Boulder Co-living – Nuts and Bolts

ssv coho alan boulder

The burning souls organize gatherings for the future residents to get together and talk about the nature of their community.

What are the general steps to building the Boulder Co-living community? There will be people who get involved with various levels of interest ranging from the “Burning soul” advocates to the passively interested who sit back and watch how the project comes together. Nonetheless, there are three basic steps:

Feasibility study

  • Discuss and agree upon community values and perhaps, a higher purpose, which would fill the need to walk their community values talk while participating in service projects;
  • Whether you’re 30 or 80 people, come up with a name and “elevator speech” identifying the community. Referring to yourselves as a “bunch of housemates” doesn’t tell about your community story;
  • Community cohesiveness could be built around a higher purpose of community service that binds a community together.
  • Once you kick the can down the road a few blocks, check your state laws about homeowner association regulations. You will find they set up HOAs that do not mirror co-living very well – lots of centralized power and control, lots of voting.

Develop budgets

  • There likely will be common expenses that relate to community activities, coordinating transportation, common meals, intra-community communication and a fee structure to pay for all or part.
  • Community values and mission are implemented through the budget by teams – overall steering team equivalent to a board of directors, social events, managing building and grounds, proceed and governance, finances and legal matters,
  • The entire community approves by consensus the budget or any action for that matter, and the steering team ratifies the action also by consensus.

Design and Construction

  • If you’re sharing a big house, there will be design issues about designating common spaces and storage. Some design and construction in retrofits may be necessary if you’re in an existing condo community or apartment building is adapted. This may include renovating an existing dwelling unit into a common space with a guest room and common kitchen which was the case at Boulder Creek cohousing in Colorado;
  • Identify resident needs, how the “site” functions – if it is in an existing physical development like a condo association, apartment complex, or households dispersed within a given boundary;
  • Determine what are considered “common spaces” which may not be literally common, but function in common. These may be in private homes for shared meals and meetings, civic spaces, churches, libraries

Baseball cards and life go full circle

Over the past few years, my interest in baseball has waned. I don’t know why exactly, but maybe it’s the business emphasis of the sport now. It’s more about how much money this player is worth, versus how many games out of first place is my team.

There aren’t near as many kids playing baseball, compared to soccer, which is a low-cost-of-entry pass time, plus any kid can play the game and learn the basic rules. Baseball is an ambidextrous sport with lots of subtleties to the rules of the game.

My life transitions have pretty much mirrored my baseball card collecting. In baseball card milestones, I’m entering into the sixth phase of my life.

mazeroski

This is the 1961 Topps card with Bill Mazeroski rounding the bases after winning the 1960 World Series with a home run.

Phase 1, the 1960s, Growing up and JFK – I really didn’t get into baseball until the early 1960s. My family got a TV around that time and the first World Series I watched was in 1960 when the Pirates beat the Yankees. My maternal grandfather was a Yankees fan and my dad was a Yankees fan, which would make me a third generation Yankees fan.

Watching Bill Mazeroski hit that home run to win the series in 1960 is still etched in my mind and to this day, I’m not much of a Pirates fan. I have a 1960 Roberto Clemente that was abandoned to me by Pat Higgins since his dislike for the Pirates was even greater than mine!

Also in that trade, I got a 1957 Frank Robinson rookie and a JC Penney golf putter. I can’t remember what I traded.

As for baseball cards, I don’t think I bought a pack until 1962 when my ranging pattern expanded. My grandparents lived a few blocks from a Safeway and the Missile drugstore in Cheyenne. I remember buying packs of Topps cards. In 1961, as my 8th birthday favors. Around that time was when I signed up for Little League and ended up playing for the Red Sox, of all things. In November 1963, my mom’s church circle group held their annual rummage sale in the Presbyterian Church basement.

wally moon

In 1963, I bought a Rawlings Wally Moon baseball glove at my mom’s church rummage sale. This is a 1963 Topps card.

My dad was a pretty good ballplayer. He bought me my first glove, which was from the Ben Franklin store. I used it for a summer but it didn’t have a very good pocket and a ball bounced out, hit me in the eye and KO’d me.

After that, I  found a Wally Moon mitt at the rummage sale, and bought it for a quarter, which was my weekly allowance. It was the weekend after President Kennedy was murdered. Besides the glove, I remember many of the women talking about JFK, when one of the women – who was a staunch conservative – came out of the kitchen area and said “It serves him right.”

Being a kid, I was awestruck by the comment, mostly because I didn’t quite know what to think of it. I think the others were caught by surprise, too. By this time, the Beatles were big and Topps put out several years worth of Beatles cards which were sold at the Save More Drug Store. I bought a bunch of those but don’t know where the bulk of them went. I still covet my 45rpm copy of “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

We were baseball-starved in the Rocky Mountain west. The Denver Bears were the AAA affiliate for the Yankees off and on back then. My dad and some guys at his work had tickets to see an exhibition game between the Bears and the Yankees in 1964. They invited me along. Yogi was the manager and Ralph Houk the general manager by then. Seeing Maris and Mantle playing in the outfield is a life highlight.

nixon elvis

I lost interest in sports card collecting in the 1970s when I was in high school and college. I ended up voting for Richard Nixon in 1972.

