Re: Variations on low cost housing
From: Tim Mensch (
Date: Mon, 19 May 2008 13:16:50 -0700 (PDT)
Marganne wrote:
I'm part of a growing portion of the population who have already raised families, have retired, or have become disabled because science has found many ways to prolong life. Aren't Baby Boomers the quickest growing portion of the population now?
The Baby Boomer population is pretty static, not counting attrition. I think you mean that, as Baby Boomers age, they're increasing the size of higher age brackets...
If 'building small' isn't the issue, I'd like know more about the other issues. Am I missing something important that makes creation of low cost housing in suburban, rural or fringe areas only for people who can afford $300,000+? (I am a California native, so I'm able to miss a lot of things!) ;-)
Zoning, which has been panned a lot on this list recently, is also sometimes used to prevent sprawl. The farther apart you build housing, the more infrastructure you need: It's a lot more energy- and cost-effective to build close to where others live (i.e., higher density) than to have to provide services to small clusters or individual houses in the boonies.

You can decide to live "off-the-grid" for your traditional utilities--have a well and a septic system, generate your own electricity, etc., but city and county planners still need to take you into account for purposes of planning emergency services. The libertarians on the list (you know who you are) will likely reply that they're adults, and they know the risks of living out in the middle of nowhere, but the reality is that we live in a society that values human life and health, and if someone out there calls 911 for an emergency, they may need to send a helicopter to rush you to a hospital in time...
I have a gut resistance to the idea that low cost equals shared walls and high density. I also realize my level of knowledge about construction and building pales in comparison to many people on this list. Which is why I'm here asking more questions. :-)
Shared walls lowers cost not only for building, but for heating and cooling. A shared wall is basically r-infinity.
Shared walls to save money seems logical. So why can't shared-wall homes be made for less than $100,000 per? If you spend 20-40K for a kit house or modular home to be placed on a 50K lot that already has water and sewer, what are the extra costs that take it to beyond affordable?
"Already has water and sewer" implies to me that it's not really that rural--and therefore you have neighbors who (for right or wrong) care what kinds of house you put on that lot. Most rural zoning (in areas I'm familiar with) forbid such a high density as well.

Wishful thinking aside, many many people care what the House Next Door looks like, and that therefore affects property values. Even if you absolutely promise to keep up the yard and paint just fine, what if something causes you to need to move after a couple years? It's reasonable to assume that the next owner might be buying there because, well, they don't have much money--and can't afford niceties like new paint. Also, what if it's snatched up by an investor to rent out? Renters statistically don't keep as good care of a yard and house as owners, and an inexpensive house in a nice area would be attractive to an investor.

A built-up house has a lot of momentum, and will likely stay there for dozens of years. That's another reason why it scares people to have a tiny (prefab?) house next door: If the change is for the worse, it's likely impossible to reverse after the fact.
(I'm really not trying to pick a fight here... REALLY. I'm trying to find a way for people like myself to gain the advantages of living in community...or understand the reason why we can't.)
No offense taken here. :)

One suggestion, and some food-for-thought: Here in Boulder, CO, where a decent lot can cost ~$250k, and a nice lot tops a million (we're talking one with no house, BTW), you can rent a space in a mobile-home park for ~$500/month, and you can buy a mobile home to put in it for ~$20k. $500/month is less than you'd pay on a $100k loan, and $20k is about what you'd need to put down on that same loan. So, if you truly don't care what size a neighbor's house is, and you're also not looking for an investment, but rather just a place to live, it seems like finding a "Manufactured Home" (MH) zoned area and just putting your Really Small House there would actually be the answer. If you're also looking for the cohousing-style of community, then either follow the suggestions in Superbia (do a Google search for the book name) or find a park with a number of spaces near to each other, and create your own cohousing sub-group within the mobile home park. With only 10 people, you could buy an extra mobile home to use as a common house and share its rent for only $2000 down and $50/month. Of course you'd not appreciate, as a group, the incredible bonding experience that is the creation of a full-fledged cohousing development, but I'm beginning to feel that's overrated anyhow... ;)

I bring this up in part because so many people were complaining that it was impossible to live in a city in small houses; it just requires that you practice what you preach in not caring that your neighbors also living in small manufactured housing. For what its worth, there's a MH-zoned area just a couple blocks from me here in Boulder, and people there have access to the same schools and services that I do--so MH-zoning doesn't necessarily mean undesirable area. In fact the entire complex is well-kept and very attractive. MH zoning also exists in more rural settings--there's one such at the south tip of Boulder that I just discovered, for instance. If you want a small house on a really large lot, then it's between you and the local zoning board... ;)

But me...I need my elbow room. I've tried voluntary simplicity, and even a form of "involuntary" simplicity, but my hobbies are too "big" to fit in a really small unit...and I need a home office and kid bedrooms. But if you can make the small lifestyle work, then that sounds great! Maybe someday I'll learn how...


Tim Mensch

Currently at Wild Sage (Boulder, CO):

Founding member of Tumblerock, a Boulder, CO area community in its forming 

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