Re: Affordable Cohousing, Renters vs Owners
From: tom shea (
Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2008 11:35:48 -0800 (PST)
Hypothetical:    If you were be part of a group of folks interested in 
developing a new cohousing community and the group was unsure (no one has a 
strong opinion either way) with whether to develop single family or joined 
units (i.e. shared walls and roofs vs stand alone homes) which way would you 
want to go?  Why?   Would you design all units or allow individuals to design 
build (assuming stand alone homes)?
Tom Shea

Message: 3
Date: Sun, 13 Jan 2008 09:44:39 -0500
From: Sharon Villines <sharon [at]>
Subject: [C-L]_ Affordable Cohousing, Renters vs Owners
To: tom shea <sheamuson [at]>
Cc: cohousing-l [at]
Message-ID: <54F213AA-3DC0-4F8D-ACB7-4644DB485A34 [at]>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII; format=flowed; delsp=yes

On Jan 12, 2008, at 11:58 PM, tom shea wrote:

> I am indeed speaking of affordable as "ability to pay" rather than a   
> refection of regional market price.  You also raise the concept of  
> egalitarian community (build to the same standards).  Do you think  
> that putting everyone on a level playing field in this manner from  
> day one would discourage potential future investors (i.e. community  
> members) once built units return to the market, or for that matter  
> prevent initial investors?  Is there enough individuality on the  
> interior of units to prevent this from occurring?  Would different  
> standards apply to rental units verses owned?

In cohousing the investors are the people who will live in the housing   
-- outside investors are rare. There could be variation in the size of   
the units (studio, one bedroom, etc) but smaller will always be less  
expensive. The costs that you have less control over are land value  
and the simple square footage costs of construction required by  
building codes. Codes can greatly influence the price of a house. 60  
minutes once did a  piece on single-room occupancy housing. The  
builder could build twice as cheaply in I think it was Seattle than he   
could in Manhattan because of out dated building code requirements.  
Land and codes are why many communities can build more cheaply in  
rural areas.

These are the costs that make smaller less expensive. Above that you  
can only control things like number of bathrooms, surface treatments,  
quality of kitchen cabinets, etc.

I don't think the need for less expensive housing will go away anytime   
soon. And the various homeowners will upgrade their homes differently  
so there will be variation. It won't affect resale value to have the  
units all look alike. Developers do this as standard practice in all  
condominiums and housing developments. It simplifies construction,  
purchasing, and inventory, thus reduces labor costs.

It is also very convenient to have a unit with a floor plan like my  
neighbors because I can see how they arrange their furniture or  
replace a cabinet or add a counter. It gives me ideas. And we all  
complain about the same things.

Different standards for rentals and owned units is something that I  
think has led to the differing values applied to renters vs owners.  
This originated when there were class issues associated with owning  
vs. renting. The more educated and affluent could afford to own.  
Others had to rent -- no choice. This led to housing that reflected  
socio-economic class differences reinforced by cheap, substandard  
housing and declining neighborhoods. Deteriorating or out of favor  
homes, like urban townhouses for example, were chopped up into  
apartments. Many did not even have bathtubs and they shared toilets.  
This led to renters being less invested in their homes and in their  
neighborhoods. Vicious cycle. The housing projects in urban areas were   
doomed to failure.

Developers still follow practices like putting more expensive  
countertops in larger homes --if you can afford 5 bedrooms and a three   
car garage you can afford granite countertops. If they are building a  
one bedroom, they put in the cheapest formica. The idea of smaller but   
the same quality is not standard practice. Nor is quality in rented vs   

A developer is building high-end rentals near me. In Manhattan it is  
common to rent and there I've seen 400 sq ft studios with marble  
bathrooms and huge lobbies and common areas in rentals. So this  
attitude might be changing but in real estate nothing changes fast  
except prices.

Sorry this is so long, but it took me a long time to realize that  
cohousing is housing -- it's real estate development. It may be real  
estate development attached to community but real estate is what  
distinguishes cohousing from other kinds of community. And it has  
grown exponentially since professional real estate developers have  
become interested. I like to share that perspective with new cohousers   
because it helps to get to that understanding quickly.

Sharon Villines
Sociocracy, a Deeper Democracy

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