The ‘New American Way’ and cohousing

 

american-way

Superman’s American Way can be updated by applying cohousing secret sauce.

Cohousing Nation, by definition, lives a “New American Way” that emphasizes the good of the community over that of the individual; accepting that all people are different and all are welcome and valued; power and strength are replaced by consensus and shared decision making.

As such, I’m convinced that cohousing communities have the potential to bridge cultural divides that continue to plague our country today.

The average cohouser has at least some social justice blood running through their veins. I think change will have a better chance of happening by efforts by cohousers.

Why?

The data define a typical cohousers as having these characteristics: high perceived social class, high income, highly educated and 70 percent of the time a white women – pretty much a typical member of the dominant culture.

What if cohousers, who largely are members of the dominant culture, and can be gatekeepers who work together and become allies with marginalized groups, rather than marginalized groups trying to break through the glass ceiling, with few allies there with a hammer.

Inclusion will happen organically as the dominant culture becomes more inclusive.

I’ve been presenting diversity and cultural competency workshops and trainings for 25 years for a variety of public agencies, nonprofits and most recently for cohousers.

My approach has evolved and changing again, this time into: “c🕉munification” (cOMunification) training that has a focus on cultural and societal power and privilege dynamics and how only personal change can balance those out.

Remember the old 1950s TV show, The Adventures of Superman? The narrator told my friends and me to model Superman’s can-do behavior because, “he fights a never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American Way.”

Superman’s “American Way” is based on rugged individualism; cultural divides narrowed by assimilation; and quests for power and control.

There isn’t anything inherently wrong with the “Old American Way,” I think it needs to evolve along with society and one way that can happen is through a collaborative approach that results in truth, justice and a “New American Way.”

I continue to believe that racism, as we know it today, began in 1526 when the first people from Africa were enslaved to work at a short-lived settlement in South Carolina.

Public awareness of differences among people, particularly since 1964, enflamed simmering racist attitudes that continue to exist today.

I think people want to change and do what’s right, but based on the audiences I’ve met over the years, most people don’t know how to go about it. Personal change doesn’t happen over night and like anything else that requires better skills, it takes practice, and letting go of personal privilege isn’t exactly something people are too crazy about.

lincoln emancipation

It’s been just 154 years since Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation.

The current political climate didn’t create racism, it makes it socially acceptable to reveal previously hidden beliefs that oppression of the weak was what, historically, made America great.

Considering America has a 339-year history enslaving people (1526 to 1865) that’s more than double the 154-year history, at least on paper, since President Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation (1865 to 2019).

While I think it will take a couple more generations, there have been small steps forward in recent years that will continue, but I doubt there will be any giant leaps.

First, some background. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, United States citizens – primarily African Americans – were legally “more equal” than they were in reality. It soon became clear that attaining actual equality among people had a long way to go.

That transition led to Affirmative Action in job hiring that provides quotas for racial diversity. After workplaces changed complexions, a need arose about how to better understand diversity that brought about “diversity training” to define the various cultures with the hopes that more information meant better acceptance by the dominant white culture with no systemic changes.

As the population, and subsequently the labor force, has become more multicultural around race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation, diversity training that defines demographics is evolving into “cultural competency” training, which is more about understanding one’s self and changing personal perspectives about others, as opposed to getting other people to be like you.

Why I think social change will take a couple generations is because there is a long-standing national culture that’s advocated for racial homogeneity dating back to the United States Naturalization Law of March 26, 1790 that limited naturalization to immigrants who were, “free White persons of good character.”

eo 9066 big

FDR signed Executive Order 9066 that forced Japanese to register and be sent to relocation camps in 1942,

In recent times, rampant American xenophobia was stoked after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the round up of 112,000 Japanese who were herded into 10 “relocation” camps; and the 9/11 World Trade Center bombing that seeded the current Islamophobia epidemic.

The current political climate continues to fuel a growing fear among 30 percent of the U.S. electorate that the country will soon lose its 1776 version of American cultural identity.

Current events around over-crowded detention centers for illegal immigrants and those seeking asylum are indicators why we need to become better cultural change managers, rather than controllers of cultural change.

secret sauce

Cohousing secret sauce can undo the Old American Way.

Cohousing is a market-based solution to the immigration crisis that has beset the United States since at least since the Immigration Act of 1924 that had as its unsaid, but expressed purpose of maintaining the racial homogeneity of the United States.

What does that solution look like? Cohousing brings individuals together to form a community.

Housing is housing, but what differentiates cohousing from other housing configurations is the “secret sauce” that mixes several ingredients. The recipe can be altered to meet differing tastes:

  • 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.

A certain ilk of the citizenry, mostly Baby Boomers and older, who experienced the Cold War, will try to reposition the conversation by calling intentional communities “creeping socialism.” Granted, this is a lifestyle that’s not for everyone.

I’m not talking about over throwing the government, but rather reacting to how the general market is changing because it’s basically less expensive to live more collaboratively (higher density neighborhoods) and sharing resources (five households don’t each need a lawnmower).

The rugged individualist and free-market capitalists are unwilling to share their wealth and as such, the market reaction is toward cOMunification.

Student Loans

As of June 2018, Forbes reported that total US student debt was $1.52 trillion and that 44.2 million people owed debt. The average student debt is $38,390.

My observation, Millenials and GenXers who are a generation or two removed from World War II are more accepting of individual differences and more supportive of the collective good out of a need to survive.

Being saddled with the the national debt of their parents, grandparents and great grandparents; forced into a college tuition system that will keep them under the thumb of Wall Street until they are old and gray are two reasons why young people are de-commodifying the American Way.

