Re: Low Income [ was Affordable Cohousing
From: Ann Zabaldo (
Date: Wed, 23 Sep 2015 08:29:05 -0700 (PDT)
I appreciate the good thinking and writing by those commenting on this thread 
about low-income cohousing,

One of the things I observed in Denmark at a community that was built at the 
barest level because all of its members were “low income” (whatever that means 
in Denmark) was the community’s inability to move beyond its bare status.  The 
community members said they labored under the inability to improve anything or 
add anything.  

A mixed income community allows the community as a whole to keep moving forward.

A solution I think has great merit …which may have already been mentioned … is 
putting all the “low income” or “affordable” units in a land trust PERMANENTLY 
with restrictions on resales PERMANENTLY.  This has apparently worked very well 
in North Carolina which has an active and expanding Land Trust system.  Some 
owners in the land trust actually move from one land trust to another they like 
it so much.   The beauty of the NC system as I remember is that it can be a 
land trust of one to multiple to all houses in a community.  It’s spread over 
the whole state.

I really don’t believe grouping all low income into one neighborhood is a good 
idea if the units are to remain low income or affordable.  Isn’t that how 
income ghettos develop?

PS — not clipping any of this thread as I think it’s too rich to truncate …

Best --

Ann Zabaldo
Takoma Village Cohousing
Washington, DC
Principal, Cohousing Collaborative, LLC
Falls Church, VA

> On Sep 23, 2015, at 9:46 AM, Sharon Villines <sharon [at]> 
> wrote:
>> 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
> ----
> Sharon Villines
> Sociocracy: A Deeper Democracy
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