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Making cohousing affordable: Strategies and successes, part 3 of 3

by Renee Hart, a founding member of CoHo Ecovillage

There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that Mike Volpe, the president of CoHo Ecovillage, was meant to have a home there, in the cohousing community now being built in Corvallis, Oregon. Mike wasn’t nearly as optimistic. Owning a home would mean giving up his Medicaid benefits, and that simply wasn’t an option. Mike has had primary progressive Multiple Sclerosis since he was 23. This particular form of MS is relentless in its pursuit, and it pursued Mike’s health with a vengeance, gradually taking away his ability to walk, to move his hands, and to see clearly.

Making cohousing affordable: Strategies and successes, part 2 of 3

by Brad Gunkel, Architect, McCamant & Durrett Architects

The question must have gone through the collective consciousness of more than one cohousing group over the years: “Can we convince affordable housing developers to build affordable cohousing communities?” To the surprise of many cohousers, the answer is actually “yes.”

Making cohousing affordable: Strategies and successes, part 1 of 3

by Betsy Morris, Coho/US Research Director

A glance at a detailed map of U.S. cohousing communities would show that most of us are living in areas of relatively high property values: on the coasts, in college towns or on the outskirts of high-tech growth centers. That’s one reason why making cohousing affordable to the widest possible number of people has been of intense interest to prospective community members throughout the history of the cohousing movement.

Are cohousing homes more affordable than other types of housing?

Affordability varies. Some cohousing neighborhoods now incorporate approaches to maximize affordability, but most often construction, consultants and financing costs are similar to those in any new development. Cohousing homes tend to be comparably priced with other single-family houses, townhouses or condominiums in the area. In addition to your new home, however, you also will benefit from a custom-designed neighborhood and extensive common facilities, as well as ongoing costs that tend to be less than in a typical U.S. home.

How does cohousing provide for residents of different economic means?

Some states, counties or municipalities require developers of multi-family housing to have a certain percentage of the new units meet a standard for “affordability.” People in cohousing usually welcome this, and often wish they could make even more than the required percentage affordable. Unfortunately, unless the developer can get public or private subsidies or grants, a community can build only a limited number of affordable units without significantly driving up everyone else’s costs.

What about rentals?

Many cohousing neighborhoods include a few rental units owned by members who intend to move in later or who are away for a period of time. In some communities, individual households rent out their attached “in-law” apartments or finished basement apartments. Some people want to rent in cohousing to try it out, because they cannot yet afford to buy a unit, or because they want to live in a particular community but no units are currently available for sale. Most residents agree that rental units are a positive addition to a community.

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