The tenets of a New American Way would say a home is where we live, not an investment. The only time a house should be commodified is when it’s time to move.

Rather than saying, “The yard needs more trees because it will increase our property values,”  The New American Way perspective is, “The yard needs more trees because they will improve the places where kids can play.” As a side benefit, property values may increase.

The cohousing brand of community development is also a hedge against unchecked gentrification, which is one of those jargony terms that get thrown around and used in various contexts.

I define gentrification as what happens when people or businesses look for real estate deals, purchase urban property that may or may not be distressed and update them without much collaboration with existing neighbors.

The data are these.

Cohousing communities consist of members who predominantly liberal, highly educated, high income Caucasians women with high perceived social class who, I think, are a more open to bridging cultural divides by “undoing” the Old American Way from within.

That is to say, members of the dominant culture who live in cohousing, have agreed among themselves to change their perspectives towards a New American Way.

Communification logo-1

“Om” is sanskrit that basically includes everything – past, present, future; beginning, middle end; emotionally and physically.

The end result of cOMunification, by definition, is an attitudinal paradigm shift by members of the dominant culture who have agreed to increase cultural diversity in the wider culture, one cohousing community at a time.

This doesn’t happen by public policy but by community-based societal change:

  • The group is more important than the individual
  • smaller and less are better
  • decisions are by consensus giving a voice to all, including minority positions
  • there is recognition that everyone is different and all are included

While the tenets of cohousing are noble, they are easier said than done since the American Way is pounded into our heads from the moment we pop out of the womb.

melting pot boiling

The melting pot is no longer a relevant metaphor.

In the 20th century, the United States was metaphorically characterized as a “Melting Pot” in which races and ethnicities would learn English and assimilate themselves into homogenous Americans.

That was true during racial segregation when the pot contained white cheeses like swiss, edam, gouda, and feta, they blended together to make a mixed pot of white cheese.

Immigrants from Europe who all looked like each other, had the old American Way ahead of them after they learned English and otherwise assimilated.

These days, the country has become racially and ethnically multicultural as a result of immigration and can be a part of the New American Way.

Today, the blended food metaphor would be more like a “Tossed Salad” consisting of separate fixings like frijoles, cassavas, napa cabbage, and all kinds of lettuce that are unified with a common dressing.

In my mind, that common dressing is the cohousing cOMunification secret sauce, soon available at a farmer’s market near you.

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.

Retrofit Cohousing Communities: Can they solve the elder housing shortage?

pat nichols birthday

Growing up in the Cole Addition in Cheyenne, WY in the 1960s. This is my across the alley neighbor Pat Nichol’s birthday party.

NOTE: Author Alan O’Hashi presented a WebChat on this topic for the Cohousing Association of the US. Download a copy of his presentation notes by clicking on the image on the left or this link.

___________________________

I remember growing up in a neighborhood where the kids all hung around together and the reason our parents knew each other was because of bands kids running through one another’s houses. Garage doors were always open and lots of neighborhood birthday parties happened on the weekends.

We Baby Boomers, now well into our 60s and 70s, are trying to figure out how we will be cared for now that our kids are scattered all over the country with lives of their own, or in my case, no kids.

According to a 2015 US Aging Survey, 58 percent of seniors have lived in the same home for at least the past 20 years. Even though people ideally want to stay in one place, there continues to be anecdotal evidence about future uncertainty. While researching this story I asked in a facebook post, “Who will take care of you when you get old?” I was surprised at the 2,000+ engagements and 850 responses that ranged from “myself” to “nobody” to “I don’t know” to “maybe one of my kids” to “my cohousing neighbors.”

Cohousing intentionally tries to replicate neighborhood relationships that came about organically, by “building community, one neighborhood at a time.”

There’s a big unseen housing shortage that will become larger in the years to come. Did you know that 10,000 people turn 65 everyday? While many seniors, like myself,  are able to live independently, there will come a point when we will need assistance or be unable to take care of ourselves.

This growth is pressing seniors and their families to think differently and more broadly about a whole host of issues: housing, transportation, social services, cultural offerings, health and wellness programs, to name a few.

Life care managers, like gerontologists and social workers, believe there is a strong correlation between safe and affordable housing and keeping seniors healthy through accessible informal and formal care giving.

A longer life doesn’t always translate into a better quality of life. No one knows this better than the millions of adult children caring for their parents who struggle to remain in family homes and communities ill-designed for the challenges of aging. Those challenges include long travel distances, non-existent or limited relationships among parents and their children.

Historically, seniors aged in their homes for as long they could with support from family and informal caregivers, until they died or health conditions deteriorated to the point that hospital or nursing home care was necessary.

These data are now flipped. In his book “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” Atul Gawande observes that now, the vast majority of people die in the hospital or long term care facilities rather than at home.

golden girls

The “Golden Girls” were among the cooperative living trend setters – ABC

The circumstances of where, how, and with whom people grow old are changing. From “Golden Girls” roommate households to high-rise artist-centered apartments, Baby Boomers are redefining how they live out their lives — breaking down the old stereotypes and rules, and building new visions of great places to grow old, and doing it better living in community.

One such housing configuration is cohousing. I live in cohousing for people over 50. Cohousing communities consist of neighbors who decide to live together in their private homes and agree upon common values, share in some form of consensus decision-making, operate and maintain common spaces such as a common house where cohousers share meals and activities together.

What if this cohousing “secret sauce” is applied to other senior and multigenerational housing configurations?