Phase 2, the 1970s, High school, college – When I learned how to drive and was in high school and college, I out grew baseball card collecting and stashed the cards in old Quaker Oats boxes where they remained in the crawl space in my parent’s home in Laramie. Back then, there weren’t plastic storage boxes like there are now.

Luckily, my mother didn’t touch my cards and I eventually retrieved them. The reason cards are worth so much money today is because of moms who tossed out their kids’ collections while they were away.

I became more interested in politics back then and was involved in student government. I’m sorry to say, my first presidential vote in 1972 was for Richard Nixon. I was a Republican for a long time, until I was drummed out of the party for supporting a Democrat, John Vinich for U.S. Senate, in 1988. Wyoming is one of those states where you can change party affiliation at the polls and switch back the same day. Turns out, I probably was a Democrat all along.

munson rookie

Buzz Thurber was one of the first big time card collectors I knew. He had a complete set of the 1971 Topps cards which were tough to find in good condition.

Phase 3 – 1980s, started working – I got my first job and coincidentally, there was a resurgence in sports card collecting. I don’t know what started it all then, but some tipping point caused mostly guys to dig out their collections – myself included.

There were sports card stores opening and sports card trade shows happening around the country – mostly in the larger towns.

I was in Lander by this time and one of my friends, Buzz Thurber, was a bigger collector than I was. I was impressed that he had a set of the 1971 Topps cards. They have a black border and tough to find with edges not chipped up.

Buzz and I organized a small card show in the meeting room at the Crossroads Restaurant – which it was known back then. I always tell kids to study and get a good job so they can spend money on stuff like baseball cards and not have to ask for permission. I remember one guy who showed off his collection had a binder of HOFers – lots of different, old cards I hadn’t seen before, of course, this is before old cards were found in grandmas’ attics and now priced out of sight.

Back then, I acquired Babe Ruths, Ty Cobb, for around $50.

In 1995 I took my dad to see the replacement Yankees play the replacement Rockies in the first game at Coors Field.

In 1995 I took my dad to see the replacement Yankees play the replacement Rockies in the first game at Coors Field.

Phase 4 – 1990s, Moved to Colorado – I ended up staying in Boulder when the Rockies came to Denver in 1993. I went to Colorado, for what was originally a temporary stay when I worked for the Northern Arapaho Tribe setting up a “cultural conduit” between the tribe and its former homelands along the front range. The idea was to develop markets for Arapaho artists works.

I remember the first time I drove up to Laramie to visit my parents. My dad asked, “What are those green license plates doing on your car?” I had season tickets to the Rockies from the opening of Coors Field in 1995 until the All Star Game in 1998.

I forgot to mention that I joined a rotisserie baseball league in Lander. I didn’t quite get how to keep the stats since it was before computers and all the data was compiled by hand. My team was called the Yangs. As opposed to yin – yang, there is a Star Trek episode about an alternate world where the Civil War was fought not by the Yanks and Confederates, but the Yangs and the Congs.

In Boulder, I joined a league colloquially known as the Baseball Buttheads with Paul Pearson, Scott Deitler, Glenn Locke, et al. When I joined, it with my Yangs team, the data were figured quasi-manually, but with the explosion of fantasy sports, migrated to an online version. I kept baseball cards of all my players. I was the only team owner with enough guts to draft Colorado Rockies pitchers.

pine riders

My sports card store in Riverton was called Pine Riders.

Prior to my move to Colorado, my friend, John, and I – we both worked at the Wyoming State Journal started up a sports card store called Pine Riders in Riverton. He was a big sports card collector, too. That was a lot of fun buying and selling cards.

At our grand opening, we had former Yankees pitcher Bud Daley who still lives in Fremont County. I ran into Bud at the Wind River Casino working the slots a few months ago.  We also had former Cleveland Indian utility player Woody Held who lived in Dubois. He passed away in 2009.

bud daley

Bud Daley  makes his home in Riverton, Wyoming. He pitched the winning game in the 1962 World Series. He was a special guest when Pine Riders opened in Riverton.

It was around this time that the bottom started falling out of the market. The hobby became very weird. Topps had a corner on the hobby which was now being transformed into business. Two other companies, Donruss and Fleer came out with sets. All of a sudden, the market was flooded with cards.

To top it all off, a Walmart opened up in Riverton and if I didn’t know better, Walmart targeted Pine Riders and the office supply store across the street with predatory pricing.

Kids were bringing in cards they bought there for less than our wholesale price. Pine Riders slowly lost that part of the business which was a blessing in disguise since there were Donruss, Score, Topps, Fleer, Bowman, Leaf, Fleer Ultra, Upper Deck, Topps Stadium Club and a bunch of others. The store continued to do okay in the secondary market. I left the business when I moved to Colorado.

The old cards maintained their values, but for new collectors, artificial scarcity was created with unique “chase” cards that were traded and sold like stock. Those cards weren’t for collecting, but rather for making money. I think sports cards mirrored the dot com model. Whoever ended up with a suitcase full of chase cards ended up holding card board.

maris topps

Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record in 1961. All the boys in the neighborhood wanted to be Roger.

