Re: Affordability
From: vbradova (
Date: Wed, 5 Apr 2000 09:35:44 -0600 (MDT)

I have decided to summarize the various points Chris Hanson makes in his book
regarding affordability, since they are scattered thruout the book, and add
a few of my own. Quotes are Hanson's.

* Dream big. You cannot achieve much of an economy of scale with 10 units. "The
more units you create, the less each one will cost, because fixed costs are
distributed over more units."

* Skip elaborate by-laws; incorporate cheaply and quickly when the need arises,
using standard templates.

* Consider designating some units as limited equity units for perpetuity (which
also means limiting the improvements that can be done to them by any one owner).

* Build some rental units for families that cannot buy (yet).

* Buy more land than you need, then sell some later to help finance the 
Buy land with a structure that can be rented for the time being.
* Build modest size private units (and compensate with generous common 
Reduce room size and the number of rooms. Keep the number of bathrooms to a

* Avoid the extra expense of an extended design process. "Let the architect
design the private dwellings. In my experience, the cost of participatory desing
is high, and the result is often less exciting than what can be designed 
by an experienced architect. One of the costs, besides the time and money, is
the bad feelings that can result when no one family gets the private unit they
actually had in mind." Select an architect whose work you like, provide them
with instructions your group prepared, and stay out of their way as much as

* Standardize! Go with a minimum number of floor plans, kitchen and bath 
siding, roofing, windows and specific equipment such as refrigerators, hardware,
plumbing fixtures, moldings, etc. Customization is enormously expensive. Allow
a small set number of custom options, and encourage the members to customize
individually after the construction is complete. Limit use of nonstandard 
and construction methods. "A well-designed, modest kitchen that can be modified
to suit individual needs after moving in, will go a long way toward reducing
project costs."

* Design the houses with some parts unfinished. When I bought my first house
years ago (a triplex townhouse), the downstairs bed-bath area was roughed in
and unfinished. (It eventually cost the next owner over $6000 to finish it.)
I barely squeaked in for the mortage, and would not have been able to afford
it were it all finished. I recently read about a community that left one floor
of its common house unfinished also. This can have the added advantage of being
able to customize the unfinished space.

* Create a separate budget for unconventional features and innovative 
And look for grants to help finance them.

* Use life-cycle costing for various materials and equipment. Long term 
is as important as short term affordability. "Choosing materials and equipment
with lower operating and maintenance costs will probably have higher initial
capital costs, but they usually pay for themselves over time."

* Reduce roads, driveways, and paving, and simplify alignments so that 
costs less. Build in tight clusters.

* Consider stacked units, or shared units, if possible. Building a few larger
units will reduce the cost of the smaller units, if you have some members who
can afford the large units.

* Simplify everything!

* Work with building codes rather than against them.
* Do not allow ANY customization during the costruction process, even if the
developer is willing to go along. (Even if members agree to pay for last minute
changes themselves, some very substantial costs will accrue to the developer
and the community as a whole.)

* Allow tree removal as needed; else build a clause into the construction 
that will make specified tree removal an expensive proposition for the builder
but expect that this will cost you.

* Sweat equity: reserve it for post-construction clean up and landscaping. 
let the do-it-yourselfers in your group keep your project from getting off the
ground. A common challenge for many groups is the desire for some members to
take on more than they can handle. Not wanting to spend money, they will attempt
to do everything by themselves. I have seen this kill several cohousing groups."

* "Letting go and staying out of the way is the most important thing you can
do during the construction process. Meddling, interfering or in any manner 
in the way of the contractor's progress will quite simply cost the community

Vera Bradova, NY

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