After months of watching this new affordable housing project come together, my family and I took advantage of a rainy Sunday afternoon to check it out. The Petaluma Avenue Homes are built on the cohousing model, rather than the typical low-income apartment block.

The developer, Affordable Housing Associates, says:

Petaluma Avenue Homes is designed around cohousing principals. This means that in addition to having your own standard apartment with full kitchen and full bathroom, there is a common house where you can meet or eat with your neighbors, a large play area, bike parking, and a community garden—all centrally located.

Although the developer claims be following the principles, it’s a bit hard to tell how far that goes. Certainly there was no participatory process for residents. As the Cohousing.org site notes,

A well-designed, pedestrian-oriented community without significant resident participation in the planning may be “cohousing-inspired,” but it is not a cohousing community.

The developer has no information about some of the other principles, such as whether residents will manage the community. There’s a common house, but it’s not large enough to hold everyone at once.

Community garden space, Petaluma Avenue Homes

Community garden space, Petaluma Avenue Homes

As an “inspired by” development, there are some nice touches. Most of the landscaping is edible. The common area is attractive, with a nice play space for the kids; small, but nice community garden; parking on the outside; PV array on the common house; and most of the housing is fairly well shielded from the noise of traffic on Petaluma Ave.

As Sebastopol’s second co-housing project to open (Two-Acre Wood was first) and one of the only affordable housing projects in many years, it will be intersting to see how the community develops. Sequoia Village, the other affordable housing project currently underway is also following the developer-driven cohousing model, but with individual ownership of the units as a goal. This 20-unit project, built by Burbank Housing Corporation, is located on Covert Lane, near Ragle Park, in the northwest corner of the city. Several meetings have been held since the project opened and a smattering of publicity has gone out, including the Sept. 23, 2008 segment of KRCB’s North Bay Report. All twenty units are now spoken for.

See additional photos of the Petaluma Avenue Homes on Flickr

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