Affordable Cohousing: Build it Yourself!

This community created Cohousing for lower and middle income residents by selling each household an affordable lot and enabling them to build their own small homes.

While the initial plan is for Truckee Cohousing to build a community of 2-4 bedroom townhomes, there’s much to learn from this tiny house project.

Upper Langley Cohousing purchased 10 acres and then worked with the town to become the first demonstration program under the City of Langley’s ordinance: “Demonstration Program for Innovative, Permanently Affordable Housing Projects.” The ordinance provides for zoning amendments and incentives for projects that create affordable housing for middle income and below households. Green design and sustainability are key criteria for plan approval.

The end result was sixteen 40’ by 50’ lots that were sold for about $70,000 each. Then, the owners can build their own house of up to 975 square feet. These aren’t “tiny houses” like you see in the press. They are installed on foundations, not trailers, but they are a lot smaller than the typical American home. There is an income limit for purchasing a lot, and the deed restricts sale of the lots and homes to buyers who can meet the income restrictions.

What can we learn from this? Like Truckee, residents of Langley were competing with second home owners to buy housing. Like Truckee, zoning and planning requirements made it near-impossible to build affordably. And like Truckee, there was a commitment from community leaders to improve the affordable housing market.

Could we create a similar ordinance? Langley’s ordinance is cleverly set up as a demonstration project, and has an application process that ensures only a limited number of quality projects will be able to move ahead. The limited number of approvals allows for the initial projects to be evaluated before any permanent changes to the zoning and planning codes are made.

This approach—limiting the project to middle- and lower-income households—is worth discussing with the Mountain Housing Council and other local organizations, particularly as a way to get future cohousing projects built in Truckee.

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