Re: Truly affordable cohousing
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sat, 10 May 2008 16:33:13 -0700 (PDT)

On May 9, 2008, at 7:32 PM, Marganne wrote:

I'm looking for help from those of you who are very creative and can
think outside the affordability box.

I think there is a huge market for low cost cohousing. The definition of "affordable" is actually "average" home prices in a given area. It varies from one place and one program, but more people are below the "average" because they are not in the market on which this determination is made.

Like most cohousing projects, the best way to get one is to start one.

I don't remember where you live but it would make sense to begin exploring the zoning laws there to see what is possible. If trailer parks are allowed, for example, I would assume container homes would be as well. And the small home kits, it seems would be welcome anywhere.

I recently saw something similar constructed on a lot in a medium size town in MD. Two artists built two small houses on one lot, one on the street and one behind that were live work studios. They had a bedroom upstairs, kitchen and bath downstairs, and the living room was their studio. Each was perfectly livable for one person. And they filled the whole lot with a small path on one side and small gardens all around -- small being 2-3 feet, enough to soften the appearance of the foundations.

I also saw a free standing bank vault that has been renovated into a house. It was VERY small. Maybe 15 ft square and not two stories tall. Two men lived there. They created a half-floor for the upstairs barely large enough to hold a bed, a closet, a wine rack, and a bathroom. Downstairs was a small living room/kitchen and a half bath. It was lovely but it was only a bit larger than the parking space they had beside it. But they were in the heart of the city with a parking space and could walk to work.

In starting a community where you live, I think you have to emphasize from the beginning that this is a low cost development -- no ifs ands or buts. Otherwise you get distracted, or co-opted. The problems of large houses with lots of options are not yours to think about. Just focus and attract people like yourself.

Rob suggested a lot development model, but the problem with this is that most people don't have the upfront money such a project requires, or the ability to carry a mortgage until the house gets built. There are inevitable delays and people can't pay the cost of two housing situations at the same time.

Prefab projects must be more dependable in terms of predictable construction times. You may have to shop for financing but all the early cohousing communities had to shop for financing. Low cost cohousing has been a dream of many people for a long time. If a model could be created, there would be great demand. And I'm sure there would be a lot of help on this list.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing,Washington DC

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