building codes, zoning, affordable housing, etc.
From: Kristen Simmons (
Date: Tue, 13 May 2008 11:51:30 -0700 (PDT)
I wasn't going to get involved on this discussion, but I can't seem stop

Building codes, elevators and other things:
As an architect, I highly recommend that all developing cohousing groups
consult with a licensed architect for their common house design. Your
architect is familiar with the appropriate building codes in your
jurisdiction. Building codes are determined by each state and are sometimes
amended by municipalities. They also change over the time. To further
complicate things, applicable codes sometimes overlap and contradict each
other, and they are subject to different interpretations by the local
inspector and fire marshal. This stuff isn't easy (or much fun). If you feel
uncomfortable with your architect's code interpretation, you can hire a code
consultant, whose specialty is code interpretation!

By the way, building codes are designed to protect the health, safety, and
welfare of building occupants. Something that might be ok for a single
family home may not be ok (or code compliant) for a common house which is
used by many different people, i.e. the guests who visit for the weekend who
are unfamiliar with the building. Accessibility codes address the needs of
any user with special and different needs, not just wheel chair users. A
critical component is the accessible means of egress (in case of fire),
which an elevator might be a part of. Modern building codes, by the way,
were create in response to tragic (and preventable) building disasters. such
as the Cocoanut Grove fire in which 492 people died.

Affordable housing:
Here in Boston, we don't use this term lightly. There is a legal definition
and city requirements for affordable units to be a part of any development.
Stony Brook Cohousing, which is now forming, will have units that meet the
city requirements. We also hope to have low cost housing.

Speaking for myself here, when I think of low cost housing, I think about
the first cost of buying my home,and also the costs of using and maintaining
it. The biggest cost to homeowners (after their mortgage) is utilities,
including heating, water, electricity, etc. Designing low cost houses that
are expensive to use or maintain is not a solution for people who have
limited incomes. (By the way, mechanical systems that deliver heating,
water, etc. total about 30-35% of the cost of a new house. Invisible things
like mechanical systems, structure, sound proofing, etc. are frequently
quite costly!)

Locating housing far away from cities is another way to reduce housing
costs, at the expense of potentially increasing transportation costs and
environmental impact of transportation.

Whether zoning is good or bad is a discussion for another day. Certainly
zoning can be used to exclude somethings which maybe shouldn't be excluded.
On the other hand, home values (and safety) are maintained when zoning
prevents hazardous uses from locating in residential areas, for example. The
best way to avoid both building codes and zoning is to move to the sticks.
Zoning can always be appealed and frequently is. Many projects, including
cohousing developments, require variances. This is just one of the costs of
doing development.

Have been in the building profession a while, I amazed that anything ever
gets built. Ever. The complexity of everything and the sheer number of
people involved, including architect, owners, financiers, contractors,
laborers, etc. is beyond belief, even for simple projects. Cohousing groups
take this on, while also making their goal of community a reality. It takes
a lot of faith. Or a lot of ignorance. :-D

One of the reasons that I didn't want to get involved in this discussion was
because some posters seemed to be judging others on the list. Maybe that was
not the intention of the posters. But it did make me want to stay away.

This is very different from my experiences with built cohousing
communitieis. I have visited a number of cohousing communities and talked to
members of many others. I invariably struck by the thoughtful, caring people
I have met.

Stony Brook Cohousing., now forming in Boston, MA

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