Love in Community Living: Cohousing with a Spouse

Shades Warrior Suite 7542

Image by U.S. Army via Flickr

There is a reason this community is called Women FOR Living in Community rather than just Women Living in Community. When I began this journey I knew it wasn’t for women only but that women were the glue that could hold these community relationships together.

A young friend recently shared with me that her aging parents are moving out of their colonial style home. With joint and vision problems they are no longer able to navigate the staircase with confidence. Their home, the one where they raised 3 children, has multiple bedrooms and bathrooms and could be a perfect home for community living. Imagine, instead of selling the home, if they repurposed it and invited others to share the space with them. How could this change the game for many seniors who would prefer to age in their own homes?

I encourage you to continue reading my thoughts about community living below.

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Community Spotlight: My House Our House

Photo from My House Our House

Photo from My House Our House

Community living can take on many forms. Today I wanted to share with you the story of Shadowlawn, the home of Jean McQuillin, Karen Bush, and Louise Machinist; three women who created a cooperative household to reduce expenses and live well for much less money than it takes to run a traditional home. They are housemates, friends, and co-authors and three individuals who chose to live together.

In the summer of 2013, their book came out to share their story with others.

In 2004, we were each happily living independently in Pittsburgh. While planning for a distant retirement, we realized how fantastic it could be to live together. We found ourselves asking, “Why not now?”

I encourage you to continue reading about My House Our House below.

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Men Living in Community: A Conversation with Dr. Joe Cole

This week I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Joe Cole. To get to know him a little more, here is the bio he shared with me.

Joe Cole is a philosopher, writer, and facilitator who loves growing sweet potatoes.  He lives in Carrboro, NC and was one of the original residents of Pacifica Cohousing Community, where he was a Lead Facilitator for several years, crafting policies to improve decision-making and develop a stronger culture of consensus.  Joe works as a facilitator, consultant, and trainer with non-profit organizations, consensus-based groups, and intentional communities.  He is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Guilford College, where he teaches courses on Just War Theory and Environmental Ethics.

We focus a lot about women living in community, but I wanted to get the perspective of a man who has not only experienced community living but who also advocates for it. Here is what Joe had to say.

Tell me about your community living situation?

I lived in a cohousing community for 6 years, and was involved in the planning of the community three years before that.  I am currently living in a more conventional neighborhood.

What led you to want to live in community?

I was attracted to the values of community and sustainability.  I wanted to experience living together cooperatively and having shared resources.  And there were sustainable elements of the homes and the community that were appealing.  Overall I feel that building community and cooperative institutions is an important way to create alternatives to the greed and individualism that dominates our culture.

What do you like most about it?

I enjoyed the sharing of resources and working together with neighbors to manage our land and community.  It was a great learning experience for me to work together cooperatively.  I had the ideals of community and cooperation, but I didn’t really have the skills and awareness of what it takes to live in community before moving in.  The experience and challenges of living there inspired me to take a two year facilitation training course, and I continue to learn and practice facilitation and cooperative skills in all aspects of my life–family, work, and community.

Would you recommend it to other men?

Absolutely.  I believe that living in community is a great challenge and a great joy.  It is an opportunity for growth and transformation.  And it offers a sense of meaning and accomplishment to contribute to communities and institutions that are reaching for something deeper than mainstream consumer culture offers.

We would love to hear from other men who have had experience living in community or who want to know more. Please let us know here or in a conversation at our Facebook page!

Rent or Buy: The Smart Science of Pooling Resources

“Been thinking, if we pooled our financial resources, we could move here, live here year-round.” Hannah held her breath and waited for their reactions.

I’ve been thinking the much the same.” Amelia leaned forward in chair. Aghast, Grace looked at each of her friends in turn. “What is next? I can’t handle any more changes.”

Hannah turned to her. “Let me ask you, Grace, what does Olive Pruitt do for us that we can’t do for ourselves, and for each other? We can even dial 911, imagine that.”

“By pooling our finances, we could live nicely here.”

“Here we could share food, electric, gas repairs, lawn, maintenance, things like that.”

Springing from her chair, Grace flung her arms into the air. “I barely adjust to one thing and you two want to go even farther. There is too much for me. Too many changes!”

“You are tougher, more adaptable than you think,” Hannah retorted. “Things are different now; you won your own life. Time you initiated change.”

“What do you really want, Grace? What is right for you? The three of us sharing a home, helping one another seems very right to me.”

Grace admitted that she subconsciously had been thinking about this idea too.

Amelia hugged Grace, and uncharacteristically Hannah reached out her arms to hug both Amelia and Grace. They no longer felt like three women of a certain age concerned with aching hip, tenuous heart, or a fear of being alone. They were pioneers, driven by hopes and dreams; they were visionaries with sweeping goals.”

Excerpt from “Ladies of Covington Send Their Love” by Joan Medlicott

We all know that sharing a living space can save us money, so why don’t more people do it? American culture often encourages college age students to share housing to pool resources and save money, so it makes sense that the concept can be applied throughout our lives. Boomer women have a chance to blaze a new trail and create communities of women living together. So let’s look at what women can accomplish by pooling their resources.

