RE: Affordability of cohousing
From: Munn Heydorn (
Date: Fri, 2 Dec 94 20:15 CST
On Fri, 2 Dec 94 11:56:43 CST
"Fred H Olson WB0YQM" <fholson [at]> said in part:


>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.  

Unless the units and commons building were designed so that serious amounts 
of what would be in a "normal" house were incorporated into the commons 
building, I can't see how any serious cost reductions are really possible.  
The only thing I "hear" here put into the commons building usually are extra 
bedrooms for visitors, kitchen and common dining (But you have still kitchen 
& DR or dining area in the individual houses, I believe), some 
repair/laundry, etc type functions/equipment.  The individual house, it 
seems to me, isn't going to cost that much less and, when the cost for the 
commons is distributed among the individual houses, the total cost is back 
at--or higher--than "normal" housing costs.

>From a building cost view point, to reach lower income folks without other 
subsidy, a design would have to be pretty radical by usual standards to cut 
costs significantly.  Are we ready for units with, say, small bedrooms, a 
living area, bathroom, personal storage closets and a pullman type kitchen, 
period?  Everything else to be in the commons.  That almost borders on a 
family SRO comcept.   Financing them conventionally would be a challenge as 
well.  I suppose other alternatives might include a Habitat type approach 
using sweat equity.  That isn't everyone's cup of tea either and presents 
its own set of hurdles.  

>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.  


With respect to the Southside Park Cohousing Group, I'd like to hear the 
story of what was built/rehabbed, how affordable it was, where subsidy, if 
any, came from...  If I slept through it here.

Subsidy in general--

Subsidy for homebuyers is usually expensive on a per person/family aided 
basis and many jurisdictions are reluctant to go that route because of other 
pressing needs and limited funds (which sound like they might be more 
limited in the future, speaking from a political perspective).  I would 
*really be interested* in stories of urban or suburban areas in which 
affordable units were built/rehabbed/whatever; especially more than one or 
two units tacked on to a larger project.  I wrestle with affordable housing 
issues almost daily at work in an affluent county adjacent to a large city 
(Chicago) and subsidy monies just go so far and mostly to rental units.

We did a first time/low & moderate income homebuyer program here that worked 
fairly well for that group at the margin.  Still, it helped just a few.  
Certainly better than zero though.  When the program was designed there was 
concern about helping the doctor just out of med school in residency who was 
earning little now, but had a potential for big bucks later and we ended up 
with a couple of those types.  I don't mean to pick on drs particularly; 
just an illustration.

Thanks for your eyes and thoughts, almost everytime I hear the word 
"affordable", I react.  I really find this group, although a narrow focue on 
housing, to be quite interesting and thought provoking.  Thanks for all your 
thoughts and efforts.

Note to Fred; I remembered to change the subject from the digest number!  :-)


Munn Heydorn (The words and ideas are mine,
not necessarily agreed to by First Chicago)
First National Bank of Chicago
120 East Wesley;         Wheaton, Illinois 60187; USA
munn [at] (Preferred)  OR   commre [at]
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