Re: Low Income [ was Affordable Cohousing
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Wed, 23 Sep 2015 06:46:39 -0700 (PDT)
> On Sep 22, 2015, at 1:04 PM, David Mandel <dlmandel [at]> wrote:
>   - Getting into a community is a great first step for a low-income
>   household. But expenses of upkeep and improvements tend to increase with
>   time, and a community dominated by market rate buyers may tend to tax
>   itself more and more without considering the effect on less financially
>   able neighbors, or to adopt policies like paying more in lieu of doing
>   work, ostensibly allowing choice -- but in fact, only for those who can
>   afford it. Consciousness of promoting affordability, therefore, must be
>   sustained beyond initial purchase.

This is exactly why I think a community has to be built as a low income 
community from the start and not an economically diverse community. Diversity 
is like a rubber band. Wonderfully adaptable until it is stretched too far. 
Both middle and low income households have expectations, requirements, and 
interests that can cause conflict. In the long run the groups become a burden 
to each other when forced to live by the same rules at home. “At home” is the 
factor that changes the weight of equality. "It’s in my home that I have to 
live with things the way other people live with them."

To range from affordable to market rate is a 20% range in diversity. To include 
low income is a 40%+ range, but is actually much more. There is a threshold of 
basic income that all households have to meet. Discretionary spending in a low 
income household is all but non-existent. There is no margin for monthly condo 
fee creep. A 3% increase that the typical cohousing owner expects every year is 
a significant burden for low income households. Their incomes only grow when 
they take a second or third job.

> Probably the best existing means to guarantee permanent affordability is to
> have individual homes be part of a nonprofit community land trust, with
> ownership bifurcated between real estate and improvements -- though I
> suppose it would be tricky to do this with a condominium community.

The problem with non-ownership, restrictions on resale prices, and subsidies is 
that low income people also need to build a sustainable future. We had a family 
move to Takoma Village as renters from a community in California (not 
cohousing) that was a non-ownership model. They had physically built their home 
themselves and helped others build theirs. But unless they stayed, they had no 
financial benefit from that. In their late 50s they had no equity to purchase 
anywhere else.  When they moved closer to a better musical education for their 
daughter, they had a much lower standard of living and were having difficulty 
providing the musical education their daughter for which they had moved.

The best way to limit prices is to build to the price. Still everything that 
goes up, goes up. It’s called capitalism. Why shouldn’t low income people have 
the same ability to become self-sustaining as other households?

In Manhattan there are huge numbers of rent-controlled and subsidized 
apartments. City-owned housing projects that are every bit as nice as 
market-rate housing. They not only have upper limits on income but lower limits 
as well—some are designed for middle income households. Many of them much 
larger and nicer than most of us could afford. (Mia Farrow has one on Central 
Park with many bedrooms and paid less than the rent for a 500 SF apartment in 
much less desirable neighborhoods.) The system is open to abuse and aids those 
who certainly don’t need it as well as those who do. Incomes are measured when 
you enter the system, and not checked later. Once in, you are in. But you are 
also trapped in the system, just like the homeless.

I think there must be better ways to help people participate in the economy and 
to build sustainable lifestyles. Different architecture, different living 
standards, and understanding economics is one way to make housing more 
available. If the household from California had both built their house and 
owned it, they would have also been building enough personal wealth to 
establish a sustainable lifestyle elsewhere. Like the rest of the people who 
own houses.

Cohousing developments are real estate developments that significantly create 
wealth. But we need to figure out how to build wealth for the low income 
household as well as the middle income household. Income inequality has to be 
fixed as well but all we can do here is focus on what we can do today. 
Protesting in the streets won’t house anyone right now.

Sharon Villines
Sociocracy: A Deeper Democracy

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