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Affordable Cohousing

What Does Affordable Cohousing Look Like?

Design - Cohousing is a type of intentional collaborative community where the residents own or rent fully equipped, self-contained private homes or apartments.  The compact physical design fosters increased interaction between residents by incorporating extensive common facilities, including a community center (common house), pedestrian walkways, playgrounds, community gardens and open spaces.  To make these neighborhoods safe, visually appealing, and pedestrian-friendly, cars are moved to the periphery.  

The Heart of the Community: The Common House - Common houses are central to cohousing communities.  Common houses are places where individuals in the community come together in informal and organized ways. Life and community-building skills are nurtured.  Cohousing communities develop and value thoughtful and informed discussion, engage in group decision-making, and learn to resolve conflicts. Common houses typically include a fully-equipped kitchen, an open area for dining and gathering, a mail room, meeting rooms, a play area for children, and guest rooms.  Many cohousing communities have additional  amenities, including laundries, libraries, exercise facilities, technology centers, workspaces and storage facilities. Typical activities in common houses include one or more community meals each week, concerts,  performances, classes of every kind, and both inter- and intra-community meetings. Physically, shared facilities in the common house means that individual houses can be smaller.

Management and Administration - Cohousing communities are typically planned, owned and managed by the residents. The residents share a common interest in living together as a community and supporting one another—physically, intellectually, and emotionally. 

Cost Benefits of Cohousing - Affordable cohousing is designed not only to lower the cost of entry, but also to minimize the overall costs of maintaining a household.  Community members can share and exchange goods, tools, capabilities, and expertise.  In simply eliminating the unnecessary duplication of assets and effort, costs are reduced and economies of scale are realized.  As a result, cohousing delivers measurable value. Unlike traditional housing arrangements, cohousing is neither a speculative asset nor a sunk cost. Cohousing is first and foremost an activity, and secondarily a physical entity.  Cooperation and reciprocity are the core activities of cohousing communities—ways of being that create real economic value. This is part of the reason why cohousing maintains its value even while other forms of housing are in decline.

Including Units Affordable to Low- and Moderate-Income Households - Affordable cohousing homes should be priced to be affordable to low- and moderate-income households. Most commonly, housing is said to be affordable if the total annual household cost of rent or mortgage payments, together with utilities, does not exceed 30-35% of that household's annual income. PFAC’s activities are expected to serve low- and moderate income families and individuals between 60% and 100% of the area median income.

Incorporating Tenants as Residents - Resident renters of cohousing units would be considered full resident members of the community and afforded the same rights and responsibilities as resident owners. In the case where the rental units are part of a forming cohousing community, PFAC works toward the full inclusion of prospective cohousing renters in the group development process.  It manages the tenant selection process in order to provide communities with tenants committed to cohousing in general and in their specific communities. Like homeowners, tenant residents of affordable homes can and have assumed neighborhood leadership roles, contributing significantly to both cohousing community’s welfare and to that of the larger neighborhood. PFAC is also supportive of rent-to-own programs where a resident first rents in the community before committing to purchasing the unit. 

Valuing Mixed-Income Communities - Cohousing attracts a wide range of proactive individuals, some who have substantial financial resources and others of limited means who may not qualify to purchase a home.  PFAC believes that the value of an individual or family’s contribution to the quality of the neighborhood has very little relationship to their income or financial capability.  In some cases the most valuable community members who contribute the most to the welfare of the neighborhood have the lowest incomes.  Cohousing communities almost universally seek an equitable sharing of their neighborhood operating costs. They tend to be relatively equalitarian and also try to minimize the 

 common shared costs to the benefit of all.  Although the operating and management costs have been an issue of discussion, self management and creative approaches to maintenance and other costs--together with a reliance on a substantial amount of volunteered effort on the part of neighbors--keeps most monthly fees within reach of even the lowest income community members.  Some communities have recently begun a voluntary contributions program to offset a small portion of the monthly operating and maintenance fees for affordable units. The cohousing movement is also generating a growing body of expertise in effective community building and decision making processes, valuable in building relationships and capitalizing on the diversity in neighborhoods. 

Serving the Wider Neighborhood - In addition, cohousing communities are typically supportive of their immediate neighborhood and the larger community.  For example, common houses are frequently used for meetings and events that serve the larger neighborhood, and it is not unusual for neighbors to share in the life of the community. PFAC is based on the premise that a mixed income cohousing community, including renters, provides all residents, including those with less means, with unusually widespread social support and security enabling these residents to make major contributions to the social fabric of their neighborhood.

See The Cohousing Association of the U.S. website for more information on cohousing generally  (www.cohousing.org).