As for myself, I traded away my bulk cards which were sets spanning 1958 to 1990. I started collecting certain Yankees teams: 1996 the Seinfeld Yankees era with Jeter, Williams, O’Neill; 1977 – 78 with Reggie Jackson; 1961 – 62 with Mantle and Maris; 1953 my birth year, 1932 with Ruth at the end of his career; 1923 first year in Yankee Stadium and first World Series title, 1919 the year of the White Sox scandal NFL and Chicago Bears founder George Halas was on the team. Then lost interest.

ground zero

This is Ground Zero in October 2001. Every time I go to New York I go to the same corner and take a picture.

Phase 5 – the 2000s, Terrorism and baseball – September 11, 2001 was a strange day. I was working in Denver at the time. I didn’t have the radio or TV playing that morning. I rode the 204 bus to the RTD station in Downtown Boulder.

No chatter on the bus. There was not one mention of the World Trade Center terrorist attack until we pulled into the Table Mesa Park n Ride. When I got into Denver and on the 15 bus, the town was eerily quiet – no planes were in the sky.

Flash forward.

I’m a very experiential person and felt like I needed to get to New York City. Turned out the Yankees won the American League Pennant, but the World Series was delayed until late October because of the terrorist attacks. I flew from Denver to Boston and made my way to New York on Amtrak for games three and four. I bought game tickets on ebay.

    These are the two fans i befriended for game 3 of the 2001 World Series in Yankee Stadium. Jeter hits a walk off homer in the 10th.

These are the two fans i befriended for game 3 of the 2001 World Series in Yankee Stadium. Jeter hits a walk off homer in the 10th.

This trip, I stayed at the Hotel Pennsylvania which is across from Penn Station. It used to be well kept secret in New York City, but has since been “rediscovered” – at least they raised their rates.

The Yankees dropped the first two to the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix. The security was tight getting into Yankee Stadium. The game was dramatic. President Bush threw out the first pitch.

A flag from the World Trade Center flew over the stadium. Lee Greenwood sang “I’m Proud to be an American”. Clemens pitched well, I think a three hitter and the Yankees win 2 – 1 on a hit by Scott Brosius.

Game four was quite the nail biter that went into the 10th inning. Paul O’Neil gets on base and Tino Martinez smacks one into the stands to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth off BH Kim.

jeter rookie

Derek Jeter retires this year. He was one of many Yankees who appeared on Seinfeld.

Kim stays in the game in the 10th and ends up facing Jeter who hits a walk off homer to take a three games to two lead. I sat with a couple New York guys.

Everyone was a Yankees fan that night.

Jeter was dubbed “Mr. November” for his heroics. He’ll likely be the only player to be known as that since I’d be surprised if any more World Series games are played in November.

babe ruth w517

I’ve been filling in my 1919, 1923 Yankees collection. eBay has taken the challenge out of collecting. All a hobbyist needs is money and can buy just about anything.

Phase 6 – 2013, Downsizing – I had some pretty serious health issues in 2013 and came to the realization that it’s time to start sort through my stuff. I’ve been threatening to do this for many years.

I was in the hospital and rehab place for six weeks; physical therapy for four weeks and have been on my own for six weeks.

The acid test will be when I take on the Bolder Boulder 10K foot race on Memorial Day. I joined a facebook baseball card group which compelled me to get out the boxes again. Now that I’m old, it’s time to let other people enjoy what i have and am selling and trading to lighten my load.

I’m moving many cards, autographs, comic books and other ephemera on ebay. I’m converting the stuff that I no longer want into the few odd ball items I need to fill out some of my Yankees collections.

It’s very liberating but very time consuming. I’m still challenged by collecting and enjoy thumbing through my collection – I feel like a kid again!

Since the bulk of my collection was acquired before baseball cards became investments, I don’t worry about resale value as much as I do about enjoyment from the hobby. Over the past few years, I’ve been able to scrounge a 1928 Yankees signed baseball with Babe on the sweet spot, a cut signature of Lou Gehrig, and obscure stuff for my 1960 to 1964 Yankees collection.

I see there are guys who say they are collecting to pay for their kid’s college educations. Fat chance that will happen. My heirs won’t know what it is about a 1990 Fleer Ultra Frank Thomas, let alone where to sell it. I’ll be getting rid of all my stuff within the next five years, the next 20 years at the latest!

The cohousing ‘dog owner’ and ‘dog not owner’ conundrum

molly 3

Molly, the Corgi, was one of the many community dogs not allowed in the common house.

If you know anything at all about cohousing communities, members spend countless hours sitting around, talking and eventually make decisions by consensus about lots of routine stuff like who’s in charge of changing lightbulbs when they go out in the common house, or who’s bringing what to the pot luck dinner, or who’s calling the trash hauler because the recycling bin is overflowing.

But then there are the few decisions that take up the most time and energy because the discussions often get entangled trying to balance the “rights of self-interested individuals” and the “good of the whole.”

There’s been a lengthy thread on the Cohousing Association of the U.S. email listserv about one of those hot topics – dogs in the common house. Some dog owners take very personally any actions banning dogs from community spaces.

One of my cohousing friends and colleagues, Ann Zabaldo, lives in Takoma Village in Washington D.C. She wrote what I consider to be the best response I’ve heard about how to balance the dialectic between “dog owners” and “dog not owners” and writes:

“There are two kinds of people in the world: dog owners and dog not owners. I am a dog lover.

