Access to Financing & Affordable Models of Cohousing

In our quest to expand cohousing, Coho/US has long recognized two major challenges: (1) accessing financing and (2) creating more affordable models. This month, Coho/US made headway in addressing both, establishing a formal collaboration with Partnerships for Affordable Cohousing. Pooling our reach, credibility and knowledge will bolster our mutual efforts to develop and promote strategies to broaden access and affordability.

The impetus for collaboration is the development of a loan program, to increase access to financing for construction and expansion of cohousing communities. A loan program also provides the opportunity for individuals, foundations and public funding sources to invest in cohousing and promote our housing model. We have been in conversations since last fall with the National Cooperative Bank, a potential financial partner in this endeavor, and we may consider collaborating with foundations whose goals of sustainable communities mirror ours.

Coho/US and PFAC are both committed to increasing cohousing models that employ a broader range of creative financing opportunities. For one, growing cohousing will be expedited with creative models; for another, we believe that cohousing should be available to everyone, including low-resourced individuals and families. Many cohousing communities have struggled to create affordable units, with varying degrees of success. Often both public and private means are employed with some communities utilizing public resources, while others have generated private resources to make some units affordable.

To be clear: Coho/US’ priorities and goals are broader than PFAC; in particular, Coho/US has a responsibility to connect a broader public to cohousing, that includes but is not limited to low-resourced families. Coho/US will maintain a broad definition of “affordability,” to allow for varying requirements of funding sources, and to facilitate public education efforts.

Coho/US applauds PFAC’s mission, which is not only to bring affordability into cohousing, but conversely, to bring cohousing into affordable housing. Wendy Wiesner, PFAC Board member, suggests, “if the affordable housing sector were to import the successful framework and innovations explored within many cohousing communities and other cooperative forms of housing, the effect could be transformative. Housing could become more vital, viable, useful, and meaningful. It truly could make lots of people’s lives better.”

[Relatedly, we are witnessing the creation of a robust variety of communities that embrace cohousing models, from housing for veterans, to support for foster children, to agricultural enterprises. Come to Laura Fitch’s “More Than Just Cohousing” session at the National Cohousing Conference.]

In identifying the complex issues of “affordability,” we would do well to document the creative responses that already exist in the cohousing world. Per Chuck Durrett, “Cohousing is intrinsically an affordable model: one of its main purposes, outside of a strong sense of community, is limiting resource consumption by sharing resources. The savings in energy, maintenance costs, and food outweigh the apparent up-front costs due to new construction.” In Chuck’s “Achieving Affordability in Cohousing,” (Communities Magazine March 2013), he continues, “Cohousers show great creativity, whether it’s buying cheap, nontraditional land, creating public/private partnerships, sharing a house...or using less costly building materials.”

We would welcome hearing your creative efforts to achieve affordability in your cohousing community, including any creative financing models you have employed.
Meanwhile, your support is important as Coho/US and PFAC work together in creating a loan fund that could serve as a catalyst to expand cohousing in this country.

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Tiny House Cohousing

The cohousing movement would be well served to take inspiration from the tiny house movement. (And vice versa, of course.) With the downward direction of the economy and energy and resource availability, it is likely anyway that cohousing units will have to become much smaller. For those in the Northwest, feel free to join our tiny house community meetup here: http://www.meetup.com/Tiny-House-Community-Startup/