Re: Variations on low cost housing
From: Rod Lambert (
Date: Mon, 19 May 2008 14:36:37 -0700 (PDT)
Getting it Built affordably,

A suggestion for a different approach:

With the second neighborhood here (SoNG at Ecovillage at Ithaca, NY) where I live, members said they wanted more input into their homes with this nbhd then had been afforded the first nbhd. which was built more conventionally. After substantially completing the design and development phase and having got most of the permits, I began carefully interviewing construction managers recommending this approach and a final manager selection to the group.

As an employee (carrying their own insurances) the manager’s primary concern is to benefit the client (the group) S/He does not have to cut corners to try to meet a contract price and, if you chose with costs in mind, s/he will be keen to meet owner’s expectations around price.

The group avails itself of the manager’s buying power/discounts at local suppliers without markup. It also benefits from their ability to get quality subtrades when needed and at good prices. The group also can exercise the option of sweat equity which can be a major affordability strategy, although as already observed, major involvement works better with those who have some building experience. Three of the houses here were built by owners with many others having substantial inputs including two strawbale homes. And this approach still allowed others to ask for virtual turnkey homes – “call me when its done”.

The manager, in return, gets a steady, reliable paycheck with little risk.

As said, this is somewhat of a hybrid approach in that, while the “owner” takes on part of the risk, it is able to substantially mitigate that risk by collecting firm quotes on the separate parts which go together to make the whole. Even with a so-called fixed price contract there are the inevitable “extras” and change orders costing an arm and a leg. And there’s the risk of being in an adversarial relationship with your builder who can be tempted to cut corners worried about “eating” cost overruns (against which he has already padded his price – the more “unusual” the project the more the padding)

The hybrid method has been used with considerable success here, and also at White Hawk for which I did the early development management.

A caveat with the hybrid approach is, that in allowing more freedom of choice, the prospective owner must exercise serious discipline if the budget is king. They must “follow the script” to meet budget and not be tempted to emulate what their neighbor is doing to their house (“feature creep”). It also requires frequent updates on cost estimates so that the owner quickly sees the results of making changes. Several people here did follow the script and got very low cost, well-built homes. ($70/sf in 2003) But several people also paid significantly more then they originally expected mostly because of the reasons mentioned above. (However almost everyone got good value for what they paid.)

Having some experience with this approach now I am convinced that more cohousing start-ups should at least evaluate its’ suitability for themselves.

Rod Lambert
(Village Green Development)

>I don't think "building small" is the issue.  Is it not more an issue
>or issues of other expectations?   "Small" plus a lot of land plus all
>high tech amenities plus being in a really good, high-end neighborhood
>if for no other reason than the good schools and  libraries high-end
>neighborhoods have?

Marganne wrote:

I'd agree a majority of people entering cohousing have good reasons
to want to live in or near an urban area. Not everyone who wants a sense of community has children's education or city-tied jobs to consider.

Perhaps we need to agree on clearer definitions for words like urban, suburban and rural. Or perhaps I'm the one that needs the clarification.

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?

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!) ;-) 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 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?

(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.)

(Running away and ducking down)

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