“When I first moved into Takoma Village some 19 years ago I lived w/ a dog. And I felt the same as you – torn between being with my dog or being with neighbors in the common house.

“I don’t expect “dog not owners” to understand this. Like you, Noah and I were inseparable. He was always at my heels. We were best buds. Sadly, within two months of moving in Noah died. Nineteen years later there’s still a hole in my heart.

“The professional advice upon the loss of a dog – New dog. Same breed. As soon as possible – has not yet manifested itself. Still too soon.

“Adapting to cohousing rules about pets is not an easy adaptation for dog owners to make. You are used to going places w/ your four-footer. They are “family members.” Now, after these years developing your community, you are confronted by the promise of having these relationships w/ two-footers but your four-footer is restricted.

“This is hard.

“Many people on this list have addressed the challenges and concerns of mixing pets w/ community life especially as it pertains to the common areas. I won’t repeat the concerns (If you’re on the listserv, read the email history here).

“I suggest: make the most of outdoor spaces. During warm weather consider organizing dinners or other meals outside. People love to BBQ or just bring dinner on a tray and sit w/ others outside. If you have the outdoor space, consider creating a dog run. It will be a lovely social space.

“If you participate in agility create an agility course. Put on a demonstration for your community. Have a dog show! Do fun things w/ your dog and invite neighbors to go w/ you even if just for a walk. Walking w/ a dog is never boring. Even in cool or cold weather gin up some activities w/ your dog(s) and the community.

“NOTE: Dog/pet owners can gain a good deal of Karma by scrupulously cleaning up after pets. You will still have the problems of folks who are afraid of dogs, who don’t like dogs, who are intolerant etc. You can do a lot to reduce hesitation about dogs in the community by sharing your dog.

“There may be kids or adults in the community who cannot own a dog for some reason but who would like the company of dogs. So consider including neighbors in the life of you and your dog.

“After Noah died, my neighbor brought her dog, Lucy, to stay w/ me during the day. That started my Doggie Day Care service. I had Lucy’s company all day. Lucy didn’t have to spend her days in a house by herself. The owner could relax and not rush home to walk the dog by 6 p.m. because I gave Lucy a comfort break every afternoon.

“If the neighbor wanted to stay at work later … I would feed Lucy. Perfect cohousing relationship.

“You may be able to work something out w/ your community about limited access in the CH proper. However, that may be a steep climb.

“So again … look for opportunities to integrate pooches w/ the community. Enjoy living in cohousing w/ your companion. BTW —For my next coho community I’m envisioning creating a community of dog lovers and Mindfulness Meditation practitioners.

Excellent combination. Bark! Bark! Ruff! Ruff! OM … mmmmmmmmmm”

 

Affordable retrofit cohousing

plains dairy trip

Baby Boomer neighborhoods were tight knit. Parents knew each other because kids knew each other.

I remember growing up in a neighborhood where the kids all hung around together and the reason our parents knew each other was because bands of kids charged through one another’s houses.

Garage doors were always open and lots of neighborhood birthday parties happened on the weekends.

Those were the golden days of suburbia. After World War II the American Way was to live in a single family home outside the urban core. After 60 years, that lifestyle is now getting tarnished.

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.

High-density communities are seen as one way to provide affordable housing to owners and renters. One such configuration is “cohousing.” The cohousing model originated in Denmark in the 1960s. Architects Katie McCamant and Chuck Durrett brought the concept to the United States in the 1980s.

Boulder Senior Cohousing Communities

Lindy Cook and Alan O’Hashi pull weeds from the garden of the community with other residents. The active adult cohousing community for those 55 or older is setup like a usual condo community with every person having their own place, but the sense of community is what is unique. (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post)

In the traditional 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.

The fact is, traditional cohousing can’t be built fast enough nor inexpensive enough to meet growing demand, particularly for the aging population. There are 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day through at least the next decade.

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

I’ll introduce you to a couple alternatives to “stick-built” cohousing communities.

Remember, housing is housing and what differentiates cohousing from other configurations is the “secret sauce.”

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

What is cohousing “secret sauce”? Cohousing has certain basic characteristics. They are fairly broad, but include:

  • Relationships – Neighbors commit to being part of a community for mutual benefit. Cohousing cultivates a culture of sharing and caring. Design features and the neighborhood size are typically between 30 and 40 homes that promote frequent interaction and close relationships.
  • Balancing Privacy and Community – Cohousing neighborhoods 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 – Cohousing communities support residents in actualizing shared values.

Three cohousing configurations: Over the years, the traditional cohousing model has been evolving. I live in Boulder, Colorado where microbreweries are part of the economic base. What are the types of cohousing microbrews?

  • Cohousing UltraLite – “Burning Souls” transform an existing neighborhood or repurpose a building or build a community among members who don’t live in the same location. This is the most cost effective and quicker approach and allows for more rental housing.
beacon hill village

Beacon Hill Village consists of 500 neighbors who agree how to support one another.

