Re: unit prices and budget questions
From: Toni Elliott (
Date: Sat, 21 Nov 2020 12:11:39 -0800 (PST)
> Wow Sharon! Thank you for all of your insight! I’ve been able to do some 
> calculations with your equation. There are definitely so many things to think 
> of at every stage of the planning and building. I’m going to add “talk to 
> maintenance person” to my list.  I’ll be going through your email several 
> times as a reference!

Thanks again!
Toni Elliott-Steinke 
Puyallup CoHousing
> ------------------------Message: 3
> Date: Thu, 19 Nov 2020 17:00:39 -0500
> From: Sharon Villines <sharon [at]>
> To: Cohousing-L <cohousing-l [at]>
> Subject: [C-L]_ 30% of Income Cohousing [was Unit price and budget
>    questions
> Message-ID: <897A2FD2-E2EE-4989-AE24-D0DF8EF30FE6 [at]>
> Content-Type: text/plain;    charset=utf-8
>> On Nov 18, 2020, at 8:35 PM, Toni Elliott <tonialiani [at]> wrote:
>> I'm involved in a very young, just-trying-to-get-off-the-ground community
>> in Washington State, Puyallup CoHousing.
> Congratulations on getting as far as this and for finding Cohousing-L so you 
> can get information from a lot of experienced cohousers, including other 
> start-ups.
>> The first set of data we are looking for are regarding new or
>> in-construction communities. We are trying to get some sort of idea on how
>> affordable we can make our community (we want to make it available for as
>> many people as possible).
> Affordable is what I?ve been thinking about lately. I started a website where 
> I am collecting information, just renamed:
> The About page has an explanation of why I changed from ?sustainable? to 
> ?affordable? and took on the war to make ?affordable? mean something. 
> ?Affordable" is applied to housing at all market prices. A $1 million house 
> is affordable in a neighborhood of $10 million houses. In an area with an 
> average home price of $400,000, affordable using HUD standards is $320,000.
> This is not what most people think of when they think ?affordable.? The 
> standard that financial managers use for affordable is 30% of income for all 
> housing costs, whether it is mortgage payments or rent. I?ve posted 
> calculations of income to housing in the past but you can figure it out 
> yourself. 30% of income for everything housing related, including utilities 
> and maintenance. If a household can pay that, they are considered 
> housing-stable. Lower income households often pay more but over 50% of income 
> would be bordering on housing-insecure.
> So a good guide for your area would be 30% of the median area income as a 
> starting point. Then move down to the incomes of the people in your group or 
> in the population that you want to target. 
> One reason this is not easy is that banks won?t finance housing lower than 
> their own standards of what they consider desirable. And town planning boards 
> restrict multi-household communities, houses below a minimum size (-1,200 
> SF), and lots smaller than a minimum size. And they enforce them.
> This is beginning to change but it is taking lawsuits and community activism 
> to change it. It will likely be done one city at a time. So you have to look 
> at zoning requirements and construction requirements. 
> The things that raise the price of houses are the typical things that middle 
> and middle-upper households expect, particularly if they are building the 
> homes themselves. 
> 1. Bathrooms and kitchens are the most expensive per SF initially, but total 
> SF will be expensive from day to day for heating and cooling and maintenance. 
> A three-bedroom house has more roof than a one-bedroom house. More walls, 
> more  light fixtures, more sprinkler heads, etc. Down the line the larger 
> total space is more expensive.
> 2. Minimum requirements for a kitchen may be the ability to cook and store 
> food, running water, and waste disposal. But dishwashers, large 
> refrigerators, stone sinks and countertops, etc., are often considered the 
> minimum in a new or rehabbed house. A stainless steel sink can be had for 
> $100 and a quartz, marble, granite, or slate kitchen sink for $1000+. 
> Multiply the difference for a 30 unit cohousing community and the range might 
> be from $300 to 3,000+. Composites are less expensive but have a shorter life.
> 3. Flooring in bathrooms is usually ceramic tile because it tolerates water 
> best. Ceramic tile can be from 20-40 cents a SF for plain white. Traffic 
> master tan, 50 cents to $5.00+ for more decorative tiles. A  5 x 10SF floor, 
> just for tiles, Might cost $15 to $250. For 30 bathrooms, $450 to $7500. And 
> if larger units have 2 baths or 1 1/2 baths, it costs that much more.
> 4. Wall board, electrical wiring and outlets, duct work, number of windows, 
> flooring, sprinkler heads, stairways, closet doors ? all these things 
> increase with size. And with quality. Small unit may have 5-7 sprinkler heads 
> for a 2-bedroom and, 21-27 for a 3 bedroom with a den and a basement. Those 
> all have to be inspected and replaced from time to time. An ongoing cost that 
> is much greater for large units.
> It?s very hard to keep costs low enough for a household income of $50,000, 
> approx. the median wage in the US. Half earn less than that. A household 
> earning $10 an hour will have $6240 for housing costs using the accepted 
> formula for being housing-secure.
> It?s very hard for people who have higher incomes to hold the line so lower 
> income people can afford units. I question how large the range of SF costs 
> can be. The average cost per SF is 154 SF but that is an average many parts 
> of the US are higher than  that. The average size of newly constructed homes 
> is 2,776 SF and costs $427,893 to build. Condominiums average 1200 SF, or 
> 20?x30?. 
> Homeowners who want the amenities and finishes that are normally expected in 
> the $500,000 house market, how can other units be kept to prices that 
> low-income households can afford. 
> Customization is very expensive. If you have watched a multi-unit residential 
> building being built, you see construction workers, electricians, plumbers, 
> etc., all running around at the same time trying to remember if this is the 
> unit that gets green tile and 2 sinks or the one with a bidet and red tile. 
> The building is still a wood plank structure with no numbers when some 
> workers have to begin their work. Which space is the kitchen and where is the 
> bathroom?
> If all the floor tiles are the same and all the sinks the same size, the job 
> can be done much more quickly, with less supervision, and fewer mistakes that 
> have to be corrected. I once moved into an apartment in a complex of 7 
> buildings. Our building was the only one finished. The other apartments were 
> for the construction workers who travelled all over the country to build for 
> this contractor. In the evenings they invited us in to hang with them. The 
> stories they told were horrendous. Of all the mistakes they had made and why. 
> And how many more construction days it took to correct them. That?s why only 
> our building had been finished ? we had signed a lease a year before. They 
> were a bit behind. 
> For budget for operating the building, I recommend finding a building manager 
> in the area who manages a building the size of yours and ask what maintenance 
> costs are. Even if they don?t give you figures, they will be able to advise 
> you on which systems are hardest to maintain, etc. There are professional 
> managers associations, condo management companies, etc. One may not be 
> willing to talk to you but another one will. People who like their work love 
> to talk about it. That?s the person you need to find.
> Many a day I?ve wished we had had a maintenance person look at our 
> construction plans and tell us how much harder this or that would be. Like 
> fixtures on a 2 story ceiling that need new light bulbs. Interior surfaces 
> that are unreachable. They look wonderful unless you are on the maintenance 
> team.
> Thinking in terms of 30% of income, might be the best target to ensure 
> building income diversity in the community. I think it would be easier to 
> limit the top cost to the average income or it will be too hard to keep the 
> costs down. 
> Sharon
> ----
> Sharon Villines
> Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC
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