How affordable cohousing can unite a divided America

nashville_cohousing_conference_logo

The National Cohousing Conference is happening in Nashville May 19-21. Sign up for my intensive workshop and the conference by clicking on the logo above.

I’m presenting a seminar at the National Cohousing Conference May 19th in Nashville. I’ve been struggling with the content.

It was initially going to be a redux of the “diverse personalities” retreat I led in Arcosanti in the fall, but after being a part of the Women’s March on January 21st, it came together for me as a workshop melding cultural competency, diversity and community activism around intentional communities and affordable housing development.

The workshop I’m presenting is a little jargony, “How Cohousing Can Bridge Socio-Economic Divides through Personal Change and Understanding the Untapped Affordable Housing Market“. It’s scheduled for Friday May 19th from 830am to 4pm and the cost is nominal $25.

VA: Protesters gather at Dulles airport over immigration action

Watch a short video about the intensive workshop about how cohousing can bridge social and cultural divides.

There’s been quite a bit of chatter among the TV talking heads, regular conservatives and liberals ranting internally on social media about the travel ban, Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos, Rex Tillerson, Neil Gorsuch, alternative/actual facts and fake/real news.

America has always been a country divided. It’s just that the canyons are more apparent now.

Are changing the way each of looks at the world and how we can better accept people different from ourselves we going to everyone together?

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

My hope is that my workshop attendees understand that while the bricks and mortar of cohousing are the buildings where residents live, the people 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 they may, in some cases, be on the petty side, they might as well be matters of life and death.

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

We’ll discuss why American social/dultural norms restrain the cohousing movement and then provide potential solutions for this problem.

My workshops are always hands-on and include a balance of simulation games, interactive exercises, video clips, discussion. We’ll work through the following:

  • The American Dream we learn about is bigger being better, we are driven to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, make a lot of money and be on top. We’ll talk about why cultural norms create roadblocks for the advancement of caring and interactive communities beyond what is familiar.
  • Cohousing communities, by definition, bring diverse people together. But the typical cohouser is, white, educated, high income, high perceived social class. We’ll learn and practice some ways that individuals can 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 enforcing dated rules and regulations. We’ll learn techniques that can help cohousing advocates create and maintain high-quality conversations and relationships personally, in community, and with city and county planners.
  • American culture of rugged individualism precludes cohousing from entering the mainstream as it has in other countries. We’ll look at the untapped numbers of people who are not the typical cohousing demographic and learn ways to approach that market.

The cohousing movement can become a catalyst for positive change including development of low income and diverse cohousing communities and bridging the gap between the left and right, the haves and have nots in the U.S. today.

Remember to bring a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer for a couple of the exercises. Sign up today for the national cohousing conference. There’s a little something for everyone.

Advertisements

Keep affordable housing from being an elephant in the room

jim snow tree

Silver Sage Village in Boulder, Colorado consists of 10 market rate and six affordable homes.

The “Dealing with Diverse Personalities” retreat is coming up at the end of September – there’s still time time to sign up. The retreat is not for the faint of heart.

Like dealing with issues of housing affordability, it’s not an easy topic to discuss since it requires people to step out of their comfort zones.

Most affordable housing discussions are about density and development scale, parking, traffic, grants, public / private partnerships – the “stuff” of affordability.

Once built, however, affordable housing and the diversity that goes along with it can be sources of personal conflict which happen at the national, local and neighborhood levels. As a refresher, I’ve written about diversity and cultural competency as a prelude to the Arcosanti retreat and folds right into discussions about affordable housing.

There’s been quite a bit of discussion about affordability in cohousing. Here are a few of my observations about it which I originally wrote for the EcoEducation Village Institute.

In my past lives I was a city planner, then developed Habitat for Humanity affordable housing and served a term on the Boulder Planing Board. I currently live in an affordable cohousing home.

Silver Sage Village has 16 homes of which ten are market rate and six were built as part of the city of Boulder’s permanently affordable housing program.

Wild Sage cohousing across the street partnered with Habitat for Humanity as well as the city affordable program. Here are a few of my random thoughts and suggestions:

privilegeDiversity and cultural competency cross cut when it comes to affordable cohousing.

