Cohousing is a vaccine against COVID-19 isolation, loneliness

ssv corona lindy

RN Lindy Cook gives a community orientation about the corona virus at an early meeting when the pandemic was still in its infancy.

A version of this story is now published in the fall 2020 edition of Communities No. 188. You download the publication here, courtesy of myself.

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One thing I’ve learned over the years, there’s nothing like a good old fashioned emergency to bring a community of any size together, from meeting your neighbor for the first time as a result of a power outage during a huge snowstorm to quickly spreading diseases like the coronavirus.

Cohousing communities and their residents are well equipped to deal with crisis situations, such as implementing current COVID-19 / Coronavirus prevention measures without resorting to martial law.

Internationally, nationally, and locally, hyper-vigilance will create political heroes, increase ratings on cable TV talking heads shows, sell more toilet paper – but in the long run, save lives, and bridge social and cultural divides.

We cohousers are predisposed to be hedges against isolation through collaboration, sharing of time and resources, and keeping track of one another. We’re big on meetings and getting together to make decisions about stuff.

Cohousing Association of the U.S. held a national online webchat about what other communities are doing around the country to respond to COVID-19. There is an online series that continues. Recordings will be available for those unable to participate live.

At my place, we have several neighbors self-isolating because of actual illness, having returned from travel or just being cautious. That hasn’t deterred the community from getting together.

ssv corona zoom

A virtual community meeting was held on the zoom.us platform for residents to talk about how to limit outside use of the Common House. All households were represented.

My community has convened a series of Zoom.us online conversations and reached consensus together on a set of common sense guidelines around how to use the community common house during lockdown.

Over the past few weeks, our resident opinions were all over the spectrum from “This is a hoax” to “I’m not worried” to “Put on the haz-mat suits.”

Myself? I’m more of a “Business as usual” guy, as far as my being “freaked out” quotient goes. I’ve been catching up on pandemic-related movies and TV shows. Last night “Outbreak” with Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo was on Prime Video.

On Netflix, I’m watching a TV series called “Containment” about what happens among frustrated people during a viral outbreak in a quarantine area where there are too many “rats in a cage.” Next are the classic “Andromeda Strain” and “Contagion” with Gwyneth Paltrow. There’s a good one called “Flu” from Korea, but it’s subtitled – I’ll watch that when I can concentrate more.

But in the cohousing community, my behavior is to observe the the most important lowest common denominator, which is hyper-vigilance.

Silver Sage Village COVID-19 guidelines  generally prohibit outsiders from entering the common house, and itinerant use by community members.

During normal times, the building is seldom frequented except for a few people using the laundry, residents checking the mail, getting items from the storage room, the new social distancing criterium isn’t much of an inconvenience. The mailman is asked to wipe the mail boxes.

Most Baby Boomers, including myself, were around during the 1950s and 1960s toward the end of the polio pandemic, and the swine flu that spread in 2009, which coincided with the financial system collapse.

My family provided support when the oral polio vaccines came out. In my grade school one kid recovered from polio and wore a leg brace ala Forrest Gump. He was bullied because he also wore a hearing aid – back then, they were very conspicuous, with earphones wired to a receiver the size of a Band-Aid box.

glass syringe

I remember my grandfather’s insulin syringe as looking similar to this Dr. Frankenstein item.

Jonas Salk developed the first vaccine that was administered by injection. Getting jabbed with what seemed to be a needle the size of a railroad spike was my first shot.I don’t remember being freaked out about it.

Living on top of others is not new to me. One time, my grandfather, who had diabetes stayed with us. My grandmother was unable to care for him at the time since she was running the family business, the Highway Cafe.

I had to give up my bedroom, but went in to see him every morning because I was curious about the insulin shots he administered to himself. He let me poke him with the big syringe. It was a glass barrel connected to a stainless steel contraption. I don’t know how sterile it could be, since it was only wiped off by a cloth and some alcohol.

Anyway, I didn’t have a fear of needles, still don’t.

Back in the 1960s, the vaccine development competition was fierce. In the case of polio, Albert Sabin won the oral vaccine contest. Polio vaccines were risky in that some people who were vaccinated contracted polio, but that risk was outweighed by the number of cases prevented.

I remember a big family social event was gathering at my grandparents house on 8th Street in the Southside of Cheyenne. We walked over to the fire station and stood in line with all the other neighbors to get a sugar cube with pink fluid dropped onto it. Seems like there were boosters necessary, but the most memorable was the first one.

ssv corona spam shelf

During the 2009 swine flu pandemic, there wasn’t a run on food like now during the COVID-19 scare, but there were a billion cases and 500,000 deaths in 2009.

What about the swine flu pandemic from 2009? That was a pretty big deal. Obama had a lot on his plate back then keeping the auto industry and banks stable. He eventually declared swine flu a national emergency. I had to look it up to refresh my memory.

