Exploring Cohousing with Trish Becker
Inside Community Podcast — Ep. 011
Cohousing benefits include autonomy, resource sharing, social and emotional connection, and a model for engagement and democracy that reaches beyond community walls. Join Trish Becker and I, as we discuss the ins and outs of cohousing.
In this episode
- What is cohousing (4 minutes)
- The architecture of growing cohousing communities (12 minutes)
- Legal and zoning aspects (20 minutes)
- Modelling healthy democracy and its impact in the wider world (25 minutes)
- Equity, diversity and inclusion (31 minutes)
- Balancing privacy and community (40 minutes)
- Engagement and conflict resolution (44 minutes)
- Time banking (49 minutes)
- Steps and resources for creating a cohousing community (53 minutes)
About Trish Becker
Trish Becker is the Executive Director of the Cohousing Association of the United States, CohoUS for short, a national nonprofit that seeks to grow the collective housing movement. CohoUS supports forming and existing communities, as well as the professionals who build them through education, trainings, resources and connection. Trish is a founding member of Aria Cohousing and Chase Street Commons, a micro-village built upon the principles of cohousing.
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Thanks from Rebecca, your podcast host
Rebecca Mesritz 0:03 Hello there friends and folks interested in community. I hope that you are enjoying the inside community podcast and all of these amazing people that I’ve gotten to talk to over the course of our first season. You know, if you are wondering how can I be more engaged with this podcast? How can I support this podcast and help to keep it going? I’ve got a great answer for you. Go to ic.org/podcast and click that donate button. Your financial support really helps to make this whole thing possible. And I so so appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you and enjoy the show. Hello, and welcome back to the inside community podcast. I’m your host, Rebecca Mesritz. For many folks interested in more interconnected ways of living, yet not financially or energetically prepared for something like an income sharing community. cohousing provides the benefits of greater sustainability and resource sharing more social and emotional connection and that beautiful neighborhood vibe, all while allowing members a higher degree of autonomy. In many ways it can be seen as the best of both community living and the default worlds. Today we’re going to explore the ins and outs of cohousing with my guest Trish Becker. Trish Becker is the executive director of the cohousing Association of the United States koho us for short, a national nonprofit that seeks to grow the collective housing movement koho us supports forming and existing communities, as well as the professionals who build them through education trainings, resources and connection. Trish is a founding member of ARIA cohousing and chase street Commons micro village built upon the principles of cohousing. Trish also did a TEDx talk on cohousing and is a passionate advocate for housing solutions that address our collective crises of loneliness, environmental degradation, and housing inaccessibility. Trish Becker, welcome to the Inside community podcast. Trish Becker 2:18 Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be here. Rebecca Mesritz 2:22 I am excited to dive in with you about cohousing. But I first want to start by asking you to give us a little snapshot of your community. Trish Becker 2:33 Sure, so I am a founding member of a community that we call Chase street Commons. It has the principles of cohousing infused into it, but we’re calling it a micro village because it is on a much smaller scale. So we will have five households, it’s on one acre of land on the northwest side of Denver, Colorado, we are prioritizing lots of green space and nature because most of the members will be families with young kids. So the design, the intent of the design is to push cars to the periphery and then have really just a free for all for kiddos to run between houses and patios. We also are we’re utilizing existing structures for our community. So there are currently two almost 100 year old homes on the property. And so those will we will maintain those homes. And then there’s a lot of garage space that we’re converting into studio Studios for Art co working gathering yoga, common meals, and then we’ll have a lot of outdoor common space as well. Rebecca Mesritz 3:47 Beautiful all that on one acre. Trish Becker 3:49 Yeah, yeah, we’re packing it in but also trying to preserve kind of the spaciousness. It’s really, if you were in my neighborhood, you know, Denver is is pretty dense. And so it’s a unique piece of property. And so we’re trying to keep that like that feel that spaciousness, that ability to breathe that not only the residents want, but really the surrounding neighbors have really come to value as well. Rebecca Mesritz 4:13 Hmm. Well, I know that it’s I’m understanding I should say that this is sort of based on cohousing principles, but for listeners who aren’t familiar with this term, cohousing. What is it? What is cohousing? And how is it different or similar to what people normally think of when they imagine a community? Trish Becker 4:35 Sure, so cohousing is an intentionally designed neighborhood that prioritizes human connection and support of one another. So if you are looking at it, it’s you know, a cohousing community is a small village like development where there are individual homes. They are typically condos or townhomes. They also can include single family homes. These private homes