Even before the pandemic forced everyone to hunker down at home, 79-year-old Fran Rothman decided to move out of a townhouse and live the rest of her life where she would never feel alone.
The retired special education teacher and social worker settled into an arrangement that promised to grant that wish: Collaborating housing, or co-housing, in which everyone in the community agrees to share chores, solve problems and socialize together.
At PDX Commons, a 55 and older complex in Southeast Portland’s Sunnyside neighborhood, Rothman can open the front door of her condo and find camaraderie.
Neighbors she’s known over years of committee meetings and potlucks can be heard singing on their balconies. Folks wave at one another as they move about, and people not seen outside for a while are called to make sure they’re fine.
If it weren’t for COVID-19, the three dozen seniors living here would be looking forward to a dance party with a live rock and roll band. Instead, they continue to keep their distance while watching out for one another.
The U-shaped building they collectively designed, built, own and manage makes interaction easier.
There are walkways in front of the condos on the top three levels and next to the courtyard is a large meeting and dining space. Twice a week, resident foodies using the communal commercial-style kitchen take turns making dinners for everyone.
“Our meals rival Portland restaurants,” says Rothman. “We have great cooks who live here. We’re not talking about a pot of soup.”
Some of the ingredients are harvested from gardens residents tend to on the rooftop deck.
They take the elevator to the ground level to spend time in the library, media room with a big screen TV, or the craft and exercise room. In another wing is a workshop and bike storage as well as a dog-wash station.
Although the sit-down group dinners indoors are now masked affairs in which people bring their own plate to take home to eat, in good weather homeowners can be six feet apart outdoors around a fire pit.
“We all are in this together,” says resident Ann Lehman, 67, of the group that makes decisions by consensus. “The loneliness factor exists but not like for most adults living alone or even a couple by themselves or someone in a nursing home with their own room.”
Lehman says a perk of living with retirees who are regular hikers, bicyclists and campers is she can go for a walk with one of them without planning in advance.
Co-housing requires work
Each co-housing complex is unique, in physical size and configuration to work for the young families or empty nesters, or both, who live there. The private homes could be newly built or remodeled apartments. The communal space could be a multipurpose room or a century-old farmhouse.
The common goal: To coordinate efforts to benefit all.
People living in collaborative spaces buy a unit or sign a lease knowing they will interact often with their neighbors. People who want to control the activity may not like all the committees, writes Charles Durrett in ”Senior Cohousing: A Community Approach to Independent Living-The Handbook.”
Those who benefit desire traditional forms of community and a sense of belonging, according to Durrett.
“Living in community supports resilience,” says Eli Spevak, who lives at Cully Grove, a 16-unit co-housing community in Northeast Portland that his company, Orange Splot, co-developed with Zach Parrish in 2012.
“It also helps to live with people who have a wide range of skill sets, a nice level of trust and the ability to team up on group tasks,” Spevak says, adding these are “all handy things in case of catastrophe, whether that be earthquake, massive power outage or pandemic.”
Oregon has 30 co-housing communities, according to the CoHousing Association of the U.S.
Some are within walking distance of parks, shops, restaurants and grocery stores; others are remote or on acreage. All have a focus on sustainable living, reducing waste and keeping costs down with residents managing the finances and keeping up the property.
PDX Commons’ building, shared areas and private spaces were developed and constructed by Urban Development + Partners based on designs by Works Progress Architecture with residents’ input. J.R. Abbott Construction was the general contractor.
The condos have from 625 to 1,250 square feet of living space. All 27 were sold for between $355,000 and $720,000 before the building was completed in July 2017.
Today, an 846-square-foot condo with two bedrooms and two bathrooms and a north-facing balcony at 4262 S.E. Belmont St. #404 is for sale at $595,000.
Property taxes are $7,300 a year and homeowners association fees, at $557 a month, cover water, garbage pickup, recycling and community Wi-Fi and activities as well as property insurance for the building and a reserve fund.
Part of each owner’s continuing responsibilities is to work on committees.
Rothman is a member of the building, grounds and finance committees. One of her jobs is night watch, in which she makes sure outside doors are secured.
Events like a dance party are planned by the FunC (fun committee) and the gift-loan committee sorts out what people are donating or letting the community use, from a kayak to garden sculpture.
A retired nurse and a scientist contributed to the health committee, which sent group emails as facts became known about COVID-19.
When the coronavirus was even more of a mystery, people reacted to fears to different degrees.
“We made sure no one was so alone that they were scared,” says Lehman. “No one has been sick from COVID. Now, we’re struggling to make sure everyone gets vaccinated.”
Residents held Zoom meetings in March 2020 to agree on a code of conduct to reduce the risk of anyone contracting the virus.
As recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hands are washed often, surfaces are sanitized and cleaning chores were stepped up.
Families and friends could not visit inside the complex or stay in one of the two shared guest rooms.
Residents with health conditions that made them more susceptible to COVID-19 had groceries delivered or neighbors shopped for them.
“Ultimately, if these are the people you live with, you are not going to jeopardize them,” says Rothman. “We supported everyone’s comfort zone.”
Over the last year, the residents have spent more time together, since no one was traveling, and they learned new skills. Many participated in national co-housing webchats and virtual conferences.
Lehman led yoga classes and other exercise sessions continued even when the teacher couldn’t enter the complex. Birthdays are celebrated by everyone standing on porches and blasting a favorite song on iTunes.
Over time, they formed small social pods with folks on the same floor.
“As we get older, it’s better to live around people than in your own space,” says Rothman. Experts agree that limited social support and stimulation can lead to isolation, which affects physical and mental health.
After Rothman and her partner moved to Portland from Sacramento seven years ago to enjoy the city’s cultural activities, good transportation and closeness to recreational camping area, they lived in a townhouse where neighbors were friendly, but there were no joint activities.
Rothman says a co-housing complex is a place in which relationships can thrive: “Where you can enjoy your neighbors, do things with them and share with them.”
— Janet Eastman | Source here