Architect and real estate professionals play supportive roles. Residents of retrofit cohousing in one place include more young people, full-time students, renters, racial minorities, single householders, and households with fewer financial assets. When applying the tenets of cohousing, “retrofit” can also be a community of people who don’t live in the same proximity.

Housing is housing, but the cohousing culture is what makes the community. The Beacon Hill Village is an existing dispersed community of 500 seniors who agree upon how to be active and supportive of one another rather than reliant on others to “take care” of them all the time.

They provide neighborly support with one another and coordinate outside social and physical care giving when necessary. The Beacon Hill approach would be appropriate to multigenerational communities as well. Since all are aging, it seems like people don’t get around to planning for their life care until it’s almost too late.

A group in Traverse City, Michigan is forming their community ahead of time. They have their eyes on an existing building that they are planning to retrofit into their physical community.

big bang eating

The apartment house “Big Bang Theory” community routinely share meals together in each other’s apartments.

There also is “accidental cohousing” as is the case of the “Big Bang Theory” apartment house setting where Sheldon, Amy; Leonard, Penny; and Howard, Bernadette; live and the elevator has been out for years.

They use the stairway as a common area where they have conversations every show. They share common meals in their various apartments.

Their decision making is by consensus, with majority often having to compromise towards Sheldon’s minority position.

In real life, a couple in Flushing, New York built an accidental community in their apartment building.

  • Cohousing Lite – The project is architect and real estate professional driven. The “Burning Souls” may or may not be recruiting community members. The development is less time consuming since there is less customization. It is also less capital intensive since the developer is responsible for the development and homeowners only have to obtain financing for their home.
bloomington coho

Bloomington Cohousing is a great example of Coho Lite. The developer is building spec housing as the community forms.

An example is Bloomington Cohousing in Indiana. The developer, Loren Wood, is financing and constructing the project designed by an architect who worked with the “Burning Souls” to come up with some basic floor plans. The community is being organized concurrent with the project development.

Another example is Genesee Garden in Lansing, Michigan. The neighbors transformed an existing area rather than building from the ground up. As homes become available for purchase, the community purchases them. One was converted into the common house.

  • Cohousing Stout – Traditional community structure. “Burning souls” partner with an architect and other real estate professionals. Projects are very capital intensive with the developers and future community members share the risks of the entire development. In addition to finding like-minded people who want to live together, they must also have the financial resources to invest in land, design and construction, patience to decide on countertops and landscaping and have the time to wait while all this happens.
garden-day

Where I live is an example of cohousing stout. It was built from the ground-up.

I live in a  stout community consisting of 16 condos. It is representative of the characteristics of the broader segment of the wider Boulder, Colorado community, in that it tends towards the extremes. The project was heavily subsidized to encourage socioeconomic diversity.

The community has six permanently affordable deed-restricted houses that are 800 sqft in size and priced at $160,000. Those are contrasted with 10 houses that are “market rate” and range in sizes from 1,000 to 3,000 sqft and have values in excess of $800,000.

This ground-up process often takes three to five years or more with potential members coming and going and mostly accessible to people and families who have inherited wealth or adequate disposable savings.

Who is the typical cohouser? There are significant differences among the residents who live in the various cohousing configurations, with coho ultralite residents being the most diverse:

  • Coho Stout and Lite – Caucasian, liberal, high perceived social class, high income, high education level, 70 percent of the time a woman
  • Coho UltraLite – More racially diverse, liberal, middle class, moderate income, high education level, more singles and single parents

What are the three steps to building a cohousing community? In a retrofit situation the community development steps are the same as for a traditional cohousing community. “Burning soul” advocates and other group members may or may not live in the same building or community. They may decide to move into the same apartment or condo complex, but would follow a typical cohousing development process such as these three steps:

Feasibility study

  • Discuss and agree upon community values and perhaps, a higher purpose, which would fill the need to walk their community values talk while participating in service projects;
  • Whether you’re three or thirty people, come up with a name and “elevator speech” identifying the community. Referring to yourselves as a “bunch of housemates” doesn’t tell about your community story;
  • Community cohesiveness could be built around a higher purpose of community service that binds a community together.
  • Once you kick the can down the road a few blocks, check your state laws about homeowner association regulations. You will find they set up HOAs that do not mirror cohousing very well – lots of centralized power and control, lots of voting. Save this until later, because conforming cohousing declarations with state laws is a chore.

Develop budgets

  • There likely will be common expenses that relate to community activities, coordinating transportation, common meals, intra-community communication and a fee structure to pay for all or part.
  • Community values and mission are implemented through the budget by teams – overall steering team equivalent to a board of directors, social events, managing building and grounds, proceed and governance, finances and legal matters,
  • The entire community approves by consensus the budget or any action for that matter, and the steering team ratifies the action also by consensus.

Design and Construction

  • If you’re sharing a big house, there will be design issues about designating common spaces and storage. Some design and construction in retrofits may be necessary if you’re in an existing condo community or apartment building is adapted. This may include renovating an existing dwelling unit into a common space with a guest room and common kitchen which was the case at Boulder Creek cohousing in Colorado;
  • Identify resident needs, how the “site” functions – if it is in an existing physical development like a condo association, apartment complex, or households dispersed within a given boundary;
  • Determine what are considered “common spaces” which may not be literally common, but function in common. These may be in private homes for shared meals and meetings, civic spaces, churches, libraries

Looking for a few cohousing retrofit pioneers. There are plenty of individuals who are interested in cohousing. Some of you may have managed to form into group that has begun the traditional cohousing process but you’ve bumped into obstacles including lack of money, no suitable land available, professionals such as architects who are only willing to give so much upfront service, group members who can no longer wait for the community to get off the ground. There are well-documented war stories.