I suggest you have a serious and frank discussion among yourselves about why you personally – as opposed to philosophically – want affordable housing in your neighborhood.

Get strong commitments about all being willing to pay more money out of pocket to level the field for those who cannot otherwise afford to live there.

It’s obvious that partnering with others, rather than tackling affordable housing on your own is necessary. Even if you do find ways to subsidize building costs those don’t lower monthly Home Owner’s Association fees.

coho suburb aerial– I suggest you build the homes so they are all affordable to people / families of similar means. At Silver Sage, over the years, a perceived caste system arose. Dealing with a more socio-economically diverse community is a challenge for people, particularly since stereotyping may be involved.

The Silver Sage Village affordable homes are 800sqft and worth $150000 and limited in annual appreciation. The market rate homes are between 1100 and 2300sqft and valued at $500000 and $800000 and rising.

For the affordable home owners with limited appreciation, it’s a challenge to keep HOA fees equitable. Affordable homes are the same as market rate homes in the sense that the equity is earned differently. Rather than having to tie up large amounts of cash into a home, affordable homes are lesser expensive, in exchange for earning the equity in small annual chunks.

Becoming more culturally competent is a step toward breaking down the notions of privilege or lack, thereof.

– I suggest building all similar sized homes so the homeowner fees are more equally distributed. At Silver Sage fees range from $450+ to $650+/month which includes gas heat and water and build enough homes to spread around the fees. I think the sweet spot is around 32.

the-not-so-big-house– I suggest you design the homes ala “The not so big house” by Sarah Susanka to encourage residents to use the common house.

At Silver Sage the common house is used more by the affordable homeowners because our living spaces are smaller.

The common house here is used a majority of the time by by non-residents who rent it for studio and office space and outside events like meetings and classes. The market rate homes are designed like large homes in the suburbs and plopped into cohousing with large living rooms and big kitchens.

These are a few of my ideas and suggestions when considering whether or not you want to have affordable homes in your neighborhood / community. It’s not as easy decision to make, when you take into account the potential demographics of those who live in affordable housing.

Everyone each have different life experiences, current lifestyles, and it is imperative that all community members recognize these differences and learn how to embrace them in the contexts of their own lives.

If you  intellectually think affordable housing is a good idea, but not sure why it’s so hard for you to accept it emotionally, take a chance and step out of your comfort zones, sign up for the “Dealing for Diverse Personalities” retreat September 30 – October 2nd in Arcosanti, AZ.

Part II – Diverse personalities: Risk vs Protective Factors

conflict resolution

Find out more about the Dealing with Diverse Personalities retreat September 30 – October 2

I’m facilitating a retreat later this fall about dealing with diverse personalities in Arcosanti, AZ. I’ve been asked by a few people about what the “strength-based” approach I’ll be using is about.

Risk and protective factors are a little jargony and wonky, but important concepts when dealing with disruptive and violent behavior in an organization, community – any group, really.

I formerly worked in the positive youth development and domestic violence prevention fields. Parts of my jobs involved training in strength-based cultural competency, which is how the retreat will be presented.

First I’ll talk a little bit about the differences between the two approaches in the context of disruptive behavior.

srisk protective cales

Protective factors are buffers against risks that contribute to disruptive behavior and violence.

Risk Factors are numerous. They increase a person’s possibility of committing disruptive or violent acts. It is possible to be disruptive or commit violent acts with or without any of the risk factors listed below – the list of possible risk factors is nearly endless. However, the more risk factors a person is exposed, the possibility of committing disruptive or violent acts increases. Here’s a list of possible risk factors:

Personal risk factors

  • History of tantrums or angry outbursts
  • Resorts to name calling or cursing
  • Bullying others
  • History of being bullied
  • A pattern of violent threats when angry
  • Use and abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Mood swings
  • Blames others for personal problems
  • Desire for power and control
  • Recent experience of humiliation, loss, or rejection
  • Poor peer relations, is on the fringe of the community

Community risk factors

  • Community disorganization
  • Lack of community norms that set boundaries on behavior
  • Destruction of property within the community

The response to dealing with risk factors is known as secondary prevention (How do we prevent a person from being disruptive a second time) which features “victim blaming.” That’s a consequence of the law enforcement containment approach.