Continuing Care Residential Communities (CCRC) are good for some. For decades, Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) have offered older adults (usually age 65 and older) an innovative and independent lifestyle that differs from other housing and care options. CCRCs offer a living continuum  in which residents transition from independent to assisted to long-term care.

The CCRC model is appropriate for retrofit cohousing because cohousing can be the entry point to a CCRC. The main limitation of retrofitting an existing CCRC is one of control. CCRCs are typically managed “top-down” as opposed to resident directed.

Retrofit cohousing residents govern themselves and become accustomed to community living. That doesn’t mean giving up independence, but being collaborative among others with independent lives. While there would be changes in the cohort, the idea is that it would remain intact and repopulated with others attracted to the community lifestyle.

CCRCs allow seniors to convert home equity or other assets into a place to live and receive daily living services and health care that keeps monthly expenditures more stable – like a meal plan in the dorms. A CCRC isn’t for everybody.

The National Long Term Care Survey is a nationally-representative sample both of the community and of institutionalized populations and is longitudinal in that sample persons join the survey once they reach 65 years of age and stay in the survey until they either die or are lost to follow-up. The NLTCS data from 2004 are not up to date, but find that while CCRC residents are the oldest and sickest population, they have the highest incomes, with an average household income of $40,000-$45,000. Compare that to those in assisted or independent living who report average incomes of $24,000.

CCRCs are a tried and true lifestyle option for some seniors, particularly those with higher incomes and net worth, but what about everyone else?

alan wheel chair

My last day in rehab after six weeks in ICU and recovering from two surgeries in 2013.

Applying cohousing principles, relationships developed among neighbors and subsequent sharing of tasks and care for one another can help delay the need for other types of independent and assisted living.

Adapting existing housing configurations – senior or multigenerational – by adding the tenets of cohousing emulates what is provided in a CCRC:

  • Private residences and common areas;
  • A continuum of service, including food services, housekeeping, social and recreational outlets, transportation, and health-care services, as needed;
  • Housing rent or ownership that may utilize home equity to help keep monthly expenses lower

Buying into a CCRC is not cheap. Entrance fees range from about $20,000 to more than $500,000 or even $1,000,000, based on an area’s cost of living. This is clearly unaffordable to most people.

hospital monitors

Six weeks in the hospital and rehab and homeboubd for a mobth after. One day I was healthy, a couple months later I was on my death bed.

We’re all getting older every day. Unfortunately, for many young people say, under 50, the prospects of aging aren’t on their radar screens. It isn’t until the “Join AARP” membership cards start coming in the mail and phone calls from parents in the hospital announcing, “I fell down and can’t get up” that they begin to take notice.

Home living conditions have a huge impact on the health of seniors living with long-term illness and their abilities to live independently. Care managers and geriatricians are often called upon to give advice to families about where their aging family members who have developed illnesses or a disability can live, according to the Aging Life Care Association.

Seniors and their families now seek more information about the relationship between safe, affordable housing and health. At-risk older people who are on fixed incomes with no familial safety net are more likely to be living in non-decent rental or owner-occupied housing.

The 4th annual 2015 United States of Aging Survey, conducted by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and UnitedHealthcare, examines senior perspectives on aging and what communities can do to better support an increasing, longer-living senior population. The survey included a nationally representative sample of 1,650 Americans 60 and older, and professionals who work closely with them. These data support a need for supportive and collaborative communities.

Financial concerns:

  • The top financial worries that keep seniors up at night are increasing costs of living, 28 percent and unexpected medical expenses, 24 percent.

Maintaining health:

  • Professionals and seniors agree that maintaining good health as they age as important. They named eating healthy, 91 percent and 72 percent, respectively; maintaining a positive attitude, 86 percent and 72 percent; and getting enough sleep, 79 percent and 67 percent.

Staying at home and independent:

  • When asked what concerns they have about living independently, 42 percent of seniors say they are most concerned about becoming a burden to others, 41 percent said experiencing memory loss and 34 percent said not being able to get out of the house and/or drive.

Community Support:

  • 59 percent of seniors say that young people today are less supportive of seniors than their own generation was in previous years, 24 percent see the same levels of support, and 12 percent say young people are more supportive of older adults;
  • 47 percent, (down from 54 percent in 2014 and 49 percent in 2013) and 37 percent of the professionals say their community is doing enough to prepare for the needs of retiring Baby Boomers.
alan shoveling poster

Cohousers share in the chores around the community.

Retrofit cohousing can fill the housing gap. 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. The legal structure is typically a Home Owners Association (HOA) or Housing Cooperative.

Most cohousing communities are multigenerational, but over time, become senior communities because of people who age in place. There are around 11 established senior-only cohousing communities and more in the forming stages. Most cohousing communities are new-build or adapted developments and some retrofits.

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.

Compared to the general population, cohousers are more likely to be a homeowner, highly educated, Democrat, White, female, and age 60 or older, according to the Cohousing Research Network.

Traditional cohousing communities may not represent the characteristics of a broader segment of the population that is interested in cohousing but unable to access, or would be interested if they knew about it. This is where retrofit cohousing can help fill the gap.

How a cohousing community gets started is like forming a club. A few strong advocates seek others to join the community development efforts. 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. This ground-up process often takes three to five years or more with potential members coming and going.

The cohousing model can also be applied to more structured housing configurations such as existing CCRCs, stand-alone independent living communities, assisted living or long-term care facilities; and people living dispersed within a geographic area such as the Beacon Hill Village in Massachusetts.

The only assisted living facility I’ve heard about is one being planned by a life care manager in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

beacon hill village

Beacon Hill Village in Boston is a member-drive organization that provides services so members can lead active lives, while living in their own homes and neighborhoods.