I want to prove the concept. I’m seeking one or more people, preferably in the Denver-area to organize a retrofit cohousing community and facilitate you through the process.

  • Maybe, you don’t need a place to live or have bumped into some community development obstacles, but want to create connections with other like-minded people as a hedge against loneliness and living in isolation;
  • Maybe you live in an apartment building and your neighbors are interested in a more collaborative lifestyle;
  • Maybe you are affiliated with an existing assisted living community and want to adopt appropriate cohousing principles

There are varying opinions about whether what I describe is actually cohousing, but regardless, I want to hear from you. Email adoecos@yahoo.com

Alan O’Hashi is the incoming president of the national Cohousing of the US board of directors.

Views from my deathbed: Cohousing taught me it’s okay to ask for help

hospital monitors

My robot care givers – monitors that check out how I was doing at any moment. In the cover photo, those are 1 pound weights on my walker that I struggled with lifting. I wondered what I was going to do with my grandfather’s bamboo cane – use it of course. The rubber bands were for physical therapy.

Here it is February 1, 2019. Five years ago today I returned home from the hospital and rehab after six weeks on my deathbed, losing 30 pounds (20 percent of my body weight), and surviving two surgeries.

I’m glad that my visit from the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come is behind me. It gave me a view of what the end of my life would be like and I better keep living it up while I can.

I made a documentary about my experience called “Aging Gratefully: The Power of Community” that’s available to watch.

During the ensuing five years, I’ve become Medicare-eligible and my memory isn’t the steel trap it used to be and I’ve learned to quit living in denial and ask for help.

My experience was so profound, I’m more than willing to talk to you or your community about the “why” part of cohousing.

When I moved into a senior cohousing community, I didn’t really know what that was about until I was unable to take care of myself. I knew I was aging, but didn’t think it would happen this fast!

In the cohousing community, we all own our own homes, and have agreed to be supportive of one another as good neighbors and chipping in on chores around the complex – it’s akin to running a family business and everyone lives on site.

Cohousing goes contrary to the American tenets of rugged individualism and self determination. In the non-cohousing world, asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness or a sign of superiority. In the cohousing world, it is neither. I have had to learn how to ask for help.

When I was in the hospital, I couldn’t walk and could barely lift my arms. I was fed gunk through a tube that flowed directly into my heart. I generally don’t speak in absolutes, but in this case, I had never felt so helpless in my life. I was left for dead until a laboratory at the University of Michigan figured out that I had an odd ball interstitial lung disease, some sort of fungal pneumonia, which was easily treatable with run-of-the-mill sulfa drugs. It’s the type of pneumonia AIDS patients and over-worked people like me get when the immune system gets beat to crap. Much of that was “out of network”, but I digress.

Go Wolverines!

I’m self-employed and have always been able to take care of all my assignments, except those that were due in January 2014. The last thing I thought I wanted was a lot of people knowing that I was flat on my back and unable to finish what I had committed to do.

As far as most people knew, I was fit as a fiddle. I needed help and I didn’t know how to ask for it, even in desperation.

I had a contract to travel around Wyoming and make tribute videos for the Wyoming Governor’s Art Award recipients. I liked the gig because it got me on the road and a chance to meet some interesting people. A friend and colleague, Michael,  stepped up to finish this job that entailed driving around Wyoming in the dead of winter.

There was a huge final report on a state of Wyoming film incentive grant for a movie project shot over the summer of 2013. Another friend and colleague, Barbara, finished counting all those beans for me.

Every year, I produce news coverage of the Boulder International Film Festival, which includes scheduling production crews. That turned out to be a bit of a debacle, the guy I lined up wasn’t as good at fast filmmaking and how to produce quick-turn-around news packages as I had hoped. Now, I’ve shared the responsibility with another guy, Glenn, who could easily pick up if I dropped out of sight.

I now come up with a  “plan B” for short term projects. Michael, Barbara and I collaborated on a short movie a few years back and want them to disassemble my business if I get too out of it. I still have to find someone to handle my baseball card collection.

When I returned home from rehab the day before Super Bowl XLVIII the community was very welcoming. I wheel chaired myself to the common house for the Super Bowl party, but had to leave at halftime since the tube sticking out of my abdomen started to leak (TMI).

My digestive system wasn’t quite ready for nachos. My septic ulcer repair wasn’t totally healed up.

For Broncos fans, it wasn’t much of a game, anyway, 43-8 Seattle.

I intellectually understood the “what” of cohousing, but didn’t get the “why” of cohousing until I was nearly dead.

Learning how to cram a cohousing  square peg into the rugged individualism round hole is by far the toughest aspect of living in what amounts to, a socialistic system where work is spread equally for the common good.

Asking for help is a constant in cohousing for the good of the whole.

