Co-housing question

This isn’t for me. Really. But in a larger sense it may be for all of us.

Does anyone have experience buying a house or apartment with a non-relative on a cooperative basis? Since strong households — in concert with, but also optionally apart from, families — can be a protection against poverty and deprivation, I’ve been thinking about how they can be created. And created on a formal, objective basis if need be.

Cooperatives are a powerful tool, but we commonly think of them beyond the domestic scale. Examples of successful coops include apartment buildings, credit unions, wholesale buyers or rural utilities. Big projects to fund and operate that which might not otherwise be created. Smaller coops — say, a health food store — fall into that mixed blessing category: well-loved, but eccentric, difficult and marginal.

I’m thinking of something smaller still. Cooperative arrangements made with a handful of people, are for a limited time period or are organized on an ad-hoc basis. Consider also food buying clubs, pooled lending, tool shares and systems of childcare. (Unitarian fellowships?) I’d like to hear of your successful examples of these. (And if I’ve piqued your interest, I read about some of these in a book I noted recently.)

Author: Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

8 thoughts on “Co-housing question”

  1. A few years ago, my partner & I split a CSA share with three other UU families. Every week on delivery day, we met on our front porch to divide up the bounty. We laughed, we caught up with each other, we learned who liked Brussels sprouts. It was wonderful.

    For the past two years Liesl and I have purchased a side of local beef with another group of UUs. On a dark, cold Alaskan winter night, we meet in a driveway to make sure we all get our fair share. There’s still laughter, but we work more quickly in the cold! Often when I get a package of beef out of the chest freezer, I think of that group of people.

  2. Oh, and there’s a group in Anchorage working on a possible co-housing community, and quite a few Anchorage UU Fellowship members are interested. I’m not among them at the moment, though–too far from Liesl’s work.

  3. CSAs, as mentioned. Also food coops (local coops where members do the work)

    Community gardens: many cities have them, but I belonged to one that was an independent nonprofit–which recently paid off its mortgage!

    Cooperative rental households: such a common part of my experience (from San Francisco in the 80s to Philadelphia to Boston) that I never really thought about how a cooperative household might be different from just having a roommate, but I suppose it is. It just entails more careful conversation and planning.

    Car coop: I belonged to a small (4 households) car coop in Philadelphia. One person held title and paid insurance, but everyone paid in quarterly as well as mileage-based. A voicemail system was used to leave reservations, and a small notebook in the glove compartment was used to record mileage and gas.

    Housing coop: I lived in houses in West Philadelphia that were part of the Life Center Association, which grew out of Movement for a New Society. Close friends lived in a Life Center house, which they bought from the Association (I believe; they did something in order to begin accruing equity in the property). This household consisted of 3 to 4 families, eventually becoming 2 sets of parents each with 2 children and another adult whose partner lived in a nearby house.

  4. I don’t have any particular experience, but the question I think should be asked of any partnership is what’s the process for unwinding it should one of the parties want out. People never like to ask that one and it’s usually the most important thing to anticipate.

  5. When Mr. Attractor & I first got married, we shared a 4 bedroom house with another young married couple with whom we were friends. The situation worked very well for about two years. Each couple had two bedrooms and a bathroom, & we shared a kitchen. A personality conflict eventually led to both couples finding other lodging, but it worked very well for a time. We were able to afford to live in a nice neighborhood when otherwise our finances would have limited us to raising our new baby in a more dangerous area.

  6. I’m psyched about a new carshare program in SF, Relay Rides https://relayrides.com/. If I ever get around to cleaning out my car, I’m going to sign up–how cool that someone could use my car on the days I don’t need it. More informal sharing is nice, but with something as high-stakes as the family car, I want a more formal process and someone taking care of the insurance.

    I agree with Bill that “How do we dissolve this?” is a key question to any arrangement. Obviously with something like RelayRides or a CSA, you just stop participating. With housing, you’d need to put it in writing.

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