Saturday, July 16, 2016

Choosing Your Home at Prairie Hill

When deciding on which of the 36 potential homes in our future cohousing community is the right one for you, there are many factors to consider. All the options have their own special attributes regarding location, size, price, orientation and design. Below you can see the current site plan, with the units marked with an X which are already sold. Fortunately for prospective members, there are units left in every category.

Here are some reasons why people choose the various unit options:

Commonhouse Apartments: As you can see above (commonhouse is colored blue/green), 2 of the 4 apartments are already sold. If you are into living small, these 515 square foot apartments can be very appealing. They are the least expensive of all the choices at Prairie Hill. And living in the commonhouse puts you right in the center of the community. Just downstairs are the common areas of the spacious kitchen, dining room, lounge, laundry, recreation room and children's play room. These apartments are perhaps the most accessible living spaces at Prairie Hill, with parking right outside the door.

Townhouses: The four townhouses (light pink on the plan) have the advantage of being near parking as well as Miller Avenue, while also being close to the commonhouse. They are offset so that there is a maximum of light available.Each has a porch facing toward the center of the clustered homes. All these units are one-story, the two on the outer edges a large 950 square feet, the two in the middle 800 square feet. As you can see, there is one middle unit that has not yet been sold.

Stacked Flats: These are fourplexes, with two units on the top floor and two on the ground floor. We have four of these stacked flats, 16 units in all. Three of the four buildings are set into the hillside (colored green above). That means that you can walk out to a patio and gardens even on the second floor units. The stacked flats are available in three sizes, 645 square feet, 800 square feet, and 950 square feet. So far, no one has chosen the largest size. Each unit has access to a shared porch across the front of the building as well as its own private patio. Since these buildings are at the highest point of our building site, the view will be pleasing, with good access to parking and the commonhouse, and near the gardens and orchards on the top of our land. One of the stacked flats (colored yellow above) will not be set into the hillside. That means that the only access to the upper two units will be a central stairway (which will also be included in all the stacked flat buildings).

Duplexes: There are six duplexes (or 12 duplex units). Four of these (colored dark pink above) have an upper main entry, and two (colored blue) have a lower main entry. All the duplexes are two-story. All have entries on both floors (because of being set into the hillside), and even the lower floor will have plenty of windows (not basement-like). The designation of upper and lower entry refers to the entry that is facing the common area of the cluster, where sidewalks lead to the buildings. Duplexes come in two main footprints, 645 and 800. Multiplied by the 2 stories, this means the square footage would be 1290 and 1600 square feet. Duplexes are often the choice of a family with need for more space and more bedrooms. However, a single person or a couple might choose a duplex and decide to live on one floor while renting out the other.

There are a number of reasons why a prospective member might want to join Prairie Hill Cohousing sooner rather than later: being part of the planning process, having input into important development decisions, being included in the excitement of creating something aligned with your values. Another reason is that you are able to choose your preferred unit before the people who come after you.  In other words, the first member has first choice, the second has second choice, and on down the line. Someone who joins tomorrow would have a choice between 22 possible units. Someone joining in six months will have considerably less options. The good news, however, is that all these units have great qualities and there is still a variety to choose from.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Inspiring Landscapes

Last Saturday, cohousing members and friends had a guided tour through John Thomas's gardens. We began on the street-side of the house, where oval arrangements of perennial flowers and trees invited us to pause and enjoy.

Moving into the back yard, we listened to John explain his motivation for placement of ornamentals, herbs, vegetables, walls and trees. Here are some of the points we remember, hoping to put them to use on Prairie Hill:

  • Combine flowers and ornamentals with herbs and vegetables, all in the same bed.
  • A small herb garden at the back door makes quick harvesting for a meal easy.

  •  Provide places for people to sit throughout the garden and orchard: large stones, benches, or low walls. This is especially appropriate on a hilly site like ours at Prairie Hill.
  • Use curves instead of always planting in straight lines.
  • Make islands of plantings in the midst of mowed lawn.

  •  Make use of prairie plants; they are well adapted to this climate and soil.
  • Repeat the same plants in different areas, creating a unifying theme throughout.
  • Be aware of how different plants respond to wind, and consider choosing plants that sway in the breezes.

  •  Emphasize easy access with mowed paths, and places to stop and rest, 
  • Realize that at Prairie Hill, we will have plantings around the buildings on the lower site that hold to a more groomed and highly maintained standard; and that the vegetable gardens on our upper site may be held to more casual standards.

After spending an hour in John's home gardens, we moved south to North Market Square, a neighborhood park three blocks away. John and other neighbors have created a space there that integrates play areas, beautiful plantings, a gathering area, and the elegant shelter pictured above where we ate a picnic dinner. We experienced how plantings welcomed us into the park, and watched neighbors use the sidewalk encircling the whole area for walking or riding bicycles. The view from the picnic shelter was peaceful and colorful, and we marveled at our luck at having perfect weather for this outing, not too hot, too cold, or too windy. We carried away with us not only full bellies, but imaginations full of possibilities as we prepare to create our own landscape around and above our new homes.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Making Prairie Hill Affordable

From the beginning of this project, social and economic diversity has been a primary value of ours. When we think of who we want as neighbors, it is important to us that we are not limited to people who have plenty of funds or who are all the same color or from the same culture. Instead, we are looking for people who resonate with the idea of a cooperative community and people who want to live as gently as possible in our ecosystem. We want people who are ready to have smaller homes since we will have a commonhouse for our overflow guests, for laundry, recreation, and frequent meals. And we want neighbors who are ready to accept and embrace differences in others. We want to pave the way toward living harmoniously in our neighborhood on Prairie Hill.

However, building new and building green is not cheap, especially in Iowa City. So we have put a lot of effort into finding ways of offsetting the costs of Prairie Hill Cohousing units. Carolyn Dyer has compiled a long list of sources of aid, and we will be glad to send you a copy of this by email. For this blog post, I especially want to alert you to some of the funds we have already acquired:

  • $50,000 for down-payment assistance from the Housing Trust Fund of Johnson County for three affordable homes
  • $6,250 tax credits for each of 15 units provided by the Iowa Workforce Housing Tax Incentive
  • From Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District, 50% cost-share for the bioretention cell ($12,804)
  • And from the same agency, 20% cost share for soil quality restoration ($17,000)

In addition, there are a multitude of rebates on offer for solar installations and alternative energy, as well as funds for builders of homes heated and cooled by electricity (we have decided to use only electricity as a more sustainable energy source).

Also, a number of state and local agencies offer families and individuals assistance in buying homes: the Iowa Finance Authority, the 2016 Take Credit Mortgage Credit Certificate Program, the Federal Home Loan Bank, the Iowa City Affordable Dream Home Ownership Program, and the Iowa City Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Homeownership Program.

The big message of this post is this: if you are attracted by the cohousing vision, wish you could live at Prairie Hill, but don't think you can afford it, you may be wrong. Check out your options, and let us help you. Come to our next Information Meeting, or contact us to get Carolyn's document on Sources of Funds (you can email me at