We’re trying to keep the ship moving in the same direction and it’s tough to make that happen if crew members are off doing their own thing, don’t instinctively pick up any slack, or forget to perform a task – never ending reminder emails are a reality in a community of seniors with various stages of memory loss.

By the way, have you seen my keys?

In the outside world, people ask, to be polite, “Let me know if I can help.” In the cohousing world people ask, “What can I do to help you now?” being intentional about it. At my place, for example, we have a list of people who will contact caregivers, drive a neighbor to the doctor or hospital, at any moment. I look at it as paying it forward – You need a jump? I have cables. You’re in the hospital? I’ll stop by when I’m out today.

In my way of thinking, cohousing is very mission driven and best functions using the team approach. When I was in high school, there were the kids who had to be involved in every school activity and be on every page of the yearbook – drama club, 1,2,3,4; newspaper staff 1,2,3,4…

Clawing your way to the top in the outside world is the norm, but in cohousing, the norm is clawing your way to the middle. When I was younger, I was one of those chronic over achievers and have dialed that down.

My community has evolved to become more transparent. Every year, for example, everyone’s HOA dues are known. Intellectually, we strive for fairness, but any objective formula, while “equal” isn’t always subjectively “fair.”

We’re having very frank and open discussions about MONEY issues. It’s taken 10 years of community maturity, but everyone is letting loose of wanting control.

I don’t have much interest in Super Bowl LIII, but a soft spot for the Rams and three Broncos castoffs – Wade Phillips, Aqib Talib and CJ Anderson.

While I wouldn’t trade my stint in the ICU for anything, what I learned about myself was life changing, but I don’t recommend it as the best way to lose weight.

Tiny House Cohousing?

wee casa

WeeCasa is a tiny house resort in Lyon’

Seems everything has a cohousing reference to me these days. On a quick trip up to Estes Park last week, there’s a place to stay over in Lyon’s Colorado called WeeCasa. It’s a tiny house resort. They rent for the the night or extended stay. It’s laid out like an RV park with a community room.

Now that would be a place for cohousing secret sauce, but how realistic is a tiny house cohousing community?

A couple years ago, I was on the road in Wyoming and spent a night at the Green Creek Inn and RV park. If you’ve stayed in camping / RV parks there’s, generally, an area set aside for semi-permanent places for longer-stay RVers.

In Wyoming, they are seasonal park workers, oil and gas field workers, hard-core hunters and fishers.

green creek rv park

The Green Creek Inn and RV Park between Cody and Yellowstone offers a low cost housing option for RVers.

There’s been talk about low cost housing types for Millennials paying off student debt, seniors seeking nursing home alternatives and marginalized populations like homeless vets.

As housing configuration alternatives come up, cooperative and collaborative approaches float to the surface. Tiny houses are low-cost to construct and lots of them can be crammed onto a piece of ground. As such, there are cities that are building tiny houses for the homeless population.

Tiny houses make some sense for an intentional community but developing one has more challenges than appear on the surface. The main one being counter to the American Way culture – smaller is better than larger; less is better than more; the group is more important than the individual. But I digress.

This is tiny house that is 21' by 8.5' in size with a fairly tall ceiling.

This is tiny house that is 21′ by 8.5′ in size with a fairly tall ceiling.

In a past life, I used to be a city planner in Wyoming, later a member the Boulder Planning Board in Colorado, as well as the Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley in Longmont. I studied ecological biology and environmental politics as an undergrad and grad student. How to live a balanced life in both the human and natural environments has always been an interest of mine and why I live in cohousing.

The cohousing idea is a little bit about the buildings, but it’s more about setting up an old fashioned sense of community in which residents participate in the design, character and culture of their neighborhoods. With an itinerant population like homeless people, creating a sense of community would be a challenge. I would think tiny house cohousing would have quite a bit of turnover, at any rate.

Cohousing originated in Scandanavia, which is a bit more communal and socialistic than in the US. Here, cohousing tries to adapt communal tenets into the “rugged individualism” of America. The mobile American would fit this mold.

cohousing2

This is a 500 sq ft tiny house that has a 1-car garage and a balcony.

Over the past few years, interest in “tiny houses” has been growing. That is, people choosing to live in homes that are from 200 to 600 sq ft in size. There are a couple cable TV shows dedicated to the topic.

They are generally built on a “flat bed” and can be wheeled around from place to place, but also can be built on a foundation, but that kicks in an entirely different set of building requirements. Tiny houses on skids or wheels fall into the land use category of mobile homes or temporary housing. There’s technical jargon that defines a tiny house. In Boulder an accessory dwelling is not is highly regulated so as to prevent too high of a neighborhood density.

They are far different than your standard mobile home. Regular mobile homes can be the size of stick built houses that incorporate some space saving design features. Mobile homes are regulated and have design standards and have a strong lobbying presence. Tiny houses, if too popular, infringe on the mobile home monopoly.

If you google “tiny house” lots of websites and images pop up. There are several cable TV shows dedicated to the topic. The host / developer and an innovative builder work with people – mostly seniors and Millennials – to build their tiny house. The stories are about space saving innovations – steampunk trailers.

The biggest hurdles for traditional cohousing, as well as regular housing, for that matter, are government regulations and money. From a zoning code standpoint, tiny house communities will likely be a land use without a zoning designation.

