The challenges of cohousing development are not without rewards from unexpected places and actors. In Washington Commons’ recent effort at West Sacramento’s City Council, supporters of our project ranged from the Chamber of Commerce to the representatives of local tribes.
At issue were “impact fees,” a strategy used by local governments in California to pay for improvements associated with development, such as parks, road improvements, affordable housing, childcare and transportation alternatives. Such fees may be seen as a method to induce developers to pay for the costs of growth. The difference with our cohousing project is that future residents are developers too (with plenty of help from qualified professionals).
We started with a project designed to meet the best principles of residential development. Testimony from stakeholders and comments from Council members made the case for cohousing: higher density urban infill; residents invested in their community; walkable, bikeable, transit friendly development; market rate multifamily sustainable housing. One council member argued, as good neighbors, cohousing would make it easier to advocate for nonprofit housing developers (such as Jamboree and Mercy Housing) to build affordable housing in the future.
Tribe representatives expressed legitimate concerns about gentrification, where urban infill puts existing neighborhoods at risk. Because of a history of urban growth, when tribe representatives had been ignored and repeatedly undercounted, they came to advocate for a new, long overdue swimming pool in their neighborhood. They spoke against dividing the town between north (have nots) and south (haves). Tribe representatives recognized the importance of supporting business and technology if it meant jobs with living wages, and benefits and advocated for equity in the use of impact fees, to pay the real cost of housing. They reminded the Council that the riverine section, now called the Washington District, was once used by indigenous peoples. No doubt ancestral remains would be found there.
City staff supported us by doing their homework on this somewhat controversial issue. They had data comparing impact fees for different jurisdictions and recognized that infill development would not happen if fees (especially added to costs of construction) were prohibitive.
In the end, it was a challenge from one of the elders who said, “how about some co-housing for us?” (The city council hears but did not reply to the public comment.)