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NET ZERO COOPERATIVES: Making Home Ownership Attainable!

The News Keeps Telling Us We Are Not In A Recession!

How corporate greed is making upscale green living a necessity?

Rents are so high its actually easier to buy or build a million dollar home with friends and/or family than rent a three bedroom apartment!

What's The Difference Between A Condo And A Co-Op? The main difference between condos and co-ops boils down to who owns the property. If you live in a condominium, you have ownership over your individual unit. If you live in a co-op, you own shares of a company that owns the building. Marginalized groups such as same sex couples, Newly arrived immigrants and Black families are finding new ways to make home ownership attainable and prosperous! Co-ops are not as prevalent in Massachusetts as they are in New York but they are an idea whose time has come. There are a few cooperatives in Boston, Brookline, and Cambridge. Most community associations in Massachusetts take the form of condominiums but now with rents so high many millennials are looking at upscale properties with plentiful acreage as something not only attainable but more affordable than rental apartments. Both condos and co-ops are similar in that residents live in separate units with shared common areas.

This past May, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1110 into law. The new law legalizes duplexes in all residential areas of cities with populations over 25,000, and four-unit homes in all residential areas of cities with populations over 75,000, with options for even greater zoning density for neighborhoods close to transit, or for units of affordable housing. Many states are following suit to combat homelessness as corporate entities buy up properties in order to hike up rents and squeeze every drop out of the middle class and young potential future homeowners.

Recently the state of Massachusetts passed the MBTA Community law. The law requires that 177 cities and towns in the MBTA's service area pass new zoning to permit multifamily housing units in dense areas, largely around transit stations.

The mandate does not require the units to be built, but calls for new zoning to allow them by right. For cities with populations between 25,000 and 75,000, duplexes must be allowed in most residential neighborhoods. Four-unit construction would be allowed if at least one unit meets affordable housing requirements. Neighborhoods within a half-mile of major transit stops, parks or schools would also be compelled to allow four-unit construction.

For cities with populations greater than 75,000, all residential areas may now have four-family homes. If any of the two units are affordable, six-family homes may also be constructed. Six-unit construction is also permitted in neighborhoods near major transit stops, parks or schools.

Rep. Jessica Bateman (D-Olympia), who was the lead sponsor of the bill, noted in an interview that this law will apply to any future homeowners’ associations. It does not, however, apply to existing homeowners’ associations.

In this economy with climate change causing a rise in food and utility costs, and where people are seeking a way to keep from becoming homeless and save money it is clear that buying a home with a friend is a great way to make homeownership a more easily achievable goal for first-time home buyers. It can also be a great way to get started investing in real estate. MBTA communities without zoning that meets the new requirements were required to submit an action plan at the beginning of 2023. Some communities had not submitted plans as of March 2023. Others, including Brookline, submitted a brief plan of action.

The housing crisis in America is a multi-faceted issue, with no single solution. But removing single-family zoning restrictions, as House Bill 1110 and the MBTA Communities Act both do, is certainly a step in the right direction.

The most obvious benefit to as-of-right zoning ordinances is that more housing units equals more housing. If you can place four housing units where one might have gone, you’re allowing three more families to have a home. More housing inventory not only provides more housing options, it also theoretically makes housing more affordable. Less inventory = higher demand and higher prices. More inventory = lower prices.

This may seem like bad news to you if you are a landlord. Housing providers may be concerned that more inventory will result in rents dropping, but historically, this has been a very rare occurrence. The more likely “worst case” scenario is that your rents will remain constant. And there’s a silver lining: You would also have the option to build more units. More housing means more tenants, which gives you more stability as a landlord. If you have just one tenant, and that renter falls on hard times and misses the rent, your entire operation is without income until the situation is rectified. But what are the odds that multiple units would have the same problem at the same time? Your income stream will be less volatile if it is spread out among more units.