It’s prevalent in schools (administrative confrontation, send a note home to parents, sessions with counselors, expulsion).

In conventional systems of discipline, offenders from school bullies to domestic violence perpetrators are managed or contained by several agencies, groups or individuals and are very labor and time intensive systems.

This “out of sight, out of mind” method, finger-points and isolates, but does not solve the ultimate problem, which may be deeper and enabled by community risk factors.

All of us have had the top-down, more authoritarian model pounded into us from the age of five.

Those habits are hard to shake.

What can we do to prevent disruptive behavior or violence from happening at all?

Protective factors provide primary prevention and buffers the risks which may be associated with disruptive or violent behavior. Protective factors haven’t been studied as extensively as risk factors because they are difficult to measure.

Protective factors are not the opposite of risk factors, but rather shield a person from the effects of risk factors.

In the context of community, it takes a village to create an atmosphere and culture that nurtures protective factors in positive directions rather than negative ones.

The strength-based protective factor approach is one that is more easily implemented.

Why?

Rather than trying to ameliorate, in a reactionary way, individual risks which may or may not cause a particular disruptive behavior a few protective factors can be developed that that buffer against many risk factors.

  • Community establishes boundaries, expectations and norms that emphasizes the whole and not the individual.
  • Community establishes “restorative justice” consequences
  • Community participates in activities that support its “higher purpose.”

What’s “restorative justice”?

In the outside world criminal justice system, it brings together victims, other stakeholders, the affected community to transform. Most community settings don’t have punishments in the strict sense and “enforcing” on disruptive or violent people is difficult, if not impossible. You can’t expel them, make them stay after school, lock them up, or whatever.

In the context of community, there likely is a looming or approved decision that takes from the whole to benefit a few that creates angst. I’ll call the process finding “transformational solutions” (which is a bit wonky).

Any consequence leveled in a community likely involves many disruptive event contributors who must take ownership of their roles as opposed to blaming others. Since disruptions are dynamic and different there are many role combination and curcumstances possible.

  • Target (who likely is directly involved)
  • Incident inciter (who may or may not be directly involved in the disruption)
  • Retaliator(s) (community member(s) who feel harmed by the inciting incident)
  • Bystanders (members who may have witnessed the disruptive behavior)
  • Intervener (bystander who actively tries to calm down the disruption)

The retreat will address how all community members can dig into their pasts and begin to unpack previously learned behaviors and how to better respond to distuptions as we find ourselves in various roles.

What is “higher purpose”?

My cohousing neighbor uses the analogy about community culture, “What if we were all accountants?”All being accountants is a common characteristic, but not a higher purpose. If all the accountants as a community decided to provide money management for senior citizens or help low income people fill out their income tax returns, that would be a higher purpose.

No matter what age, participation in “religion” or organized higher purpose is the most effective protective factor that buffers against risks. Another is having a strong alky who is not a family member.

lack of boundaries memeAs for myself, the reason I’m committed to this process is I’ve recently been involved with a huge conflict within my cohousing community that’s been festering going on three years with no end in sight.

Dealing with diverse personalities is the “elephant in the room” that gets shoved in the closet, only to emerge later in another room.

The retreat leads participants through a process that enables each to know themselves better and how they can better understand others through getting to know them better.

The retreat and three sessions will be very interactive, hands-on and also be quite entertaining with a big dance performance at Arcosanti and plenty of time to network, meet new people and get to know existing acquaintances better.

NEXT – “PART III – DIVERSE PERSONALITIES: CULTURAL COMPETENCY”

My next story will address how cultural competency as a protective factor works hand in glove with developing other protective factors in community as primary prevention against disruptive behavior and escalating violence.

 

Part I – Diverse Personalities: Do you proactively de-escalate disruptive people in your life?

arcosanti wide

CoHoUSA is presenting a retreat September 30 – October 2 called “Dealing with Diverse Personalities in Community” at Arcosanti. Click on the image to learn more about  and register for the $175.00 retreat.

