Re: [External] 30% of Income Cohousing [was Unit price and budget questions
From: Janet Boys (
Date: Sat, 21 Nov 2020 08:58:30 -0800 (PST)
Thank you, Sharon. I ditto Elisabeth K. Baker

I particularly appreciate your statement about people with higher
incomes... Recently I read in a letter to the Denver Post about the
protests for Black Lives Matter and at sporting venues - "Equality is seen
as oppression by the privileged". So having "lower quality" fixtures for
all so that all can afford it, is seen as oppression - "why can't I have
what I want (when I can pay for it)?" I don't know if you can draw a hard
line and say no customization during the original build, but I suggest you
try if you really want to have housing at lower per SF costs. Maybe you
could give some paint color choices? Also having open shelves (no cupboard
doors) would allow owners to add the doors later at their own expense and
sense of decor. Leaving them off is cheaper, and makes it easier for those
who have disabilities, and it allows infrequent users of the common house
easy visual reminders of where different things are kept without physical
barriers to skirt when using the common house kitchen.

This will probably increase cost, but I sure wish we had a few outlets in
the floor of the common areas so that electrical things do not always have
to be by walls to eliminate the tripping over cords. Safety is very

Good luck.
Janet Boys
Aria Cohousing Community
Denver, CO
Email me individually to get my phone # if you want to talk by phone. I do
not answer unless I know who is calling....

On Thu, Nov 19, 2020 at 3:01 PM Sharon Villines via Cohousing-L <
cohousing-l [at]> wrote:

> 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
> _________________________________________________________________
> Cohousing-L mailing list -- Unsubscribe, archives and other info at:

Janet Boys
(267) 235-3014
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