As for potential home owners, there are many ways to have ownership interest in a property, and these include options that allow any number of people to partner when purchasing a home. As long as all the buyers can afford the mortgage, you and your friend – or friends – will be all clear to go in on a house together. This can be as two couples, or as a trio the laws allow your economic potential and access to home ownership to be realized with your combined incomes.

Absolutely — it's possible to buy a house with a friend, or even with a group of friends. In fact, a 2022 survey by indicated that more than half of Americans would consider buying a primary residence with someone they are not married to, and as of 2024, 35 percent already have! In most cases it might also mean having a lower interest rate, and a lower monthly payment or, in many cases, avoiding costly mortgage insurance. In some cases, though, buying with someone else can actually hurt your mortgage application — particularly if they carry lots of debt, so it is good practice to make sure all involved have consistent income, savings, and have a good credit score. There is no legal limit to how many people can be on a mortgage, but your lender may have restrictions in place. Remember that everyone on the loan also has to be able to qualify for it to be approved, and some lenders may see a big group of names as a potential risk.

Buying a house with friends or family can offer financial advantages, shared responsibilities, emotional support, and increased buying options. However, it also brings potential legal complexities, strained relationships, limited privacy, and exit challenges. This is where duplex or multi family and net zero conversion comes in it allows the sharing of property but also removes arguments over heat and electric bills, privacy, and even lawn maintenance. Also more and more builders are offering services to retrofit an older home to zero or close to zero. Retrofits provide the construction industry with business during economic downturns, improve the indoor health and comfort of the homeowners, and increase the value of their homes!

For those who plan to build from the ground up even though material prices and labor shortages have a big impact on any building project's cost, net zero homes can usually be built for $175 to $180 per square foot. One of the most popular sayings in the industry is “if you can afford a new home, you can afford a zero energy home”.

The steps for a Net Zero retrofit are as follows:

  1. Conduct an energy audit of the existing home including a blower door test, thermal imaging with an infrared camera, and assessments of current insulation levels, window and door quality, water heater and HVAC systems, a year’s worth of utility bills, and the efficiency of existing lights and appliances.

  2. Use energy modeling to develop a zero energy retrofit plan that includes the degree of airtightness to be achieved, the R-value of insulation to be installed, the U-value, of the windows, and the energy efficiency of the appliances, ventilation system, heating and cooling system, and lighting required.

  3. Add blown-in ceiling insulation, which often is an easy and inexpensive measure. Install floor insulation or basement wall insulation. Install insulation in the existing walls by blowing it into the walls, or by removing the siding and adding rigid foam insulation to the outside of the wall before re-siding.

  4. Replace all the light bulbs with energy-efficient CFL or LED light bulbs. LED bulbs are preferable because they are more energy efficient, last much longer and contain no mercury.

  5. Install low flow showerheads and faucets to reduce hot water use. Consider replacing an inefficient water heater with a more energy efficient model, such as a heat pump water heater.

  6. If you are sticking with an existing central heating system, be sure that the ducts are well sealed and insulated. If you are upgrading the heating and cooling system, consider a ductless mini-split heat pump, which is very energy efficient and easy to install as part of a retrofit.

  7. Replace leaky, energy efficient windows with windows with a U-Value close to 0.2 or install low-e storm windows, internal or external, which can save up to 20% of the heat lost through the windows. If you really want to get fancy think double pane.

  8. Install an energy recovery ventilation system or heat recovery ventilation system to provide a continual supply of fresh, filtered air in the home if the Air Changes per Hour is near or below 4.0. The Panasonic Whisper Comfort Spot ERV is an inexpensive ventilation system that may be appropriate for smaller homes.

  9. Install switches that will turn off electric outlets in home offices, family rooms and TV rooms, so that homeowners can easily turn off the plug loads on electronics, which otherwise would continue to use energy, even when they are “shut off.”

  10. Install or lease a solar PV system with a Powerwall or other battery storage system, that produces sufficient kWh of electricity to power the remaining energy needs of the home.


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