Arcosanti, Arizona is an experimental community between Flagstaff and Phoenix built by a bunch of volunteers to demonstrate sustainable alternatives to urban sprawl and also the home to a bronze bell foundry.

September 30 to October 3 Arcosanti will be the location for another experiment of sorts as the venue for the “Dealing with Diverse Personalities in Community” retreat facilitated by Jeff Zucker and myself.

“De-escalation”has been in the news lately.

Our retreat will concentrate on how individuals within communities of any ilk can learn some skills about exploring the roots of their own diverse personalities, how to become aware of others’ diverse personality traits and how to de-escalate when personalities clash.

Regardless of your community – be it in your workplace, neighborhood, place of worship – all members have personalities and quirks that are annoying or pleasant with endless traits in between.

chickendifficultAt some point in our lives, we’ve likely been annoyed by someone or been the one annoying someone else.

I live in a cohousing community which, I’m finding, is an endless source of personality war stories. I spend a very small part of my time in cohousing mode, but last week, there was a huge blow up over a festering issue.

The unsuspecting target wandered by and offered salutations only to be greeted by one retaliator who had multi-faceted tension building up in him about the ‘inciting incident’ before letting loose with a vulgar verbal barrage. A second retaliator exchanged a few words and walked away.

There were a number of bystanders, a couple intervened from a far, but that didn’t slow him down. Another in the conversation tried to establish a boundary to no avail and left.

While sympathetic to the retaliator’s perspective on the issue, I didn’t gang up on the target, but rather, intervened and sent the target on his way which ended the incident. I later went up and talked to him about what happened, and what I viewed as elements of the perfect storm that triggered it.

This was an eye opener for me. I had heard about community skirmishes, but this is the first time I’d been in the middle of one.  The timing and circumstances that brought a particular group of otherwise good people together in one spot, caused this violent outburst and what might have prevented it would be a good case study.

I can see how a routine traffic stop can escalate into gunfire between cop and citizen.

The skirmish ended, but the issues and hard feelings continue to be proverbial elephants in the room, ignored until the next perfect storm brews.

It’s impossible to predict when personality flareups will happen and the Arcosanti retreat will provide participants with three workshops purveyed by hands-on activities, visual and audio presentations about how to be better prepared for community social emergencies. Each participant will also develop an action plan to take with them.

Not only will it be information packed, but the weekend is guaranteed to provide a good time for all!

‘When I’m 64’ birthday book project for 2016 – 2017

A poem that inspired my book project.

Today is the final day of last year’s birthday activities.

A few months ago, a sidewalk poet in Fort Collins typed up a few lines for me that inspired the “When I’m 64” book project that begins tomorrow.

My 63rd year starts uneventfully tomorrow, May 2nd, with well-wishers on facebook and that will be the extent of it, but a yearlong celebration is stacking up to be action-packed. A smattering of events include:

  • a screening of “Aging Gratefully: The Power of Community” at the cohousing conference in Salt Lake May 19th
  • finishing up two documentaries – “New Deal Art in Wyoming” and “Art of the Hunt”
  • starting some new projects – in August “Plein Air in Thin Air” with a trek up the Grand Teton, teaching Arapaho kids movie production, Prince project in Wyoming
  • going fly fishing

When I turned 60 back in 2013, I had big plans to kick off a productive and action-packed decade. 

Instead, it was a big mortality wake up call. I barely made it through 2013 with a big reevaluation of life which is why I continue my tradition of celebrating for the year.

The cohousing community had a talking circle tonight about transitions over the past few months.

Most of the conversation was rather dark about health issues and mortality.

I tried having those conversations a couple years ago with my neighbors which largely fell on deaf ears. Funny how people believe their own observations. It will be interesting to see if their perceptions will match up with reality.

As many of you know by now, May 2013 started out uneventfully – the Bolder Boulder; then the top of the Cyclone roller coaster; then a shingles attack; then too much work – “Mahjong and the West, Governor’s Arts Awards, a wedding; then a week stint in the hospital and then another six weeks in the hospital – that time on my death bed.