I don’t remember anything about self-isolating, wiping doorknobs with Clorox, social distancing or anything like what’s happening now – but 500,000 people died and a billion were sick around the world. Turned out, saving the world economy was more important than saving people.

There were warnings about the swine flu contagion, but no mass closures of schools or businesses, nor were employees self-isolating in mass numbers.

The coronavirus outbreak could be a lot like the swine flu and the crash of 2009. Getting ahead of the disease and propping up the economy is the best we can hope to minimize disruptions.

Cohousers have the wherewithal to fast track hyper-vigilant responses to the control the COVID-19 virus. The U.S. government getting out in front with an economic stimulus package that includes couple Andrew Yang-esque Uniform Basic Income payments of $1,000 to most people, will be a short-term shot in the arm.

I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of toilet paper in the bathroom cabinet – I’m a hoarder from way back. I’m eating up all my emergency food, though. Next crisis, I’ll stock up on my least favorite snacks.
conrad dobler si cover
I mentioned at the start about meeting my neighbor during a snowstorm. It was when I moved to Laramie for graduate school in 1976 or so and living at my parent’s townhouse.

There was a power outage and I saw my neighbor out on the walk. We were both checking out the situation – snow drifted to the side of the house and no power.

Turned out, he was a University of Wyoming alumnus and a former linebacker for the Pokes.

He and his family lived in Laramie during the off season when he wasn’t on the field playing for the St. Louis football Cardinals – it was none other than Conrad Dobler, pro-football’s “Dirtiest Player.”

Conrad turned out to be a pretty nice guy, and if you do anything over the next few weeks, get to know your neighbors, even if it’s from six feet away. Your lives may one day depend on your friendships.

Boulder Co-living: What is it and why?

pollard coliving profile

The Boulder Co-living community is a proposed diverse income co-op housing / cohousing hybrid that is largely governed and managed by the residents

There are some estimates that up to two-thirds of renters across the nation say they can’t afford to buy a home. Since home prices are rising at a rate twice that of wage growth, saving up for that down payment is an even bigger challenge.

Millenials and GenXers with high student debt are in this boat, as are some older folks who for one reason or another were unable to build any extra savings.

In a high-cost place like Boulder, Colorado, if you didn’t get started here at least 25 years ago, or came to town with a big wad of money, finding a place to live is a challenge – and that’s an understatement.

The Boulder Co-living community is proposed as a place for neighbors with diverse incomes from as low as 50 percent of the area media income can live. The project proposal is planned for a small lot known as Quadrant 4 on the Boulder Junction former Pollard motors site generally located at 30th and Pearl Street, and submitted at the end of March.

The city of Boulder will evaluate proposals and hopes to have a project selected by the end of April.

We want to develop a list of people interested in the project, particularly potential owners. There have been a couple informational meetings and recorded as a youtube video you can view.

Check out and see if you’re eligible for the city of Boulder Affordable Housing program. Becoming qualified ahead of time will give you a head start, for any home you may find that meets your needs as part of this project or otherwise.

High-density communities, such as Boulder Co-living, are seen as one way to provide affordable housing to owners and renters. Two such configurations are “cohousing” and “co-op housing” will be hybridized in the Boulder Co-living community.

In a cohousing neighborhood, residents own their homes, but agree through a shared vision and list of values to maintain and operate their community through participation in activities like mowing the lawn, weeding the garden and shoveling snow, while enjoying each other’s company at shared meals a couple times a week.

Similarly, residents of a rental cooperative house have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork. The residents typically govern through consensus and share responsibilities and resources. New members are typically selected by the community’s existing membership, rather than by real estate agents, property managers or non-resident landowners.

If you can’t afford to buy a home or your rent is too high how can Boulder Co-living meet your needs?

Research points to a variety of co-living benefits. The most often mentioned benefits relate to reducing social isolation. The co-living “secret sauce” provides for intentional socializing, neighborly support when a neighbor is under the weather; sharing chores, expertise; and having neighbors who share similar interests and values.

What is co-living “secret sauce”? Co-living has certain basic characteristics. They are fairly broad, but include:

  • Relationships – Neighbors commit to being part of a community for mutual benefit. Co-living cultivates a culture of sharing and caring. Design features facilitate community-member interaction.
  • Balancing Privacy and Community – Co-living communities are designed for privacy as well as community. Residents balance privacy and community by choosing their levels of community engagement.
  • Participation – Decision-making is participatory and often based on consensus. Selft management empowers residents, builds relationships and can save money.
  • Shared Values – Co-living communities support residents in actualizing shared values.

If you’re into energy efficiency; resource reuse and recycling; use your bike, feet, or bus to get yourself around, the Boulder Co-living community may be the place for you.

How affordable cohousing can unite a divided America: ‘Get Up Off the Couch!’

ssv gardening lindy rica 2017

Cohousing residents share in the upkeep and maintenance of their communities through a collaborative, sharing, caringand consensus culture, 24-7-365.

