Capitol Hill’s cohousing pioneers are ready to move in on 12th Ave

The residents gathered for a rooftop portrait (Images: Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing)

The residents gathered for a rooftop portrait (Images: Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing)

“At some point you need to have that bigger vision in mind and that long term goal.”

Getting along with apartment building neighbors requires at least a modicum of social grace. Getting along with potentially lifelong neighbors that are also equal owners in a partnership to develop and own a building mandates serious training.

After breaking ground in 2014, and years of planning prior to that including classes in consensus decision making, the members of Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing are ready to move into their new home (and their 12th and Howell building is almost ready for them). You can get a sneak peek of the building on Saturday from 10 AM to 4PM as part of National Cohousing Open House day.

The 12th Ave cohousing development isn’t a traditional cooperative. CHUC residents are their own developers. While tenants in a cooperative or condo building have to eat the costs of a developer’s profit, CHUC residents say there are keeping their costs as low as possible and will essentially impose their own rent control once they have moved in. The nine families making up the community are all equal partners in an company that obtained a loan to develop the building.

Looking back on what it took to get to this point CHUC co-founder Mike Mariano paused when asked if he would do it all again.

“If you think about it too much, you would never do it,” said Mariano, a principal architect at Schemata Workshop. “At some point you need to have that bigger vision in mind and that long term goal.”

As Mariano and the rest of the CHUC members discovered, financing is not easy when you’re not trying to simply maximize profits. Developing the property as a community was a means to an end for CHUC — ends that include communal meals and work in the rooftop garden, longterm stability, and a tight-knit support group that will hopefully last a lifetime.

CHS stopped by when the group broke ground in October 2014 (Image: CHS)

CHS stopped by when the group broke ground in October 2014 (Image: CHS)

Nine founding families will make up the CHUC community, which includes 17 adults and 10 kids. The group came together over many open house meetings held by Mariano and his partner, Grace Kim, stretching back to 2010. Most of the families have now been involved for serval years.

“My son really feels like he has a lot of kids in his life that are less than siblings, but much more than neighbors. And that’s before we’ve even moved in,” said Doug Erickson, a CHUC member and librarian at Seattle University.

Erickson first attended a cohousing talk given by Grace in 2010. Two years later, Erickson, his wife, and now 10-year-old son decided to join.

CHUC units are not quite “affordable housing,” at least not yet. Erickson said the units are probably around current market rate, but should not increase much over time. “Longterm, my aspiration is that this long outlives the residency of the founding families,” Erickson said. “I hope that families come and go long after any of us live there.”

But first, the founding families need to move in. Most of the units at the 12th Ave building are nearly complete, but a handful of smaller details are still getting worked out. Mariano says he hopes residents can start moving in by mid-May.

Construction delays have caused some logistical complications, especially for families with children. Mariano said most families, including his, are on month-to-month leases around Capitol Hill while they wait to move into their new homes. Two families are sharing a space during the limbo period.

Some of those logistical hurdles proved to be too much for some early CHUC members who have since backed out of the project. “The challenge is that to achieve (what) we’re talking about you have go through all the trial and tribulations of construction, financing, and legal stuff,” Mariano said.

Mariano acquired the 12th Ave property, formerly home to Schemata and Lucky Devil Tattoo, for $975,000 in 2008 with plans to build a short-term, container-housing project at the location before eventually embarking on the much more significant cohousing project.

Schemata will return to the property, occupying CHUC’s ground-level retail space.

CHS first wrote about the project back in 2010 as Mariano and Kim began a series of workshops designed to inform about the possibilities of creating cohousing in the city — and recruit. Several of the residents came to the project through the workshops. The workshops continue. CHUC founder Grace Kim will host a “Cohousing 101” talk on Saturday, April 30th at 10 AM inside the Braeburn building at 14th and Pine.

You can tour the new CHUC building in the 1700 block of 12th Ave Saturday from 10 AM to 4PM. Learn more at capitolhillurbancohousing.org

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11 thoughts on “Capitol Hill’s cohousing pioneers are ready to move in on 12th Ave

  1. “While tenants in a cooperative or condo building have to eat the costs of a developer’s profit…”

    I can’t speak to all coops in the city, but with mine specifically this is incorrect. There is no developer; in fact, the idea of a developer managing the property goes against the entire legal construct of a coop versus a condo.

    In a condo, the developer owns the property and you own your unit, with normal mortgages and such. You pay an HOA fee for upkeep and for their profit.