are clustered around Central common space. And so sometimes that’s a common house. You know, some communities have these large common houses with a huge communal kitchen and kids space and yoga studios and even hot tub. It also the common space can also look alike, shared courtyard or rooftop patio, outdoor kitchen with community gardens, so it really varies. The key piece is that in cohousing, the individual homes are complete and they’re private. So they include your own kitchen, your own bathrooms, multiple bedrooms are one to multiple bedrooms, and that’s in addition to the shared spaces. So that’s a key piece. So when you ask how it’s different than what people imagine, I do think that it’s different than what people think of when they hear intentional community, specifically in that kitchen and bathroom sharing piece. I think that a lot of times people picture sharing those spaces and cohousing. That model happens to not share those but in terms of community, that feeling of belonging to community, I wouldn’t say that it’s different at all. I think it’s exactly what people think of when they think of community. So it’s, you know, that that shared time that concern for one another, the idea that you deeply know, each of the people who live in your neighborhood or building within your community and that you’re there for them, you’re going to show up for them just as they’re going to show up for you. You know, cohousing is really a social structure. And that structure allows us to have connection so most communities have at least weekly meals, they have regular meetings, happy hours, baby showers, all this structure that allows us to be together. And we know that in a society like ours, that tends to be so isolated, so obsessed with the individual, we actually need that structure to be able to come together in terms of collective care and support for one another, so that’s built into cohousing as well. Rebecca Mesritz 7:16 So, so in this situation, you know, how do people own everyone has a condo but do they actually own their house? Or are they what’s the ownership structure? Do they have to pay dues? How does this work? Trish Becker 7:29 So in cohousing homes are privately owned. So if it’s a condo, single family home a townhome, it’s owned just like a regular home, and then there’s a homeowner’s association on top of that, and then the dues go towards kind of the maintenance of the community and then members also have a share in the common spaces. So there I might want to say that again. Sorry. Um, okay, so in cohousing people individually own their homes. For the most part of course, there are rental structures, but for the most part people privately owned their homes just like you would and then there’s also an HOA built in. And so that covers the common spaces whether it’s a common house or you know, this shared outdoor spaces, and then each owner has a share in the in the common space as well. So we function pretty much like a you know, your standard condo, whether detached or attached condo or a homeowner’s association. So it’s pretty it’s a well paved path as far as how the the property ownership goes. Rebecca Mesritz 8:47 Who, who owns the land? Like, who owns the land that that happens on? Is it an LLC? Or what is the structure that holds the actual? Trish Becker 8:58 Yeah, so for the most part, and this is just speaking to most communities, the land is, is owned by the community, right? So it’s just like a condo and that like the HOA manages all of the land and so technically you have a share of the land that’s owned there are other models that utilize a community land trust model, for example, where there would be other ownership but typically the land is actually owned by the community itself in managed. Rebecca Mesritz 9:35 Interesting, I am just thinking about the community that I was a part of, and, and it sounds very, very similar. You know, we each had our own home, we each had our own individual single family home. We co owned the land together, but we owned it together as an LLC. And then we paid HOAs to help maintain and keep things going. The only difference is that the cuz we owned everything together as a as an LLC, we actually all paid rent, we rent our spaces from ourselves as opposed to, this is my house and I own it. So I it, the next question, I guess is, then what happens when you don’t want to own your house anymore? And you want to sell? How does that? Is there a process? For that? Trish Becker 10:25 Yeah, yeah. So you would, from the real estate perspective, engage in selling your property just like you would any home, you would engage a real estate agent, you would you would sell it. And just in the way that you would sell a condo, that would kind of come with the agreement that the new owner would would kind of sign into to the agreements and the pricing structure of the HOA. On top of that, though, is the social piece. So many communities have guidelines as far as who comes into their communities. In some cases, it’s open to the seller to decide who they will sell it to with the hope that they will sell it to someone who is engaged in community in the same way. Some communities have pretty robust policies. As far as you know, we need to have a new resident come to at least two dinners and meet with us. And it’s a mutual selection process. Some have first right of refusal built into the governing documents. So it kind of varies, but I would say that it’s standard to have something because it’s not a regular real estate transaction. Communities are invested in having new owners, be someone who is already interested in the community. And I’ll add to that, that