Retrofit cohousing communities are more diverse. Data from a 2012 Cohousing Research Network study by Angela Sanguinetti compared the residents of retrofit cohousing communities (those that grow over time in existing residential developments) with the residents of traditional cohousing (new-build or adapted developments that start from scratch, involving a full group of members in the planning process who move in all at once).

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.

chung nyc coho

Jeddy and Cynthia created an accidental cohousing community in Flushing, NYC.

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. An example, while not called “cohousing” is the case of a group of apartment dwellers in Flushing, New York City who became an accidental community.

Sanguinetti’s study finds that retrofit cohousing residents did not differ from traditional cohousing residents in terms of political affiliation or the level of education. The retrofit model may mitigate some barriers for a broader group of interested cohousers by being less resource-intensive.

The social support that cohousing offers may be beneficial for an aging population. Senior cohousing has received recent attention as a model to support well being, and aging in place through emotional support and activities of mutual assistance (e.g., doing errands, driving, cooking, or going for a walk with a neighbor), downsizing, and safety.

How does retrofit cohousing work? 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 that were identified by CoLiving Canada:

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 directores, social events, managing building and grounds, procesd 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

In case you’re wondering about my interest in this topic, I became Medicare-eligible this year and live in the Silver Sage Village cohousing community in Boulder, Colorado.

Bridging social and cultural divides one community at a time

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Documenting the Women’s March in Cheyenne, Wyoming was a big eye opener for me.

What’s been on my mind lately is how intentional communities can help bridge socio-economic divides. Over the years, I have learned that my influence is pretty much confined to communities and organizations that are closest to me.

What spurred me?

Rather than sitting back and arm-chair-quarterbacking, I prefer to be a part of the action. I was 15 when my activist efficacy began to develop. Being from Wyoming, my early influences were Republican. I’m still atoning for my first vote being for Richard Nixon in 1972, but I digress.

Back in January, I wanted to make last minute plans to check out the Washington DC Women’s March that followed Inauguration Day 2017. I facebooked east coast friends and colleagues, but their basements and couches were spoken for by others making the trek.

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Around 2,000 participated in the Cheyenne, Wyoming Women’s March.

I had friends and neighbors who attended the main DC event and other marches around the country and resigned to sitting this one out. Meanwhile, a friend and colleague who, at the time, directed a Laramie, Wyoming-based activist organization asked me to document Women’s Marchers heading to nearby Cheyenne – my hometown. I make documentary movies, mostly about social change topics.

I hopped on the charter bus packed with mostly women, their allies and a bunch of signs and placards. We rumbled over Sherman Hill to Cheyenne where we unloaded and trekked up Capitol Avenue to the Wyoming Supreme Court Building lawn along with a 2,000 others.

Not a big crowd compared to metropolitan urban area standards, but for a city of 60,000 it was a gigantic turnout. Besides that, it was familiar being in my hometown.

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I joined a bus load of Wyoming women and their allies walking in the Women’s March in January 2017.

It was surprising to see and visit with friends who turned out – some long lost from childhood, some not so much – mostly colleagues. We shared insights about social oppression, which is the last thing I expected to be talking about with high school classmates.

Noting that social change efforts are happening in a conservative place like Wyoming, it was then I decided to use what little influence I have to bridge socio-economic divides.

I live in a cohousing community – dubbed by some of my neighbors as a grand social experiment. After living here for a few years and volunteering for the National Cohousing Association, I’m convinced that intentional communities – including cohousing – are one way to help bridge cultural and socio-economic divides one community at a time.

The aura around various aspects of social and economic “privilege” is subtle, having experienced it most of my life. Breaking into a cohousing community hasn’t been easy, particularly since I didn’t know much about it in the first place.

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My grandfather living in Wyoming was detained in California after Executive Order 9066 was signed.

Being a Japanese-American Baby Boomer, I grew up under the post World War II anti-Asian sentiment. My grandfather and uncle were detained in California shortly after FDR signed Executive Order 9066. My aunt was able to get them released back to the middle-of-nowhere Wyoming.

Later, while in college in Boston, my aunt wasn’t allowed into Canada due to sedition laws.  While I may speak proper English with an American accent and am a third-generation Yankees fan, I continue to find myself as the brunt of privilege, which is a separate story.

My partner in crime, Diana, and I moved here from a nearby market-rate two-story townhouse  a few years after the cohousing community had formed, was developed and occupied. A home in the community became available when the owner died. It was ground floor, no stairs and wheelchair accessible, which turned out to be important when I was in rehab recovering from a debilitating illness. Turned out, cohousing was a better fit than I imagined.

The founding group self selected themselves and were in the swing of things by the time we joined the community, which was good and bad. It was good in that we didn’t have to be involved with the organizational nuts-and-bolts decs-and-docs furniture-selection phase. It was bad in that the community was in a rhythm and not very open to new voices and ideas.

Since I’m usually one to jump right in and roll up my sleeves, it was pretty clear that my newbie role was to sit back and watch. Even today, I only participate at the minimum level and waiting on the sidelines until it’s my turn. That’s starting to happen with some of the founding shakers and movers backing off for one reason or another making way for newer neighbors like me.

A house is a house, but the community part is an entirely different component compared to the traditional subdivision structure where neighbors can choose to stick to themselves, paint their garage any color they want and otherwise bowl alone.

Complicating the social culture is that of market rate vs. affordable housing owners. The city housing authority provided free/cheap land to developers in exchange for 40% affordable homes. We were able to qualify for the local government affordable housing program and soon learned what it’s like to be “one of them.”