I snapped out of it and now every day I wake up, I’m grateful. I’ve been culling through my stuff which includes  a bunch of newspaper columns and other muses.

I’m compiling all that into a memoir woven through my health recovery experiences over the past couple years.

I took a couple writing classes to scrape off the rust, but turns out there are a lot of authors with worse cases of writer’s block than me.

The class exercises were helpful fir stricture and tooics, though, hearing about and helping others slog through their writing struggles was the most worthwhile.

I may run some parts of the book for you to check out. I still have a few things on my 2013 list to complete including weightlessness, skipping stones, climbing a tree and writing a book.

The Spirit of Culture: Is diversity highly over rated? 

Click on the banner to read the full conference schedule.

Diversity, inclusiveness, cultural competency: are they just feel good buzz words?

Do they result in big benefits or big hassles in the long run?

I don’t know anyone who is AGAINST the tenets of equality and fair play in the abstract.

I don’t know anyone who considers themselves a “racist” but we’ll also talk about the roots of violence and privilege that play out in the 24 hour news cycle of today and enable bad behavior in smaller communities.

I’m leading a workshop at the “Aging Better Together” conference in Salt Lake City May 20-21 called “The Spirit of Culture” which addresses inclusion and diversity from first person perspectives – your prespectives.

Here’s a link to the slide presentation I’ll be making at the conference.

We’ll work as a group and as individuals while thinking back about our upbringing, the people of influence in our lives and how we can understand ourselves to better relate to others.

A cohousing community is a unique social construct that isn’t inherently in the American cultural DNA.

Another topic we’ll discuss in the context of cohousing is that of affordability – the types and prices of housing and the persons and families who live in them.

Workshoppers will leave some tips and exercises they can share with their communities.

This will be the most important workshop you’ll attend – if you dare.

What a long strange trip it still is – aging better together and the power of community

Auntie Jeannie is standing on the right end next to my mother. Alison is sitting second from the right, Alison's sister Leslie is being held by Auntie Elsie.

Auntie Jeannie is standing on the right end next to my mother. Alison is sitting second from the right, Alison’s sister Leslie is being held by Auntie Elsie.

I got a call from my cousin, Alison, yesterday. These days, whenever relatives call, there’s generally some sort of family emergency. This time, Alison told me her mother – my Auntie Jeannie – had passed away. She had a stroke while sleeping and didn’t wake up. My condolences go out to my cousins Alison and Leslie and her sisters Carol Lou and Janice.

I’ve been attending funerals lately. Last week, it was for Eastern Shoshone tribal elder and one of my mentors Starr Weed in Fort Washakie.

It was my first open casket wake. I don’t know what I expected, but it was solemn and heart breaking. One of Starr’s grandsons, Layha Spoonhunter, was one of my Wind River Tribal College film students. His class project was an oral history of Starr. I felt for him and his mom, Wilma, who is married to my former boss, Harvey, and his aunt Elaine who organizes the Gift of the Waters Pageant in Thermopolis.

A month or so ago, my Uncle Rich died. He had quite a few home health care workers supporting him after he returned from the hospital. He was a 442nd war veteran and in Army Intelligence. He was too small in stature for combat. I also learned after he died, my Aunt Sadako was moved to an assisted living place in Cheyenne.

I live in the Silver Sage Village senior cohousing community in North Boulder. There have been murmurs about it, but just recently the community began discussing “aging in community” which has been on my mind quite a bit, lately.

I’m making a documentary movie about my and my neighbors’ experiences of growing old in cohousing and their thoughts about the future. I’m also helping produce a national conference on the topic that will be held next year May 19 to 21 in Salt Lake City.

My movie won’t be anything earth shattering, but hopefully will give others wanting to start up an intentional community some insight into what to expect. These discussions are about the first ones we’ve had in the five years I’ve been living at Silver Sage Village where the topic has been about something more substantive than maintaining the buildings.

A bunch of people are reading “Being Mortal” by a doctor named Atul Gawande. His basic premise is that modern medicine is good about keeping people alive, while not knowing when it’s time to allow us to die not in a hospital but at home.

