Build It And They Will Come

This is the third in a series of articles about a Richmond Cohousing family. Follow their journey here.

When Karl and Laurel first got involved with Richmond Cohousing there were only a few members who were determined to buy a unit come what may. There were a lot of unknowns: location, type of housing, cost, how it would all work together. It takes a certain amount of gumption to take the step from curiosity to commitment when you work with a large group, but from the beginning Laurel and Karl were ready to follow through to completion. Together with the other group members, these stalwarts paved the way towards the project we have now: a condominium building filled with community and friendship in the Manchester neighborhood of Richmond.

The theory, “build it and they will come,” is evident in the progress the group has made since breaking ground in March. The foundations have been laid, framing of the first floor is done, and 15 of the 19 units are sold. The project is on track for the expected move in date of May 2020.

With evident excitement, Laurel describes the atmosphere as affiliative autonomy: “We get to have the best of everything. That means we have our own unit with spare bedroom and bath, a kitchen and living room. But we also get to enjoy the automatic sense of community when we share meals together three times a week or hang out on the roof garden for sunset cocktails.”

The group has shared meetings, potlucks, outings – and aren’t even moved in yet! “We’re a welcoming, inclusive group and hope to attract some more interested people who want to participate,” Karl said.

retreat
Members at the Fall 2019 Retreat

If you are interested in learning more about the available units in Richmond Cohousing, contact the Membership Team at info@richmondcohousing or 804.592.6091.

 

Building Design with Solar Energy

In the previous post, Karl and Laurel shared their cohousing story. In their 3 years with Richmond Cohousing, they have experienced both the toil and the fulfillment of getting a cohousing project off the ground.  They’ve contributed in different ways: Karl took a lead role with the design of the building, while Laurel worked independently with solar service suppliers to reduce the energy impact of our common spaces. 

While the work is on different aspects of the project, there are a lot of commonalities in the tasks and activities. Every other week, they each share their progress with the group, gather other feedback and opinions, and make decisions. By being exposed to these projects, they have both experienced learning a tremendous amount of technical jargon, business tactics, and zoning and building regulations, but have also learned about the history and current state of the city, made connections, and grown relationships and ties within the community. 

Karl and Laurel have also had to balance competing values. With the building process, Karl has held the tension between accommodating the needs of structural design with the desires of the community. If we ask for more hall space or a larger kid’s room, something else has to give. Meanwhile, Laurel has balanced the costs and benefits of implementing different kinds of solar treatments at different times in the design process, a complicated act considering the number of ways we could do it.

Together they are a team within the larger cohousing team: self-organized, self-disciplined and self-regulated. They attribute their ability to take on these daunting tasks to the power the group generates in support of a mutual goal. With community members like Karl and Laurel, the sun certainly shines on our new adventure. We’d love for you to be part of it.

If you are interested in learning more about the available units in Richmond Cohousing, contact the Membership Team at info@richmondcohousing or 804.592.6091.

Meet Karl and Laurel

This is the first of a series of articles about a Richmond Cohousing family. Follow their journey here.

Karl & LaurelKarl and Laurel met in college, married, and raised three children. Recently their children have moved away from home, which prompted Karl and Laurel to think about their future and how they want to live. While they wanted to continue having the flexibility of having a space of their own, as their home in the suburbs provided, they also wanted more sense of connection with the people in the neighborhood. 

They started exploring and looking for options. In a serendipitous moment, there was a cohousing event the day after they found out about the concept of cohousing. They dived in and haven’t looked back (that they’ve told us anyways).

So far their cohousing journey of 3 years has been more than they expected. They describe both the intangible values of friendship and community, alongside the importance of a compatible living space. The next stories in this series will follow their stories, feelings, and ramblings as they go from concept to living the cohousing dream. 

Richmond Cohousing was founded in 2011, has a total of 25+ community members, and is currently under development in the Manchester neighborhood of Richmond, VA. Ground-breaking occurred March 2019. Karl and Laurel (and the rest of the Richmond Cohousing community) will move in to the completed building in April-May 2020. Currently, 14 of the 19 condo units are sold.

If you are interested in learning more about the 5 available units in Richmond Cohousing, contact the Membership Team at info@richmondcohousing or 804.592.6091.

Growing Up in Cohousing

This article was first published by McCamant & Durrett Architects | The Cohousing Company  We’ve published a portion below, but the entire conversation can be read here.

Lindy Sexton sat down with Joy Castro-Wehr in 2016, who was at the time a senior in high school and lived in Nevada City Cohousing with her family. She is a social activist and a worldly-thinker, and contributes much of this to living in cohousing.

Frog Song Cohousing in Cotati, CA. Architecture by McCamant & Durrett Architects

Lindy: How long have you lived in cohousing?