Collaborating with 3 dozen strangers over the years set in their ways is hard work. It’s a trick juggling regular life and community life and figuring out the balance. Having bought and sold two market rate homes we soon found that living in a house that is governed by a different set of rules was a big eye-opener.

Affordable homeowners are restricted by a set of rules in exchange for the low purchase prices. Some examples, appreciation values are limited compared to market rate-units, as are sales prices.

Being part of an affordable housing program, coupled with stereotypes about people who reside in affordable housing creates oppressive language – “charity cases,” “think different”, “lower class,” “no pride,” “don’t fit in,” ad nauseum. Those are long-engrained attitudes that are difficult to reverse even for the most progressive and socially aware.

For background, a cohousing community consists of individuals and families that choose to work with a developer to build a cohesive neighborhood consisting of privately owned homes and shared common spaces. Everyone lives independently, but share in some of the chores of maintaining their community.

How can cohousing bridge the cultural and socio-economic divide?

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Marches and speeches are the start, social change begins when individuals act.

The current political climate doesn’t help things. Whether liberal or conservative, the national mood amplifies how individuals deal with their own perceptions about differences among people with regards to protected classes of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability and subjective measures like social and economic class perceptions.

The political climate makes it okay to unmask deep held oppressive beliefs and at the same time, forces others to step out of their boxes and learn how to be allies for people they may or may not know.

Unless communities and their members are intentional about unpacking their self-perceptions of privilege, “on the job” training can cause hard feelings. In my experience over the years, facilitating and being facilitated about diversity issues oppressors don’t like to be called on their sh*t by the oppressed.

I’ve learned to choose my fights, but it’s hard to let comments and passive aggressive behavior slide. Cultural competency is a long, ongoing process and it takes some stumbling and falling, losing friends and making new ones.

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At a recent conference, diversity on the screen and behind the camera was one of the topics discussed

I’ve been presenting at a lot of different meetings lately. I just returned from an arts conference and a project outreaching to Native American youth, before that on an audio/video expo panel discussion that evolved into conversation with the audience about diversity, before that cultural competency workshops at a Tennessee affordable housing conference and the national cohousing conference.

The topic is certainly of interest to people, but these presentations were very high level “add-ons” to the content, with polite discussions. I was approached by attendees who agreed that they intellectually understand the importance of being more inclusive, but didn’t know how to change themselves and subsequently their organizations. They were eager to learn.

Feedback like that is encouraging, and I’m hoping folks got up out of their seats went home and began conversations in their groups, communities and organizations about what they can do to help close social and cultural divides.

What if each of us changes the way we look at the world and how we accept people who are different from ourselves?

The simple answer is to infuse cultural competency into the day-to-day tasks of the community. Cohousing communities are operated and maintained by the residents who join teams to manage the common house, maintain the common open space and the finances.

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The National Cohousing Association has national and regional conferences at which topics of diversity are standard on the meeting agenda

cohousing vision statement has some mention of “valuing diversity.” When I talk with forming communities, I ask them to have frank and honest discussions about what influenced their views about diversity and some ways the vision can be implemented. Governance based on shared responsibility, rotated leadership, and adopted community norms about accountability are big departures from majority rule and top-down decision making.

There’s an entire industry that has cropped up around consensus decision-making, cultural competency and meeting facilitation.

That’s easier said than done, but if carried out efficiently, inclusivity happens without a “program,” diversity training or more meetings.

In my experience, settling into any neighborhood is stressful enough. What if you’re asked to jump right into discussing personal issues and views around the American Dream, money, race, class, gender identity and sexual preference? That adds an even more complex layer to neighborliness. I’d say mostly on the governance level when talking about home owner association fees, decisions about when individual “rights” end and the community “good” begins.

The best things about cohousing are the neighbors and the worst things about cohousing are the neighbors.

Don’t get me wrong. There are lots of positive things about living in a community – plenty of really great neighborly support if a ride is needed to the store, or help needed to move furniture, care giving for sick neighbors. Friendships are formed, informal barbecues happen spontaneously and formal community events are planned around holidays.

I’m also lay-developing an intentional community in Cheyenne, where those discussions will take place and will be key to forming a resilient group of neighbors. Alas, those discussions have made it as far as the facebook page and haven’t popped up on the radar screen ahead of water, curb, gutter and street construction issues.

I’ve taught cultural competency and diversity workshops over the past 15 years. Most recently, I’ve adapted the curricula for intentional community audiences. At least from the feedback I’ve received, participants gained a better understanding that while the bricks and mortar of cohousing are buildings where residents live, the members who form a community are the most important aspect. The intentional community mantle can overlay any housing configuration.

While my cohousing living experience hasn’t been perfect – maybe none of them are – the intentionality brings neighbors together to work through tough issues – even though some may be on the petty side, they might as well be matters of life and death.

The upshot? If there’s a community configuration that enables conversation among divergent opinions, intentionality is a good thing, but individual effort must be put into understanding the perspectives of others and changing personal courses of action.

Social change through cohousing is a steep uphill climb constrained by American social/cultural norms.

The American Dream, bigger being better. We are driven to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, make a lot of money and make it to the top. Community founding members should have frank discussions among themselves 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. The only group to fully self-select who will be in the community, are the founding members. People may intellectually “value diversity”, but diversity doesn’t always play out, considering the typical cohouser is white, educated, high income and high-perceived social class and a woman.