Gawande says that in the past, 80 percent of people used to die at home and 20 percent died in a hospital or medical facility. Now that number is reversed with 80 percent dying in a hospital and 20 percent dying at home.

Back to Auntie Jeannie.

I also learned that at 77, she was one of the primary care givers to my Auntie Elsie, well into her 90s. A few months ago, she broke her hip and Jeannie got her settled into a rehab / hospice center as well as helping Sadako get settled into her assisted living apartment. I surmise that what happened was Uncle Rich’s home care workers also did more for Sadako than anyone realized.

I imagine with all this care giving Jeannie was a bit stressed out.

Elders providing care for other elders is becoming common place anymore and a problem.

I can see myself in that boat particularly since my immediate family is strewn all over the place with their own lives and issues and I have no kids.

Like in Jeannie’s case, the work takes more out of the care giver than the patient.

Cohousing is a way to spread some of the load.

Jeannie was married to my Uncle Jake who was the youngest son on my dad’s side that had 13 total kids. It was a very strong extended family and everything revolved around my grand parents house.

Mainly during the summers, everyone would gather various places in Cheyenne and along with the rest of the Japanese community. On Memorial Day there were big picnics and on the 4th of July we all went out to Jeannie’s parents who lived out in the country and blasted off fireworks.

Back then, all the cousins were close, and all the aunts and uncles were close but there was a big diaspora after the grand parents died. We all became adults, had our own lives and lost the closeness we shared as children. Social media has helped keep us connected, but it’s still not the same as it was.

How do more seniors get engaged as caregivers for one another?

I had a brush with death and had a visit from the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come and got a glimpse into my future. What if I couldn’t walk, feed myself, or breathe on my own, flat on my back in a hospital bed?

I can tell you it was lonely.

The hospital was 20 miles away and the rehab place 40 miles away in Denver. I didn’t broadcast that I was laid up but a few neighbors and friends managed to find out and dropped by. I thought it would be a good time to catch up on some editing.

I didn’t realize how doped up I was. A guy can only watch so many “Pawn Stars” reruns before boredom sets in.

I’m happy that I got a second chance to do things differently the next time around. I am grateful to be living at a place like Silver Sage Village. At the urging of Diana Helzer, we sold a place nearby with too many stairs in favor of Silver Sage Village that is on the ground floor with no steps and is fully accessible.

I really didn’t know much of anything about cohousing but am lucky to have neighbors who helped out by bringing by food and helping Diana with some of the care giving like transport in the dead of winter.

The downside of living in cohousing is antithetical to any care giving.

There are many conflicts about the day – to – day management of the place that arise and escalate, some cause hard feelings, but that’s part of life anywhere and shows how fragile community living can be among a whole variety of personality types. The differences seem more pronounced since everyone also is trying to get along.

In my experience, those sorts of relationships have been more work related, but much of living in cohousing is work related and I’ve had to learn how to separate out my personal life here from my business life here.

When I returned to Silver Sage Village after six weeks of hospital and rehab stints, I don’t know how it happened, but neighbors brought by meals and offers of help. I don’t know if neighborliness can be “organized” but however it came about was greatly appreciated. That, along with the layout of the fully accessible condo, was important in my continuing recovery.

It takes a village to raise a child but also takes a village to move an elder towards the end of life.

I don’t expect my neighbors to help me into the shower, or wipe my butt, but I hope they’ll continue to mostly be around.

Gawande talks about the importance of hospice that helps a person be comfortable and provides ways to navigate life.

Do I want my friends and family to be hovering over me out of some sort of self serving sense of duty when I’m delirious and out of it? Is that quality time to be with someone at the last breath?

I’ve put myself into self-imposed hospice now while I still have plenty of breaths left and want to be comfortable in my house living life to it’s fullest. I’d rather be around family and friends while we still have our wits about us.

Here I thought I was out of the event planning business.

Look out for the “Getting the Band Back Together Tour” truckin’ into a town year you – the Cousins Reunion; Cheyenne, Gillette, Lander, Boulder and points in between.

What a long strange trip it still is!