Joy: Since I was 8. My family was aware of cohousing and had a cohousing-esque relationship with neighbors in Oakland; we took down the property fence, had a common space, and shared things. We moved to Nevada City when I was 4 because of public Waldorf school. And lived on a large property in Nevada City. When we moved into cohousing, I initially missed my big backyard, but soon realized that I used the cohousing acreage behind the houses much more than my old backyard because I had more friends to share it with.

Lindy: What do you like about living in cohousing?

Joy: In cohousing, I am so filled with love, there is no room for anything else. Challenges do exist, but it is easier to deal with these challenges because of support from cohousers. Just as my neighbors have influenced me with their worldly perspectives, they also have taught me how to have opinions and ways to voice those so others aren’t offended. Most people living in cohousing are there because they share the same interest in and desire to contribute to community. Otherwise, why live in cohousing? Relationship building is much easier because of proximity in cohousing. It’s a lot less work to say “hi” because my neighbors are right across the sidewalk.

Lindy: How do you contribute to the community in your cohousing?

Joy: Every person in the community has an aspect of cohousing that they connect through. For some, it’s gardening. For others, it’s going on skiing trips with neighbors. The dinner table is my family’s “place of connection”. So common meals are how we become close to others around us. In fact, just the other night, I had a deep and inspiring conversation with some neighbors at a common meal.

I also know that the kids look up to me. I babysit for many of my neighbors and know the kids in my neighborhood like they were family. I am accountable for how I act around the three-year old that lives next to me, which is one of the reason’s I choose not to do drugs and get drunk.

Lindy: Do you still experience challenges outside of your community, for instance, peer pressure at school?

Joy: (sigh) Outside of our cohousing community, I deal with the same peer pressure that all teens deal with. Because of my family and cohousing, I feel that I am not missing anything in my life. I’ve learned to ignore the peer pressure I know is not good. I simply do not have time to pursue something that alters my sense of being.

I never needed to look beyond my community because there was always someone, some experience to fill the gap. People often get pressured into drugs and abuse alcohol because they are “lacking” in something. It’s like Play-Doh, filling holes in someone’s life, and Play-Doh doesn’t last for long. Cohousing fills in some of those holes. And community is more resilient.

That said, cohousers like to have social time and have parties. There is a group of cohousers that like to brew beer in our cohousing. They get together and play pool and try their new brews. And every once in awhile, someone will bring a nice bottle of wine to a common meal and shares it with others. Treating alcohol like a social treat, rather than a crutch teaches kids that it’s okay to appreciate every once in awhile.

Lindy: Why has cohousing made such an impact on your life?

Read Joy’s answer on the original blog post.

Getting from “Gotta Have” to “Community First”

This essay was written by Karen Gimnig, Assistant Director of the Cohousing Association of the United States, and first published on cohousing.org. You can read the original post, and other great submissions from communities around the United States at cohousing.org.

Cohousing community members begin with some basic assumptions. We expect to do some downsizing. We know we will be sharing space and will need to make some comprises about how we use that space. We plan to reduce our impact on the planet and increase our social connections. These tend to be shared assumptions and overall, all these things happen in every cohousing community.

Then there are the less shared assumptions, and there tend to be a lot of these. One person visits a community with a large common workshop and assumes their not-yet-built community will have the same. Another reads about an accessible community and assumes that their unit will be single level. There are assumptions about gardens and shared utilities, private back yards and affordability, and on and on. In short, as people make the decision to join a cohousing community, each as a list of “requirements” that will make cohousing work for them.

The interesting thing about these requirements is not so much that they exist, or what they are, but how they change over time, in particular over time spent in community. We all know before we start that a smaller house is better for the planet, but we tend to have a limit on how small we think we can go. We look forward to sharing more and buying less, but we tend to be more comfortable sharing our stuff than getting rid of it and relying on others sharing theirs.

A lot of the ideals of cohousing sound good, but the reality is that we have to grow into the full potential of this way of life. Downsizing, shedding material objects, and becoming more dependent on neighbors can all feel like sacrifice at the beginning. Full realization of the joy and abundance of cohousing comes later.

The challenge in this is that an awful lot of decisions that relate to sustainability and affordability come sooner. We’re still early in the development process when we decide how much house we are going to build, how many cars we are going to plan parking for, and even how much land to buy.

So what makes people shift their thinking over time? I believe it is the lived experience of relationship. As communities gather and get to know each other, the value of the community increases and the relative value of individuality, certain aspects of individual homes and one’s particular preferences decreases. In short as we become closer and more connected to our neighbors that connection becomes the priority and the things that have made us comfortable in our solitary home matter less.

