Affordability of cohousing
From: Fred H Olson WB0YQM (
Date: Fri, 2 Dec 94 12:02 CST
Recently in a message to me, Jim McNeill, managing editor of the 
publication In These Times "the alternative newsmagazine" itt [at]

>I've always been under the impression that [cohousing has] been 
>limited mostly to fairly upscale families, but Joel insisted that this 
>wasn't this case. I'm eager to be disabused of my small-minded prejudice.

My (Fred Olson's) response:

Depending on what's meant by "upscale families", I would probably agree.
Most people who have actually moved into cohousing in the U.S. have
better than average incomes.  Lots of things are easier to do with
more money; however the ideas of cohousing appeal to people of all 
economic means.  Some of us hope that in time more affordable cohousing
communities can be developed.  Similarly some of us hope this can be done 
in the urban core areas.

New construction factor.
To date cohousing has most often been implemented thru new construction
which makes it fairly expensive.  Hopes of a few years ago that savings 
could be made by shared facilities allowing smaller individual units have 
not happened to date.  So far individual units have not been substantially 
smaller so costs of new construction have tended to be comparable to 
newly constructed townhouses.  The cost is a function of what 
each group decides to build.  

The other way to reduce cost to residents is thru some sort of subsidy.  To 
date this has not happened much either tho the Sacramento Calif Southside 
Park Cohousing Group is noteworthy.  Some units were made "affordable" thru 
subsidized second mortgages for elgible residents.  Shortage of money for 
subsidized housing generally makes it difficult to argue that cohousing 
should be subsidized.  

One hope is that the success of cohousing generally 
will influence the development of housing - subsidized and otherwise.
Also cohousing is not primarily about architecture but rather about
people designing and operating their community cooperatively.  Subsidized
housing generally has not allowed for this sort of involvement of residents.

Thirdly housing subsidy bureacracies don't generally know how to work with
mixed income comunities which cohousing groups often want to build. 

Cohousing in existing housing.
Probably the best hope for more affordable cohousing is by converting 
existing housing to cohousing.  But this is not easy either.  Existing 
housing ususally is occupied and the conversion / transition can be
difficult. The most notable example is the the N Street community in Davis 
California which evolved over a period of years and at some point decided 
that what it was doing was cohousing.  Another example is the Cornerstones
Community which hopes to buy 20 duplexes currently owned by one
owner and rented.  The Andersen Lane group that I was a part of
gave up when we could not acquire all houses on a block in South 
Minneapolis; we were unwilling to undertake an evolutionary approach on 
that site.

In conclusion, I'd say some cohousing activists are working to make 
cohousing happen for people of modest incomes with limited success.

Too limited.  In reviewing Cohousing-L messages, I read a message from
earlier this year about a cohousing group with impressive low income goals; 
then I reviewed a recent (private) message from the same author.
She is dropping out because she feels she will be unable to afford
to live in the community based on current estimates.  :(


Fred H. Olson   fholson [at]   (612)588-9532  Amateur radio: WB0YQM
1221 Russell Av N, Minneapolis, MN 55411 Sysop of      || Twin Cities | 
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