    In a coop, the cooperative owns the building and land (and presumably could’ve paid for its construction), and all coop members own shares in the coop, which grants you a lease to live in a unit. You get a loan to buy the shares, which isn’t a traditional mortgage. The monthly coop fees are used to pay the property taxes and for upkeep and shared items like garbage, water, etc. (And yay, 30% increase in property taxes this year.) We keep our costs low by doing some of our own maintenance and maintain a certain amount of money in the bank, but it’s not intended to turn a profit. And if it did, it would be our profit.

    • Privilege is right on the money (no pun intended). I, too, am a Co-op member and there seems to be a misunderstanding regarding the title of “Co-op” as these entities were established as cooperative BUSINESS concerns (that are in the business of providing housing, in this case) in which the various members own a share as opposed to the 4 walls of their apartment. I have been given to understand that there was a time in Washington state during which it was illegal to own a private apartment. Hence, the establishment of the Co-op business corporations that gathered together to construct communal apartment buildings with what amounts to life-time leases that are saleable. I believe this law changed prior to the 1962 World’s Fair and condominiums became legal (a great many of the Seattle Co-ops constructed and in operation prior to that time elected to convert to condominium — with all of the attendant legal and construction hoops to jump through in order to make them individual units as opposed to apartments). I believe there are only 50 or so Co-ops remaining in Seattle. Sorry, more information that anyone probably wanted to know but as I stated, Privilege is correct.

    • A developer only controls a condo building until he/she turns over management of the HOA to the individual owners. Usually that’s defined as somewhere over 50% of the units sold to buyers. Then they take control and manage it themselves with their HOA dues. They can have a management company if they want, or not. Usually at that point, the developer is out of the picture– unless he/she kept one or more units themself. The developer doesn’t continue to “own” the condo (association), including the land. The land is owned proportionately by the owners of the HOA. What you’re describing (with the developer continuing to own the land) is a leaseholder situation, as is common in Hawaii or in parts of Mexico close to the coast, or the US border.

    • Ah, thanks for the correction. I never looked that deeply into condos, as my only house purchase was a co-op.

      With that in mind, it’s weird that condos charge you an HOA plus each person pays their own property taxes. If there’s 8 units in a condo, is $400-$1000/month per unit needed for gardening? For the co-op, we pay $400, but tthe majority of that money is for property taxes. The co-op ends up way, way cheaper than a condo.

    • HOA’s vary a lot by building. Usually the HOA pays for water&sewer, sometimes gas, garbage, recycling, common area maintenance like cleaning, carpets, elevators, gardening, liability insurance for the building (anything outside your unit), electricity for the common area, security gates if you have secured parking, maintenance in general like roof repairs, broken fixtures, etc. A responsible condo association also collects a bit each month to put in reserves when major expenditures come up (like painting, major repairs, etc). This is often a struggle where cheapskate people want to pay-as-you-go. Then when a big expense comes up, they can’t afford the special assessment and multiple people all put their units up for sale, depressing the sales price.

      Don’t get too attached to your initial low monthly fees till your CoOp has had a year of real-live expenses under your belt. Then you’ll find out not only is it not “The Condo” charging you–it’s yourselves; and your fees will almost certainly have to be raised to cover the REAL operating expenses, which always turn out to be more than anyone expects. Don’t be surprised if your fees have to go up to about the same as any condo. If you’re paying people to do these things, there’s no free lunch. The way to keep those costs in check is to do work yourselves, and also not have a management company. That sounds all warm and fuzzy CoOp-y, but it’s not so easy to pull off as you would hope.

    • I’m not part of this co-whatever. The coop I’m in has been around for much longer than I’ve been alive. It might have been a coop when it was built in the 20s or 30s. We’re pretty well managed, and maintain a good sized rolling balance for emergencies and assess when needed. I’ve been here three years, and fees have increased exclusively to cover property taxes. Other costs have actually gone down.

    • OK, I’m going to throw my 2 cents in on this again. Our Co-op has been around for many years, as well. We also pay extra for any special assessments but maintain a healthy reserve fund for emergencies. A reasonable amount of savings is also necessary in order to engage in the sales process for the now two (used to be only one) financial institutions in the entire country who will provide mortgages for any potential new buyer. This allows our Co-op apartments to market for market value rather than having to personally hold a note or sell for a deflated cash amount. It does depend upon the Co-op regarding management of finances, etc. but all in all, they are comparable in maintenance costs to the HOA monthly “dues” that condo owners often pay.

  2. What we’ve done, collectively as a resident group is taken the profit-minded developer out of the equation. While we did bring on outside investors for the property purchase, at each step of the way, investor risk has gone down, and we’ve been able to generate more capital through lower-interest loans from friends & family that believe in the project.
    “Cohousing” is simply a term that is used to describe a group of residents coming together to build community, but there’s no legal basis for it. Legal structures under which cohousing has been developed include co-op, condo, and – in our case – simply a partnership of residents that own an apartment building together.