It has to do with our actual human needs. Whatever advertisers and retail giants would like us to believe, the reality is that we don’t need cabinets full of kitchen gadgets or workshops full of tools. What we need, as much as we need basic nutrition and water, is connection. When we begin to get it, the pull of our things, our cars and our space lessens and our vision of life in cohousing shifts.

So the question is, how do you build connection early enough that your design decisions can be more influenced by your actual needs than by your current mainstream lifestyle? There is probably no way to fully make that transition before move in, but you can speed it along.

Make spending time together a priority, not just for business meetings, but for casual conversation, eating together and social time. Spend time together in smaller groups. Invite one or two others for a meal or a cup of tea. Get to know your community neighbors in more intimate settings than full group gatherings will allow. Start your process and relationship training early. Non-violent Communication and Imago Relationships work are particularly valuable in inviting and building a sense of connection between members. Investing in this work sooner can have significant benefits for your land selection, membership retention and recruitment and design process.

A funny thing happens when you fall in love with your will-be neighbors. Suddenly the most important thing to have in your community by far is each other.

Raising My Kid in Richmond Cohousing

A common sentiment among parents I know is that they had no idea what they were getting into before having a kid, and I am no exception to this. When I first heard about cohousing it seemed like a great way to address some of the isolation and pressure I felt as a single parent. I loved the idea of having other adults close by to provide support and love for my child but also to share perspectives and knowledge that I didn’t have. And that’s not to mention the appeal of having more time to myself by sharing childcare responsibilities, easier socializing for both of us due to proximity of other adults and kids, and owning less “stuff” by sharing resources.

img-6671.jpg

I became involved with Richmond Cohousing in 2014 and since then the other members have become trusted friends who have seen my kiddo grow from age 2 to age 6. For the past few years we have worked hard to build our community, but it was challenging to find the exact piece of property we wanted – and could afford. When the group decided in early 2018 to pursue our cohousing development in Manchester in a condo-style building, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue with the project. I hadn’t envisioned raising a child in a condo. This was a big departure from our earlier dreams of a grassy area and playground, fire pit, shared large gardens, and maybe even a pool. I spent a few months contemplating my future involvement with Richmond Cohousing and briefly decided to leave the group.

But after making an announcement at a Plenary Meeting that it wasn’t the right time for me and my kiddo to move into a condo, I got into my car and started crying. I thought about my life continuing the way it is now – coming home after work to our house with its yard and front porch and extra bedroom in the neighborhood I’ve lived in since 2002 and still feeling isolated and alone with all of the pressure of taking care of my child on my own.

Then I envisioned coming home to a cohousing condo building and walking through the front door, seeing a few people in the common space, saying hello and chatting for a few minutes, someone checking in with my kiddo about how the school day, and I felt a sense of relief, ease, and gratitude. The fact that it was a condo, that there wasn’t a yard, that it was a new neighborhood, and other unknowns seemed a lot less important than those things I had initially been seeking – community and support – when I joined the group. I knew what the right decision was.

The other members of the group may have been surprised to see my email early the next morning saying, “I changed my mind, I made a mistake, I do want to continue with the group”. Since then I’ve been actively involved and feeling excited (but still a bit nervous!) about this next adventure for me and my kiddo. Raising children in a multigenerational community enriches the lives of not only the children, but everyone else in the community. Richmond Cohousing will be a great place for kids.

Interested in living at Richmond Cohousing with your kids? We’d love to hear from you! 

Contact info@richmondcohousing.com with questions and stay tuned for our next Informational Session. We also know the challenges of nap/school/work schedules and the unpredictability of kids – we’re happy to chat via phone or meet at a local playground. Just let us know what might work best for your family.

Progress and Updates – Nov 2018

Richmond Cohousing continues to move forward in fast-paced and exciting ways!

Near final unit layouts are available and only 6 units remain uncommitted. If you’ve been thinking about getting involved, don’t miss your chance to join Richmond’s first cohousing community! There are 5 two-bedroom units (202, 207, 301, 302, 401) and 1 three-bedroom unit (104) currently available.

Miller & Associates submitted the Plan of Development (POD) to the city a few weeks ago and plan to meet with city representatives on Thursday, November 29th. So far, no major challenges have been identified.

We continue to brainstorm the best use of our common space and ways to (affordably) implement green/sustainable practices. Some members are thinking about how a bike or car share might be implemented, while others are excited to get their hands dirty in rooftop container gardens. Both parents and future grown-up friends are excited to have kids raised in community and are making sure play areas are safe and welcoming. And we want to make sure our building supports a diverse community across all ages and abilities.

Commitments from prospective buyers are encouraged by November/December 2018 – the more members we have, the more impact we have with our developer for customization and community-oriented features.