Re: Low cost housing
From: James Kacki (
Date: Tue, 13 May 2008 12:08:53 -0700 (PDT)
So what happened? Are you still planning a CoHo project?

On 13-May-08, at 1:22 PM, Brian Bartholomew wrote:

The messages about affordable cohousing, I think, are still
confusing "affordable" with "low cost."

"Affordable" housing is a government defined concept that varies
from location to location

If we could talk in terms of "low cost," instead of "affordable," it
might be closer to what people are complaining doesn't exist on this
list or in cohousing.

The group I was a part of was willing to pay a maximum total buy-in
per family of $125K.  We had a good percentage of people doing social
work and working in nonprofits, and that number was sane given their
income.  There was a strong interest by some in trying to shrink that
to $50K.  City mandates pushed the minimum up to $225K, which was the
ordinary commercial price in the area for a subdivision constructed by
a builder.  Here is a quick breakdown of how city and county zoning
prevented us from building low-cost housing:

Some of us wanted to self-build in an evolving campsite manner.
Others of us wanted site-built conventional-looking houses.  We
internally agreed we could live together if we separated the two camps
with a visual screen like a row of evergreen trees.

The city indicated that any unusual subdivision would have to meet the
requirements of a Planned Unit Development (PUD).

We were willing to live with a crushed limerock road draining to
shallow grass-filled ditches.  This kind of road would support fire
trucks just fine.  There is a lot of this style of road in
neighborhoods in the county, however we wanted to build much closer in
to the city so we were on a bus line and could bike commute.  A PUD
required asphalt roads, curbs, storm drains, sidewalks, streetlights.

Being a PUD, all house foundation footprints would have to be approved
up front, at the same time.  There could be no evolving sequence of
ever-more substantial houses on one lot over 15 years.

Being a PUD means the whole development is on one set of building
permits.  To close these permits and get off the construction loan and
onto individual mortgages, everything would have to be built and
finished in less than 2 years.  This timeline requires a professional
builder.  That means pro builder prices, conventional mortgage instead
of out of cashflow, conventionally SIZED mortgage.

Tents, pop-up camper trailers, and Winnebagos were not city-acceptable
living quarters for any amount of time, even during construction.
Permanent mobile home trailers were not zoning-mixable with site-built
permanent houses in the same PUD.  Mobile home trailers might be
acceptable during 1-2 years of construction, if they were removed
immediately after contruction completion.  Existing zoning was for
site-built permanent houses.

Government grants are simply your own tax money handed back to you.
They are just a cheap accounting trick.  There is no net reduction in
resources used, and therefore no improvement in sustainability.  We
did not pursue such things.

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