Above, the cover photo was taken in Memel, South Africa. Former CoHoUS board member Steven Ablondi and his wife Cindy Burns are building cohousing there to help fill the housing gap in post-Apartheid South Africa. They are teaching construction trades and use “rammed earth” blocks to construct the homes.

America has always been a country divided. What is it about cohousing that can close those social and cultural divides?

Cohousing, as a national m ovement, is just beginning to come to grips with the potential influence intentional communities can have when influencing social change efforts.

In fact, the Cohousing Association of the U.S. (CoHoUS) is exploring retrofit, adaptive reuse alternatives to traditional cohousing that is largely accessible to people with lots of money and time.

Check out the “Affordable Conference on Affordable Cohousing.”

I provide this historical information to provide context about how cohousing can have an impact on making social change happen.

When the United States were founded, never in their wildest dreams did settlers from Western Europe think that there were local people freely migrating across what is now the southern border, or coming and going along the Pacific Ocean coast.

Today, the divides are more apparent. In my view, on one side of the canyon are those who haven’t been paying attention to those standing on the other side who see themselves as being increasingly disenfranchised since the end of the Cold War.

Life was good for main stream Americans during suburbanization following World War II. Beginning during the 1960s, their sense of privilege was challenged by legislated civil rights for people, primarily African Americans disenfranchised since the Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society that brought about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Then Affirmative Action was viewed as a program that took jobs and college placements away from the dominant culture as ways to level the academic and employment playing fields.

In the 1930s, the two main political parties flipped ideology. The Republican Party that included Lincoln, was once the party of inclusion and a strong national government, which evolved into the opposite, when Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal grew the federal government to pull the nation out of the Great Depression starting in 1932.

Seems that now, party identifications are flipping again. The Republicans are now the party with a galvanized working class base, while the Democrats have become the party for a highly educated, but fragmented elite class and have lost it’s historic New Deal base.

What does this have to do with affordable cohousing, diversity and inclusion? Those include an infinite number of subtle intersections and collaborations around class, race, ethnicity, ability, gender, sexual orientation, etc. It’s a daunting task to deal with each of these differences on their own.

I’d say that every cohousing community has as a value, one about diversity and inclusion. Based on the conversations I hear about these topics, there’s a sense of frustration around what to do.

Living in cohousing changes the way each of us looks at the world and how we better accept people different from ourselves. Affordable cohousing results in greater diversity.

I’d say, people are generally uncomfortable about discussing personal issues and views around Superman’s American Way, money, race, class, gender identity, sexual preference. But those discussions are key to forming strong and cohesive communities – intentional or not.

While the bricks and mortar of cohousing are the buildings where residents live, the individuals who form a community are the most important aspect.

alan-shoveling

Cohousing members chip in their time and effort to keep the community operating 24-7-365.

I live in cohousing and while, at least in my experience, it’s far from perfect, the intentionality brings neighbors together to work through tough issues – even though some may be on the petty side – like do we get rid of that old chair or not – they might as well be matters of life and death.

The upshot is, if there’s a housing configuration that is suited to forcing conversations among divergent opinions it’s cohousing.

There are 170 existing communities and 15,000 residents. The typical cohouser are characterized as: Caucasian; having high perceived social class; high income; high levels of education; progressive; 65 percent of the time an introvert; 70 percent of the time a woman.

To me the biggest frustration about cohousing is this. Cohousers by definition, because we’ve chosen this collaborative, cooperative, consensus-based lifestyle, we should be able to organize ourselves into some higher “saving the world” purpose.

  • Changing Superman’s American Way, we are driven to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, make a lot of money and be on top. These cultural norms create roadblocks for the advancement of caring and interactive communities beyond what is familiar.
  • Cohousing communities, by definition, bring diverse people together.  Cohousers look at their personal histories and make changes so as to become more inclusive as opposed to just believing it’s a good idea and how to outreach to diverse communities.
  • There are institutional barriers such as city councils and planning boards Cohousing “burning souls” create and maintain high-quality conversations and relationships personally, in community, and with city and county planners with innovative projects.
  • American culture of rugged individualism precludes cohousing from entering the mainstream as it has in other countries. Cohousing is just starting to go viral. There are untapped numbers of diverse people who are parts of the “non-traditional” cohousing demographic and learn ways to approach that market.

According to the Cohousing Research Network, retrofit cohouser demographics are more likely to include: more racial and ethnical diverse; lower and middle perceived social class; low to moderate income earners; progressives; more single mothers.

The cohousing movement can become a catalyst for positive change including, non-traditional and diverse cohousing communities that bridge the gap between the left and right, the haves and have nots, in the U.S. today.

Sign up today for the Affordable Conference on Affordable Cohousing. There’s a little something for everyone.