Forming community members should discuss what they would be willing to give up – attitudinally and/or financially – to include diverse members. In one of my training sessions, I met a couple people from a forming community that is having this discussion and they decided to take some of the capital gains from their personal home sales to buy down houses to make them more affordable.

Reaching out to people different from oneself is a challenge and cultural brokers may need to be engaged. In my workshops, for example, attendees practice ways they can look at their personal histories and make changes so as to become more inclusive as opposed to only believing inclusivity is a good idea.

Personal introspection doesn’t end once the houses are constructed and residents unpack their boxes. Over time, the community evolves and residents need to keep unpacking their personal histories and values as families move, people pass away and new neighbors arrive.

While fair housing laws preclude discrimination, communities can provide information about the community, expectations of membership in the Homeowners Association (HOA).

Professional and lay cohousing developers can choose to make personal transformations. There are markets other than those of the “typical” cohouser, particularly in gentrifying and abandoned neighborhoods. Culturally competent developers expand their markets by finding easier outreach paths into diverse communities.

As a cultural broker myself, I know that the approach gets results and opens doors without the appearance of “tokenism.”

What are some next steps?

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Hang out with people who are outside your usual circles.

Step out of your comfort zones to start.

Who do you sit next to in church? Sit next to a stranger.

Who do you call to go out for coffee? Ask someone you’ve wanted to get to know better.

Do you stand up as an ally? Take a risk when you hear offensive comments in the grocery store line.

Social justice marches and political elections may be personal inciting incidents that bring people together.

Whether or not you choose to take on the difficult task of becoming more culturally competent, it’s when individuals collaborate and alter their behaviors that bridges are built to close social and cultural divides – one community at a time.

To Have and to Have Not

Ernest Hemingway wrote a novel called “To Have and to Have Not” Not being much of a reader, I saw the movie with Humphrey Bogart. I’m not exactly sure how that story fits into this post, but it may have something to do with relative misery and happiness of people with lots and material possessions and those with not so much and their interactions.

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Cohousing community members share in the upkeep of the common spaces.

In a community context, it’s about values and how people chose to live together. That’s relevant since I live in a cohousing community that consists of a couple dozen neighbors in the condo homeowners association. Each household owns their home has private lives, but share in ownership of common spaces and a common house which are jointly operated and maintained in a community life. The community had a retreat recently and one of the topics that bubbled to the surface was one of perceived conflicts among families around the value of money.

As a follow up to that, the community is organizing a workshop around the touchy subject of money matters and we were each asked to fill out a “financial autobiography”.

Set up a three camera switched shoot at a big awards banquet in Cheyenne. My roots are still in Wyoming. I also went to Laramie to pay my respects to a friend who recently died.

I’ll be working out of town that weekend, but thought I’d fill it out, anyway. Being a cohousing wonk, I think this is the type of personal information potential cohousing community members should share among themselves as a part of their initial development planning. I think that learning about people on a deeper personal level right off the bat will weed out those who don’t belong in a particular community or cohousing, generally. It’s not for everybody – although I’d say most people intellectually understand the benefits of community living.

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Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record in 1961. Baseball cards were among the first things I bought with my own money. This is from a cereal box. I went to the store with my mom. She shopped. I was in the cereal aisle looking for the box with the most Yankees.

What was your-first memory of money? When I started to get allowance, 15cents per week starting when I was seven. I got a raise to a quarter a couple years later. Back in the 1960s, there really wasn’t much I had any interest in buying except baseball cards starting in 1961, then Beatles cards in 1964. There were two drug stores nearby – Save More and Thrifty where my dad would take my sister and me, generally on Saturday to see what there was to get. I didn’t buy much candy or gum, since my grandparents owned a restaurant and we, pretty much, had free run of the candy counter.

What was your happiest moment with money? When I won over $1000 in a football pool at the Stockgrower’s Bar in Lander, Wyoming. I don’t remember the exact year, but it was in the 1990s. The pool was set up so the pot was progressive. Throughout the season, there was a winner every week or two. The last pot accumulated over several weeks. I don’t recall more details nor my numbers, but I had Kansas City and the Minnesota Vikings. Chiefs defensive back Deron Cherry intercepted a pass that stopped a Vikings drive at the end of the game which gave me the pot.

Your unhappiest? When I was laid off a job in 2004 and had to use my grad student loan money to augment my unemployment insurance benefit. I’m still paying that off, luckily the interest rate is 2percent. When I got sick at the end of 2013, my insurance was ready to lapse and I had to sign up for the first round of Obamacare. I ended up with two deductibles – don’t get sick in December – and re-upped with a higher deductible plan to keep my premiums lower. It took almost two years to pay off my out of pocket costs.

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One of the dads organized field trips for the neighborhood kids. This was from a tour of a local dairy. We all got Popsicles.

How did you feel as a child, teenager, young adult – Did you feel poor, comfortable, or rich? I grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming. My dad was the manager of the Coca Cola Bottling Company there. My mom stayed at home. That was, pretty much, the case with all the families in the Cole Addition, which was a “suburb” that popped up during the Cold War. There was huge nuclear proliferation and Cheyenne was one of the “ground zero” locations with the highest concentration of intercontinental ballistic missiles in the country. We weren’t the wealthiest family in the neighborhood. There were a few “merchant class” families who ran family businesses, but most everyone worked for wages. In a sense, it was a mass society. Every kid had a bike, for instance, but some had Schwinns, others Hawthorne which was the Wards brand. Mine was a refurbished one that was rebuilt by one of the guys who worked for my dad. To this day, I prefer self-customized used over new. My dad was an “early adopter” we had the first TV back in 1957 or 58; the first automatic dishwashers, the first seat belts (they were after-market).

