Re: Affordability?
From: Brian Bartholomew (
Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2007 10:57:10 -0700 (PDT)
"April Roggio" <aroggio [at]> writes:

> Are there any cohousing communities that are really affordable?  Not
> cohousing communities that have some sort of small "affordable"
> subsidized housing, but genuinely created by those of us that are
> middle income?

Here is MY opinion on that subject.

What do people in rural areas do when they want to build a house with
no mortgage and a small, irregular cash flow?  They start with a
camper or trailer to be weatherproof and have working plumbing, then
add on to it over time as they have the money.  Roofs are added for
porches, which then become enclosed rooms.  Another strategy I've seen
is to build a basement, put a roof over it, then live in the basement
while you save money for more stories.  With a little more money, you
can do a nice kit house in one step.  See

However, you can't do that in a suburban or urban area, because it is
banned in many overlapping ways.  Zoning bans you from putting a
trailer in the suburbs, having a trailer to live in while you build
your fixed house, or expanding your house with a trailer for an in-law
suite.  Professional trade licensing through unions, city permitting,
and city inspections ban you from doing your own major construction
work or hiring inexpensive workers.  Add up the mandated minimums all
through the system, and you get $200K for a lot and $500K for a house.

All that money represents real resources used too, so a high price
means low sustainability.  Not considering the time value of money, 30
years of a $300/month utility bill is $108K.  If you spend an extra
$200K in house price to reduce your utility bill to zero, you've
wasted a second house's worth of utility resources.


> Shouldn't scale help here?

There is a small positive economy of scale from building several
similar buildings at once, close to each other.  This is overwhelmed
by the large negative economy of scale from the increased permitting,
approval, and city mandated features when you put enough houses
together to be considered a "subdivision" or "planned unit development".
Maybe you don't want to install street lights or paved streets in the
first decade.  You are not allowed that choice.  Maybe you want to mix
trailers, temporary trailers for self-builders, and developer
construction according to the preferences of your residents.  You are
not allowed that choice because such mixed use will never obtain city
approval.  Check your local zoning, I guarantee there is no category
for "anything you want that isn't a health hazard to your neighbors".

Furthermore, I don't expect you will get approval from your internal
cohousing zoning, either.  I can't imagine a trailer in any of the
coho pictures I've seen.  Will your coho group tolerate it?


> Am I being naive?

Houses are so expensive because cheaper possibilities are banned.


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