Click below to read more.

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Transforming Existing Neighborhoods – Part Two

This home was collectively purchased and turned into the Common House for N Street neighborhood in Davis, CA.

In last week’s blog, I wrote about bringing more community to your existing neighborhood. This week, let’s discuss what it will take to make this happen. If this is the path you’re considering, here are several important characteristics you’ll need – starting with patience. To be successful, you’ll be speaking with the households on your block and the surrounding blocks to determine if they wish to participate. Be prepared for this process to take time and lots of it. You’re introducing a new idea and people need time to digest something new and make the time in their already busy lives.

Leadership is another key trait. Transforming a neighborhood needs a champion, someone to keep everyone and everything moving forward. If you’re that leader, consider finding a co-leader as soon as possible. You will need to coordinate ongoing events, including planning and implementing social and educational activities. A political effort may also be needed if a  zoning change is involved or to create an HOA, if one doesn’t already exist.

Vision is a third necessary characteristic to see the blueprint of what’s possible and the importance of increased community on your block. Add to  vision, strong communication skills as you’ll be sharing your idea to a diverse group of people understand your vision, including existing residents, current landlords, city officials, potential future residents and design professionals. Communication tools may include your creating a neighborhood newsletter, a community bulletin board,  email list or distributing a flyer about upcoming events to people’s homes.

Tenacity is the final trait required. Some people will find the idea exciting. Others will be opposed. It will require ongoing effort over time to transform your existing neighborhood into group of households that is aligned with a community version.

“Transforming something that is already there involves overcoming the inertia of what is for the benefits of what could be,” said Zev Paiss, sustainability educator and author of From Here To There: A Positive Story of America’s Future.

Models to reference include “retrofit cohousing” where existing cohousing neighborhoods have been turned into supportive communities. In this model, residents start with a few existing homes on a block and adapt the houses, alleys, backyards and courtyards to make them more pedestrian-friendly and community-oriented.

One example is N Street Cohousing in Davis, California, a 19-household neighborhood that started forming in 1991. This community was created by future residents buying up houses in the neighborhood and then taking down the side and backyard fences between the homes. Another example is Temescal Creek Cohousing in Oakland, California, which took only three months to get started.

Retrofitting an existing neighborhood has the advantage of adapting existing structures and not needing to build new construction. It offers innovative opportunities, such as outreach to your friends and family members when homes in the neighborhood go on the market. Another option if for neighbors to buy a home together and convert it into a shared space for meals, meetings and guest bedrooms for out-of-town guests.

The largest disadvantage of transforming your existing neighborhood is the resistance you may meet from current homeowners on your block. However, it may only take five to six households who get behind your idea to make a difference in the amount of community you and others will enjoy.
If you’re interested in this neighborhood process and other ways of creating community in your housing arrangement, please contact me.

Are you a Good Fit for Cohousing? Part Two

Future cohousing residents in California dine together after one of their monthly business meetings.

In last week’s blog, I discussed the six defining characteristics of cohousing neighborhoods which combine personal privacy with community. But how do you know if you’re a good fit for living in these intentional neighborhoods?  If you want a sneak preview, click here for a one-minute video presentation I gave in Florida about key characteristics for successfully living in cohousing.

You Like Meetings
If you get involved with a forming cohousing group, be prepared for lots of meetings anywhere from monthly to weekly. Meetings are an essential component of cohousing because creating one of these communities is an egalitarian, participatory process where future residents make decisions together as a group. The beauty of this collaborative decision making process is that you have an active say in the development of your neighborhood including both, the physical design of the community, and the social agreements for living together after move-in. Ask yourself if you’ll enjoy and/or are willing to participate in meetings for typically two to three years from conception to move-in and then bi-monthly after you move in.

You’re Willing to Share Leadership
Making decisions as a group requires strong communication and group process skills. Typically, several members of the forming group get trained early on to effectively facilitate and lead meetings. If you’re interested in learning these skills you will be a valuable member of the cohousing group and these skills are applicable in other aspects of your life (e.g. your work or spiritual community). Many cohousing neighborhoods use egalitarian consensus decision-making to ensure that all opinions are heard in a discussion. Rather than having a single dominant leader, cohousing group process is more based on the Quaker belief that ‘”everyone has a piece of the truth.”

You’re Comfortable Expressing Your Feelings
Since so many issues are discussed during the development stage of cohousing and after move-in, residents find that sharing personal feelings leads to self-discovery. A favorite quote sourced to Zev Paiss, founding Executive Director of the Cohousing Association of the U.S. captures this well:

“Cohousing is the longest and most expensive personal growth workshop you will ever take.”

If you enjoy meetings, are willing to share leadership, and express your personal feelings, cohousing offers an innovative and nurturing alternative to living alone or the isolation of standard U.S. neighborhoods. Please contact me for more info about this community-focused option.

Women For Living in Community