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All my direct family members lived in the same town and were close knit.

Were you anxious about money? Growing up, I was never anxious about money. I always had a nickle in my pocket and knew I had a place to come home. Being an entrepreneur the past 15 years-or-so, I’ve learned to wake up unemployed everyday and get with the program. So far, I haven’t grown tired of it since my work is a lot of fun and different everyday. There are a few of us who live in the community who still work and the place, otherwise, operates on a “retiree” schedule.

What did your parents do to earn money? I answered that above. We were always comfortable. I ended up working for wages for most of my jobs as an adult and didn’t get the entrepreneurial bug until I was old enough to know better.

Who handled the money In your family, and how? I’m pretty sure my dad handled most of the finances. When my sister and I left the house, my mother began working again and turned her water color painting hobby into a business. She handled much of her own book work for that. As a kid, I managed my own bank account, although I often needed a ride to the savings and loan to make deposits.

Was money discussed in your family? Money wasn’t discussed when I was a kid. It was talked about when I applied for college to get loans and scholarships. Money wasn’t really discussed until we decided to put all the family assets into trust.

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All kids invited one another to birthday parties. There was no exclusion.

How did your family discuss and express generosity? Generosity was about helping others out. My parents gave to the church, as did my sister and I – which we had to take out of our allowance. Most of the kids in the neighborhood must have received similar “be independent” messages. There wasn’t a lot of collaboration or group projects. It was all about the relationship-building, more so than doing things for each other, other than at random. In Cheyenne, all the new subdivisions had swimming pools. That was the major gathering place for kids during the summer. Parents all knew each other because of the kids. Most everything was on a neighborhood basis back then – neighborhood schools, the swimming pool, neighborhood 4-H clubs, neighborhood Cub Scout dens and packs. There was a lot of reciprocity – every kid invited the other kids to their birthday parties, for example. Generosity was expressed all the time. Intentionality was part of the culture.

Did your parents trust you to go to the store to buy something? Me going to the store was not part of the division of labor. When I was in high school and drove, I may have gone to the store from time to time, but nothing memorable. It wasn’t a rite of passage.

Did you ever steal from your parents, other family members, or stores as a child? When I was in high school, I tried to steal a paperback book for an English class from the local grocery store and was caught. I did it to see if I could get away with it, since I didn’t want to fork out for “Love Story.” The worst part was having to tell my father. He had to call the store and talk to the manager – Verlin – about it. He was a friend of my dad’s employee who built my first bike. I was cut some slack and I don’t think my dad ever told my mother about it.

How much money did your family have compared to your childhood friends? As I mentioned before the neighborhood was a mass society. The social class thing wasn’t evident. It may have been among the adults, but that wasn’t a friendship factor. Although there were some families who had more social mobility and had friends from other parts of town, all my friends were in the neighborhood and church.

How did your parents respond when you asked for something? I wasn’t much of an “asker.” I was always of simple means and didn’t want much. I began to work at a very early age so I could even further be a little more independent.

Did you have to start working or did you want to start working? I didn’t think one way or the other about working. When I was offered the Hitching Post job I got a bug for it. During the summer I worked sometimes 60 hours per week at $1.35/hour and time-and-a-half over 40. For a 12 year old kid, I was socking away a lot of money. My only expense was $.75 greens fee at the public golf course on Mondays. I didn’t work during the school year because I was in sports. It was good to have my own money and not have to lean on my parents.

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The Hitching Post was one of the CFD hot spots. It was my best job.

At what age did you start working ? I worked at my grandparent’s business, the Highway Cafe when I was probably 10 or 11. I washed dishes and paid under the table since the legal working age was 12 at that time. I mostly worked when my dad went there to cook after he got off his job a few times a week. My first real job was when I was 12 and my neighbor on the corner, Mr. Contos, got me a job as a busboy at the Hitching Post Inn. I imagine that came about from some conversation my dad had with him. That service-sector job gave me an early exposure to jerks, picky people, control freaks, and bad tippers at a young age. My favorite shift was working from 10pm to 6am during Cheyenne Frontier Days. My job was to run booze from the bar to the Coach Rooms where huge parties took place. Now that was an eye 0pening experience.

What Is the first money you recall earning and how did you earn it? Working at my grandparent’s restaurant was more like getting tipped. My first money making project was selling pop at the Cheyenne Frontier Days parade. During CFD, there were three parades at the end of July. My sister, cousin and neighbor chipped in, shopped the sales and bought up canned sodas throughout the year and stock piled it in our bomb shelter. Even though my dad worked for Coke, we sold the grocery store brand because parade goers weren’t that brand conscious and the profit margin was better. The first year, after dead-heading to resupply wasted a lot of time and after about three summers we figured out where to set up soda caches along the route. The last I checked, my cousin still has the first bag of money he made from that parade gig.

How did you begin saving money? My first account was Cheyenne Federal Savings and Loan. Relatives would give me silver dollars for birthday presents and those were put into the account. After silver money was taken out of circulation, I thought I would be able to withdraw silver dollars from the bank, but much to my rude awakening I was not able to do so. After that I like to have tangible investments.

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I’ve lived gregariously much of my life, including in the dorms. Not only the same dorm, but the same dorm room for four years.

Did anyone help you decide on a career based on how much money you wanted to make? In high school, I didn’t talk to a guidance counselor at all. Maybe at the end of my senior year to determine if I had enough credits to graduate. I had absolutely no idea what to expect in college. I graduated high school and college at the end of the Vietnam War with degrees in political systems analysis and environmental biology. There weren’t many jobs out there counting smooth and wrinkled peas. I ended up sitting out post-war recession studying environmental politics and teaching at the University of Wyoming. I had no career counseling. If I were to do it all over, I’d go to two years at a community college so as to avoid taking the SAT and ACT.

