Sunday, September 27, 2009

Why We Can’t Build Co-Housing

Today I want to address a question I got from Joshuadf on September 15, after I wrote about New Hope Housing’s visit to Dallas. Joshuadf asked:

John, I'm wondering if you discussed the importance of relationships between residents and the community with New Hope. The carfreeinbigd blog recently had what I thought was a really insightful post "The Naughty Building Catablog" (I can't seem to link here) that really hits this. I know they weren't excited about the re:vision designs, but I wonder if cohousing would be a viable option there.

Here’s the passage from Living Car-Free in Big D that’s under discussion:

But, these are still physical examples that while good IMO, don’t address the social issue of the vertical cul-de-sac. One idea that I have put forth in the past for an idea for mid-to-high rise co-housing, is that there are hierarchies of social, public, or semi-public space based on the size of the community.

This stems from the idea that any one person’s community, the amount of people they can ever really “know” at one time is approximately 150. I probably need to track this back to source the info, but something tells me it was one of those tidbits that stuck with me from a psychology class in college. In this case, the vertical co-housing would be the person’s “community”. Whether they choose to know everybody within their building is beside the point, but the opportunity is there.

The vertical co-housing was based on the idea of eliminating excess inefficiencies of excess individual plumbing lines, savings on sharing of electricity and appliances, and all but eliminating inefficient floor space, meaning, no hallways. The elevator opens directly into a shared kitchen/dining area that would be shared by 4 to 8 units per floor and potential two floors per kitchen area. This would be organized as a tenants “nuclear family”.

The rest of the common amenities would be structured similarly based on the amount of people to use it. Meaning every four or so floors there is a common gathering area, be it a workout facility, a pool, a game room, home theater, etc. These areas would be the “extended family”.

The whole blog from September 8, 2009 can be found here: It’s worth reading.

I’m afraid I’m going to give a pretty simplistic answer to a very complex and sophisticated discussion: We won’t build it because nobody will finance it.

The concept is interesting. I don’t know whether or not it would work. But it’s not going to be tried any time soon, except at a very small scale, which I don’t think is the idea here.

There is unknown market acceptance. There are no comparables to support an appraisal. It probably violates half a dozen provisions of the building code and the rules for every applicable or possibly applicable government subsidy.

Our mission is to create diverse housing, so no matter how beautiful the idea, if we can’t actually build it, then we won’t spend much time thinking about it. I’m afraid (until someone else proves up the market for co-housing) that co-housing isn’t on our horizon.

But the minute someone else shows that it’s viable we’ll be there.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, thanks for the post! I hope that can change in the future. According to an article "Hot Houses" in the Portland Mercury, affordable housing planners there are looking very closely at the idea, which has apparently been successful in Denmark for decades.