Cohousing homes are houses with no lot lines with the development and individual houses

Cohousing homes are houses with no lot lines with the development and individual houses “designed” with input by the resident / community members. This home in Silver Sage Village recently sold for $750,000.

Money for land, money for the development are also typical impediments. Because cost is such a huge factor, stick built cohousing homes are constructed to maximize profit. This generally means expensive houses crammed onto a tiny space. How about the opposite – inexpensive houses crammed onto tiny spaces, that results in more open spaces?

Tiny houses cost anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 and can be parked in friends’ back yards. They are often built with sweat equity. Check out one of the cable tv shows to get an idea about downsizing baby boomers, young couples and individuals making the move to drop out of the “bigger is better” society. The guy who comes up with the tiny house gadgetry is Zack Giffin, who is from Boulder.

Some tiny homeowners want to be more mobile, others are sedentary.

With tiny houses, a cohousing organizing “burning soul” wouldn’t need near as much space as a typical coho development. It would depend on the rules, but a tiny house development would likely be more transient. How to raise money? The organizational community structure during the development stage could be a corporation or LLC, maybe an HOA, if allowed by the state laws. It’s likely to be a commercial venture as opposed to residential, so may be more expensive.

It could be a subdivision with private lots that are sold, some may be rentals owned by the community. Is a tiny house a mobile home, an accessory dwelling unit? How do the uniform building codes apply?

Utilities could be “hook ups” like in an RV park. Decisions would have to be made, based on political jurisdiction about individual septic or a septic field or central wastewater collection; individual water cisterns or central water; city spec water and sewer.

I would think there would be some amenities like streets, sidewalks, open space, in addition to the common house.

This is the interior of a tiny house that through innovative design maximizes the space.

This is the interior of a tiny house that through innovative design maximizes the space.

At the typical RV park, the longer-stay “residents” have access to the common showers / restrooms, laundry, the little store and breakfast available to the overnight campers.

I can envision a common house that is more permanent, though. As a monetary hedge against potentially higher turnover rates, the common house, like at a KOA RV park, could be mixed use with community amenities like the open dining area, kitchen, laundry facilities, TV room, guest rooms, with business tenants or owners like a convenience store, coffee shop, business offices, laundromat and the like.

Because tiny houses are small, neighbors would be more likely to frequent the common house, compared to some traditional cohousing communities in which homes are the same as in suburbia with large living rooms, utility rooms, large kitchens. Cohousers go into their house and you don’t see them again.

Sarah Susanka says that buying a home strictly for

Sarah Susanka says that buying a home strictly for “resale” value isn’t the best choice.

There are the unfounded housing characteristics necessary for resale, as espoused by Sarah Susanka author of “Not So Big House.”

Susanka, who is also an architect, says that the sense of “home” has less to do with quantity and everything to do with quality. She points out that we feel “at home” in our houses when where we live reflects who we are in our hearts.

I heard her speak at Denver University a few years ago. The examples that stuck with me are those of the “den” and “dining room.” She asked the huge audience about who uses their den and who eats in the dining room. Not many hands went up. Dens and dining rooms, supposedly, increase resale value, but if nobody uses them, what’s the point.

I’d say that, for the most part, cities still have a bias AGAINST mobile home parks and hold the “trailer trash” stereotype. In a place like Boulder, there would be an uproar about this as a form of affordable housing. The best place to try this out would be where land is inexpensive and there is less of an elitist attitude.

beloved tiny home

The Beloved tiny house community organized by the Colorado Village Collaborative has been beset with zoning code problems.

Denver has a tiny house village called “Beloved” for homeless people. It has a common house and is self-governed. The community consists of 11 small houses and has met with some success. Beloved only had a six month temporary zoning permit for the current location and forced to move the entire village.

There’s the social stigma of housing for homeless people. Local mainstream cultures should be open to tiny houses for “regular” people. If the concept works here, why not in another setting? WeeCasa figured it out.

I’ll plant the seed, but it may take me developing the idea in order for me to make a documentary film about it. Anyone interested in organizing a tiny house cohousing community?

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This article was originally published in December 2014, updated again in 2017, in part due to a wordpress glitch that obliterated the story.

‘Beyond Heart Mountain’ book about Japanese in Downtown Cheyenne available Feb 19th

bhm 1-1What happened to the Japanese residents and businesses on West 17th Street in downtown Cheyenne, Wyoming?

It’s not just about the demise of the once vibrant Japanese community in a small town in Wyoming that thrived from the 1920s through the 1960s, but about how downtown areas can be revived by adding new life to them with people.

The story is a historical memoir told through the eyes of the author, a Sansei generation Baby Boomer Cheyenne native, Alan O’Hashi.

The story arose from a Cheyenne Historic Preservation Board decision to allow the demolition of 509 W. 17th St. with the condition a cultural and historical survey be done about the Japanese community that flourished in the 400 and 500 blocks of W. 17th St.

John and Jim Dinneen are constructing 12 townhouses in the Downtown Cheyenne neighborhood.

Check out a preview of the 50 page picture book by opening the YouTube link.

The release date is the “Day of Remembrance” on February 19th, which commemorates 77 years since President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that required internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry.