Re: Low Income [ was Affordable Cohousing
From: David Mandel (
Date: Wed, 23 Sep 2015 13:20:29 -0700 (PDT)
Thanks all for the constructive debate.

To reiterate more explicitly part of what I said:
In today's social-economic paradigm, owning a house is seen not only as a
obtaining a home but as an investment, a means of accumulating individual
wealth -- sometime the latter given more importance than the former. This
is fostered by many public policies (e.g. lack of rent control and eviction
protection; (environmentally disastrous as well) zoning favoring single
family homes; unlimited tax deductions for mortgage interest for
owner-occupants and landlords alike, retrograde property tax systems ...
and more. This distorts and undermines healthy social relationships,
creates precariousness and instability for most low-income people who have
no choice but to rent and severely limits mobility for lower-middle income
people who do manage to buy but may be locked in to what they have due to
economic necessity and legal restrictions.

Decent, affordable housing needs to become recognized as a human right for
all and not a means to accumulate individual wealth. There are plenty of
others ways to accomplish the latter, though I'd like to think it would
diminish in importance (an obsession, really) under the social revolution
that would transform housing and that needs to make other basic human needs
-- a job, living wages, healthcare, education, culture, etc. -- into
guaranteed rights as well.

Of course it will be a long-term struggle to achieve this, and I accept
that meanwhile we need to take small steps that can make lives better
within the existing oppressive system. But I believe it's important not to
lose sight of the big picture -- and to design/adopt small steps that will
more likely promote the larger transformation that's needed.

A good positive example is community land trusts as co-owners and providers
of affordable housing, as described by Ann. They are permanent, as opposed
to many other forms of subsidy, don't require much if any further subsidy
after initial formation, and can be designed to enable modest accumulation
of individual wealth as long as that's a high value under capitalism. Land
trusts truly create affordable housing one or a few at a time, but if they
take off and proliferate, as they have in some places (Vermont is another
example), the change can start becoming qualitative.

Does anyone have experience using the land trust model in a condominium
development, which is most typical for cohousing? It's possible that the
limited equity co-op model, which can accomplish similar results, is more

David Mandel, Sacramento (Southside Park Cohousing)

On Wed, Sep 23, 2015 at 8:28 AM, Ann Zabaldo <zabaldo [at]> wrote:

> 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
> 703.688.2646
> > 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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> >
> >
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