As any policymaker, practitioner or developer will admit, expanding and preserving affordable homeownership or rental opportunities for working families has its challenges. Just as local governments face barriers to expanding the supply of affordable housing, so too do some developers that want to build with affordability in mind, but lack the necessary resources. So it should be no surprise that a colleague and I recently learned about similar challenges that exist within the cohousing movement.
Cohousing is a housing model that offers individuals and families of all ages a community-based living situation, often likened to a close-knit neighborhood. Typically, cohousing developments constitute private homes (single-family detached, condos, townhomes, etc.) owned by the occupant, with shared ownership of common facilities, such as a community kitchen, playroom, laundry room, library, or garden. Though sharing facilities may reduce the costs of housing for some families, the cost of buying a home in a cohousing community is usually similar to comparable homes nearby and may still be too costly for lower-income households.
Through a conversation with board members of the Cohousing Association of the United States (CoHo/US), we were pleased to discover how applicable some of our affordability “tools” are for cohousing communities seeking to provide affordable units for their members. In particular, one tool — community land trusts—might work very well in tandem with cohousing developments currently underway (according to CoHo/US staff, over 200 cohousing communities are in the pipeline).
Cohousing is defined by six main characteristics, as explained on the Cohousing Association of the United States website:
- Resident participation in the design process
- Physical orientation of buildings to encourage a sense of community
- Shared common facilities that are designed for daily use, but are supplemental to individual residences
- Resident-managed and -maintained
- Consensus-based and non-hierarchical decision making among residents.
- No shared community economy. The co-housing community is not a source of income for its members, rather a shared living space where household income is generated outside of the co-housing community.
A community land trusts (CLT) is a form of shared equity homeownership, which enables ongoing affordability by sharing any home equity realized at the time of sale between the seller and the sponsoring program. Specifically, a CLT achieves initial affordablity through dual ownership. The land is owned by an entity (usually a nonprofit or local government) and then leased to families who purchase the homes that sit on CLT land. Because the household owns only the building and not the land, a CLT home is more affordable than a conventional home. The ground lease establishes the conditions under which ongoing affordability is maintained, with the CLT always having the right to repurchase the property at an affordable price established by a resale formula built into the ground lease.
There is much overlap in the approach of land trusts and cohousing initiatives. For instance:
- Co-housing communities are built with intention. Residents are often involved in the physical design process to encourage social interaction and to ensure that the buildings and facilities meet their needs. Similarly, community land trusts are often established at the neighborhood level and incorporate community residents in their leadership. Therefore, residents and other community members have a direct say in how the CLT functions and meets community goals.
- Like co-housing communities, community land trusts require local governance. Typically, a community land trust forms a board of directors composed equally of three groups: residents, non-profit developers or public officials, and non-resident community members or supporters of the CLT.
- Both CLT and cohousing residents share some of the costs of ownership. Co-housing residents share ownership of common facilities and community functions, such as shared open space meal sharing, which can offer some cost savings. Residents of community land trusts share ownership of property with the land trust through the ground lease, reducing the costs of homeownership for all residents.
These similar ideals provide natural synergies for partnership.