Cohousing Advocacy

[caption id="attachment_1047" align="aligncenter" width="700" caption="Putting Cohousing on the national housing agenda"][/caption] I know...the image is blurry.  That's partly because it was cold, partly because I was rushing, and in large part because I was so excited to be walking through those doors!!!  Some of you know that I serve on the national board of the Cohousing Association of the US (CohoUS).  This past weekend I was in Washington DC for a face-to-face board meeting (one of two annually) followed by two days of advocacy meetings with the following national housing organizations headquartered in DC:

US Department of Housing and Urban Affairs (HUD)

Smart Growth America

Enterprise Community Partners

Urban Land Institute National Association of Realtors

National Low Income Housing Coalition

Housing Assistance Council

Opportunity Finance Network

National Alliance of Community Economic and Development Associations

Leading Age

Council of State Community and Economic Development Agencies

National Housing Conference / Center for Housing Policy

National Fair Housing Alliance

Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition

National Council of State Housing Agencies

Stewards for Affordable Housing for the Future

Our objective was to introduce them to the concept of cohousing and establish a relationship.  Much to our surprise, we were universally welcomed and all of the organizations were genuinely interested to learn about our “innovative housing model”. 

It was a tiring 2 days of back to back meetings scheduled on the hour and walking briskly in the cold weather.  But I’m returning to my daily routine inspired and invigorated!  Who knows, maybe that lofty goal to “make cohousing a household word” isn’t so lofty afterall?

Ron Sims rocks the house!

[caption id="attachment_261" align="alignleft" width="700" caption="Grace with HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims"][/caption]

Ever since attending the InterIM CDA's Gala Luncheon on Friday, I can't stop talking about Ron Sims.  He's a passionate and charismatic speaker.  As the son of a preacher, he could deliver a talk with the same fervor and presence. 

But even more impressive is that as Deputy Secretary at HUD he's making some exciting changes.  He's decentralized power so that District offices are empowered to make decisions.  He understands the interrelationship of poverty, housing, transportation, environment, healthy food, and health...and has forged powerful collaborations with other departments and agencies to create new programs that might actually help poor people realize the American Dream.

The first of these programs is called Sustainable Communities.  HUD, EPA, and DOT have joined forces to issue a produce a grant that will address not only housing, but sustainability, and transportation - woo hoo!  The reason why this excites me is that low/moderate income people have very few choices about the type, condition, and location of their housing.  As a middle income American, it's easy to sit back and judge those who don't buy organic produce, live in a new "green" condo, and drive a prius as not being concerned about the environment.  However, consider for a moment, if you had to choose to buy a head of broccoli (forget it even being organic) or a full meal deal at McDonald's for your two kids (example courtesy of the movie Food, Inc.).  Yes, the choices are clear...when you have lots of choices. 

One of the other reasons I was excited to hear Deputy Secretary Sims is that as he was describing the synergy of having various departments collaborate on funding projects from the standpoint that our tax dollars are able to go farther, it was clear to me that mixed income, intergenerational cohousing communities are an exemplary model of the sustainable communities for which he was advocating.

Since it's introduction to the US almost 20 years ago, cohousing has been a fairly middle income phenomena.  While the founding members of most cohousing communities start of with ideals of social justice and ethnic/income diversity, the resulting communities have tended to be fairly white and middle class.  And because those living in cohousing tend to hold high regard to social justice, they often feel guilty and resent not being more inclusive.  But hopefully the demographics of those living in cohousing will see a major change in the next decade.

As a board member of The Cohousing Association of the US, I am chairing a Task Group that is developing an advocacy plan to help policy makers, builders, and planners understand the potential cohousing has for creating sustainable mixed income communities that are close to transit, close to jobs, and close to daily services.  We are just in the early stages of this work, but come next June when we convene in Washington DC for our National Cohousing Conference we will be ready to walk to the Hill with our allies and talk with informed leaders such as Ron about how cohousing can be one alternative for creating communities that will empower low and moderate income families to succeed in a life of financial independence.

Hey, if Ron Sims can dream big...why can't I?