and want better, 
> and those who can barely afford the minimum.  But one of the points of 
> cohousing is that one can and does learn how to compromise constructively 
> with neighbors of very different means, political and religious beliefs, 
> lifestyle preferences and so on.  As one of my neighbors at Cornerstone puts 
> it, “If you want diversity, get ready for conflict.”  So, I’m quite yet ready 
> to buy into a vision of economically segregated cohousing as the optimum way 
> of dealing with household financial differences.
> But I would like to broaden our perspective of sweat equity:  It’s not just 
> about heavy lifting and floating drywall compound.  Most cohousing 
> developments happen chiefly due to astonishingly high levels of sweat equity 
> contributed during the development process  — probably three years at the 
> shortest; more typically four or five years; and sometimes worse.  During 
> that time, a morphing and somewhat uncertain assembly of volunteers puts in 
> many hours a week  learning to do, and doing, jobs for which they’ve not been 
> trained: Hunting for land, fund-raising and budgeting, negotiating options 
> and purchases, architectural programming and design review, seeking permits, 
> marketing and membership drives, selecting and mobilizing contractors, and on 
> and on.
> These, of course, are the customary tasks and activities of professional real 
> estate developers.  These tasks are expensive and risky — which is why 
> developers expect high monetary returns on their investments of time and 
> cash.  Because the founders of cohousing are also, at least in part, the 
> sweat equity developers, one thing they have a shot at getting (in addition 
> to a community of friends) is housing maybe 5% to 15% lower in price than a 
> comparable property produced by for-profit developers.  (On the other hand … 
> if the founders are slow learners, and/or don’t get adequate professional 
> assistance at critical junctures, then the value of their substantial sweat 
> equity can be overwhelmed by general inefficiency.)
> Overall, I am usually bowled over by the time investment the founding members 
> must commit, and are willing to commit, to invent their property and 
> instantiate their dream.  This is sweat equity of the highest order.
> Thanks,
> Philip Dowds
> Cornerstone Cohousing
> Cambridge, MA
> On Jan 3, 2020, 11:38 AM -0500, Sharon Villines via Cohousing-L <cohousing-l 
> [at]>, wrote:
>>> 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
>> ----
>> Sharon Villines
>> Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC
> _________________________________________________________________
> Cohousing-L mailing list -- Unsubscribe, archives and other info at:

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.