Cohousing: Potential to Provide Well Built Homes at Lower Cost

Liz Ryan Cole is responding to an coho-l email discussion on affordability.

For those people following this thread on affordability (and don’t forget to find all the older posts that have been archived)… the issue of affordability is not limited to cohousing. For anyone considering new construction of any sort, you will do well to build for $180 per sf or less (and that takes modular construction options into account). In addition to the actual construction of your unit and the common space, you have to pay for site work, not to mention actually buying the land you will be building on.

One way cohousers reduce cost is that the developer’s fee (15% is not unusual) if often waived when one or more “burning souls” decide that it is so important to build that they will do the work a professional developer does for no cost (this is not a path I have seen work well, but it is a way some groups save money)

Another way to reduce cost is to reduce the actual building cost, but that means paying the people actually working on your building less, and they are entitled to a reasonable income to support themselves and their own families on.

Another way is to have the land donated, or sold at reduced cost, and some cohousing groups appeal to one donor or another and can reduce that part of their cost. There are a number of communities that have been able to include much less expensive units because the land cost has been subsidized.

But overall, the problem is not that housing is so expensive, but that people in the US earn so little and taxes on the top 5% are so low that there is insufficient money for government help in housing (not to mention other areas).

If people in the cohousing world are interested in helping more people be able to afford to live in cohousing they need to work (and this includes working for political candidates) to improve housing programs at the federal and state and local level - and this can be as modest as getting elected or appointed to a town Planning or Zoning Board so that you can work to allow for clustered and “dense” development, which makes it possible to reduce overall housing costs because there will be more people who can afford to share the cost to purchase the land. You could also work for candidates who believe that people in higher income categories should pay more in taxes, and that those taxes could be spent to provide for infrastructure (can you tell I am a proud Vermonter who has supporter Bernie for decades?) :)

HOWEVER, having said all that, cohousing STILL has the potential to provide well built homes at a price that is lower overall than what you would pay to build a traditional home. Cohousers build a smaller home and still live comfortably when they build sufficient common space.

The median household income for the United States was $53,657 in 2014. A household earning $55,000 could devote $18,500 per year to housing and be “affordable” (the goal is no more than 30% of income to housing) $1500 per month is 30% of the annual income of the family earning the median.

If your building costs average $180 per sf - and residents accept living in small homes (assume 300 sf for one person/2 people would share a 600 sf unit and your group adds another 250 sf for each person for common space) you could build for about $120K. (I assume 30 people living in community - at 250 sf each you could build 7500 of common space and don’t forget to assume at least 20% for circulation).

These calculations don’t count site work, or buying the land, but it shows what you might be able to do if you don’t have high costs for professionals, or long term carrying costs. Assume you could build a 600 sf unit in a community with 15 units and 7500 of common space for $170K.

If you borrow $150,000 at 4.5% for 30 years your monthly cost is $760 and your annual cost $9,120.

So don’t be discouraged, find some like minded people, get an experienced cohousing developer, and start to build your community.

:) liz
( whose NH town has what is in effect 25 acre zoning)
Liz Ryan Cole
lizryancole [at] me [dot] com
Pinnacle Cohousing at Loch Lyme Lodge
Lyme, NH
Loch Lyme Lodge 603-795-2141