What messages did you get from your parents about career, earning money and spending money? I didn’t get much information or advice from my parents about money matters. They were both high school grads and didn’t have much knowledge or experience, other than to say “go to college.”

What was/ls your view on money and dating? Who should pay for dates? I didn’t date much in high school. It was a non-issue for me.

When did you get your first credit card? What were your feelings about it? When I was in college I got a Diners Club card. That was before Visa and MasterCard. I worked in the student union checking out pool equipment from 9pm to 2am. I got paid to play billiards and earned money to pay a credit card each month. I lived on campus, at the student union food and didn’t have many discretionary expenses.

Will you Inherit money? How does that make you feel? All my family property is in trust, so I didn’t “inherit” it, per se. There hasn’t been reason to sell anything yet.

Will you have money to leave to your relatives? How does that make you feel? Likely, but in the back of my mind I want to be on my death bed with no money in the bank having spent or given it away while I’m still alive.

Could you ask a close relative for a business loan? For rent/grocery money? I could, but wouldn’t.

How do you feel about your present financial situation? I’m happy with it.

Do you know how much money you have right now?  Do you know how much you owe right now? Yes and I know exactly how much I owe on a credit card, car loan and student loan.

Who handles the money in your current household, and how? We handle our own money.

Is money easily discussed? There’s no reason to discuss finances.

Is money abundant or scarce? Neither abundant nor scarce.

How does your family discuss and express generosity? It’s not discussed.

In what ways are you a good manager of money? In what ways are you a poor manager of money? I’m pretty good at keeping track of my business money mostly because I have a good CPA. Personally, I don’t have many expenses to track.

Do you have a personal budget? Yes

Have you made decisions concerning retirement, insurance, drafting a will, and so on? I’ll keep working until I get tired of it. So far, I don’t know what I’d do if I had a bunch of idle time on my hands. I’m not much of a traveler just to travel. When I go someplace it has to be purposeful. The Talking Heads have this record called “Stop Making Sense.” The album jacket has a “scrapbook” of photos. One caption of a group of women doing their laundry in the river says, “Rich people travel thousands of miles to take pictures of poor people.” That’s not my thing. I have a will and a charitable remainder trust set up.

What kinds of things do you buy on your credit card? Do you ever buy groceries or necessities? I seldom buy any day to day stuff on a credit card. My card has no “miles” attached to it.

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I bought my first new car – VW Golf – since 1974 and traded in my 1993 Eurovan

Do you make big purchases like cars, appliance or other expensive things with your credit card? If I make big purchases, I buy on credit. Recently, I bought my first new car since 1974 on credit from the dealer at 2.5% which is pretty good.

Do you know what interest rate you are paying and how much you owe? Yes

Do you have any money secrets that you have never told anyone about? Let me think …

Do you talk to your friends and family about money—how much you have or don’t have, how much you make or how much they have and make? I talk about money in general terms with business colleagues.

How much money would you like to be making? What feelings does that bring up for you? I want to make accessible money while I’m sleeping. I keep putting myself into positions to do that and one of these days …

How do you feel about spending money on yourself? About the only non-essential things I get for my self have to do with my sports card collection. That’s more like a hobby business since no money changes hands.

Have you ever felt guilty about your prosperity? Yes, when I was held by police in Uganda and had to pay a bribe to a cop.

Have you ever felt guilty that you don’t have enough money? Is this a result of your mismanagement? I don’t feel guilty about having money or not. I’m not much of an extravagant person. It’s mostly a guy thing. I don’t buy new clothes, I don’t buy new shoes. If you look in my closet it looks like Batman’s closet – a rack of gray outfits.

ghost of xmas future

People should take a visit from the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come and find out what people thought about them.

How do you feel about the money situations of those who are more or less well-off than you? At one level, I feel sorry for them. I know plenty of people who are very well off and in retirement or close to retirement. They spend lots of money on themselves but don’t seem to be very happy. Many seem to have their own circle of acquaintances and I see them once or twice a year. A friend of mine who had been planning for retirement died suddenly and I’ll be at her funeral on Saturday. I’m a non-profit fundraiser and teach workshops about donor development. There’s a datum out there that as a percentage of income, more money is given to charity by low / moderate income people than by wealthy people. The stereotypical notion that rich people should be hit up for donations is false. It’s better to nurture a larger number of willing regular people than trying to convince a rich person. More well off people need to be visited by Ebenezer Scrooge’s Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come.

How do you feel about begging? Welfare? I have been on the public feedbag and I am very forthright about that and don’t disparage anyone who has had to seek an outside hand up. As for panhandlers, I used to think me giving someone money was some sort of social contract and the recipient wouldn’t spend my money on booze or smokes. But then I got to thinking about all the frivolous and wasteful things I’d spent money on like beer or a hamburger or whatever. When i give money to a stranger, they can spend it how ever they want.

In what ways can you be generous? In what ways can you be stingy? Do you treat? Do you tip? I’m randomly generous, throw parties, pick up tabs, treat, offer up goods and services for events and activities with no reciprocity expected. I’m not stingy, but don’t prefer to be with people who don’t carry their expected part of the load, or are constant “takers.”

We’re all “haves” and “have nots.” It depends on the time and circumstances. Everyone just needs to look themselves in the mirror and know that their experiences are not the same as anyone else’s and take those differences into account on a daily basis.