affordable cohousing

What does affordable housing look like?

[caption id="attachment_541" align="aligncenter" width="700" caption="Petaluma Avenue Homes"][/caption] When I was in architecture school at Washington State University, architect Michael Pyatok came to do a lecture on affordable housing and mentioned that he had experienced comments in public hearings that his proposed project "didn't look like affordable housing" - and this was perceived as a bad thing by the commenter.  That's a poor reflection on our society - when design for poor people (the people who have the least means and face the most social inequity) should be inferior.  Luckily that was almost 20 years ago and a lot has changed in the arena of affordable housing.

I'm proud to be a participant in Washington State's affordable housing industry during a period of time when HUD is making significant structural changes through it's Sustainable Communities Initiative.  Finally, the silos of our federal government are being dismantled to recognize the synergies between housing, the environment, and transportation systems.  And the possibility for education and food (nutrition) to be added to that mix is even more revolutionary (for government, not reality).

Washington State is home/host to an amazing annual conference called Housing Washington.  It brings together 700-800 people that work to create and manage affordable housing in the state - bankers, developers, social service providers, housing authorities, attorneys, government entities, and of course a handful of architects. (I'm sure I missed someone in there).

And cohousing can be a part of that solution.  As a board member for the Cohousing Association of the United States, I have been chairing the Affordable Cohousing Task Group.  We are developing/implementing an advocacy plan that will reach out to allied organizations and policy makers to share how cohousing can be a solution to creating healthy mixed-income neighborhoods that provide moderate income families with positive role models for achieving financial independence. 

The photo pictured above is a Petaluma Avenue Homes, a 45 unit cohousing-inspired community developed by Affordable Housing Associates in Sebastapol, CA.  The rental community was designed by McCamant & Durrett Architects - the architects who coined the term cohousing and introduced cohousing to North America after extensively researching it Denmark.  Petaluma Avenue Homes is a great example of how cohousing principles can inform the physical design to be an armature for building community.  It doesn't hurt that the architects convinced the developer to provide funding for a community facilitator to help develop community norms and structure during the first 2 years of occupancy. 

This will be one of many examples Mike and I will share during our presentation tomorrow at the 2010 Housing Washington Conference entitled Affordable Cohousing - Making it Work for Low Income Families.  Please come by and say hi!  To see what other sessions are being offered, visit