there is not a lot of turnover in cohousing because once you live in community, you typically love it. And so a lot of times the ways that it works is there’s a pretty long wait list for people to get into any existing communities. And so when someone needs to move and sell their unit, they’ll go first to that list of people who have said I’ve come to the common meals, I’m excited about community, please let me know when there’s a space available. So that social pieces covered through that process. Rebecca Mesritz 12:16 Hmm, that’s good to know. It sort of secures the investment, I guess the real estate investment that people are making. Can you paint a picture for us about what cohousing in America looks like? How many are there? Where are they located? What kind of people are gravitating towards cohousing? Trish Becker 12:38 Sure. So currently there are around 180 cohousing communities in the US existing cohousing communities, there are about 150 additional communities that are in some stage of formation. So, the number of communities has grown exponentially in the past 30 ish years so cohousing as an architectural model was commonplace in Denmark when architects Katie McKenna, and Chuck touret visited love the model brought it back to the US and started supporting communities forming all over the country. So there are communities nationwide, certainly there are pockets that tend to have more for various reasons. We have a lot in the Pacific Northwest Northern California. There’s a pocket you know, in the New England area, Colorado is another hotspot but really no two communities look the same. We have urban communities suburban, very rural. They vary in you know the size you from one, I think Grace Kim’s community and Capitol Hill and Seattle is less than an acre to 40 100 acres. They also vary in terms of the size of individual units. So again, everything from condos to collection of single family homes, and I would say that all types of people live there. There historically has been a misconception that cohousing is for older adults, and that’s simply not the case. So they tend to be intergenerational. So my community for example, not Cherry Street commons, but the previous cohousing community that I was a co founder of it’s called ARIA cohousing. The age range there ranged from a couple of newborns to people in their 80s and it was really that intergenerational aspect that is probably my favorite thing about living in community and I can talk more about that as well. Just kind of the sharing of labor and wisdom and love across the generations is such a beautiful part of cohousing, but it’s really made up of of all sorts of people. Although I would say there are are certainly shared values. Among co Howser, so these are people who believe in a different way of being there are people who value human connection. They want to know their neighbor, they want to care for one another. They want to live differently on the planet. They want to prioritize relationships over consumption. So those are our common values among people. I will say cohousing historically has been a largely middle class endeavor. So I really think that the next great challenge ahead of us as a movement is affordability and access so that we can begin to break down the barriers that keep cohousing from being more diverse economically, racially, etc. Rebecca Mesritz 15:53 Yeah, what do you think is possible for that with with cohousing? I mean, what do you see cohousing being able to address that? Trish Becker 16:02 Yeah, totally. It’s such an important question and so cohousing In theory, it can be less expensive to live in such as you know, one might be able to live in a smaller footprint home because cohousing builds sharing into the model so there’s you know, common spaces or a guest room so that I don’t have to have a guestroom in my own home. We also sharing is a big part of the ethos of cohousing sharing of, you know, kitchen supplies and bikes and we have a saying and cohousing. Does everyone need their own lawn mower and that kind of speaks to the ethos so, so there’s that and it’s no less expensive per square foot to create. So the cost of housing is the cost of housing and there are only two ways to pay for a new building. You either pay for it directly or with some sort of external subsidies. So cohousing. You know it’s set apart from other housing developments in a few ways. Number one, as a community, we tend to care about wealth disparity and economic justice. We care about having fair wages for people who are building the homes. We care about making human connection accessible to all, I believe, and many people in the movement believe that cohousing is an element of a better world and so we we care and we desire to ensure that that future that we imagine is possible for everyone. So we do a few things to make housing more accessible. We think outside of the box, we you know, we reduce our square footage and therefore our costs by building common spaces. We explore innovative building strategies that can reduce building costs but still pay a fair wage to those people who are doing the building. And we look for external funding to subsidize costs. We even many communities really look at themselves. So many cohousing communities have self subsidized affordable units within their communities as a way to put action behind their values. But when you look at the entire movement of cohousing, this is not a scalable approach. So, as a cohousing movement, we have to continue to advocate for more fair housing and zoning policies we have to look for and advocate for robust funding streams to create affordable housing for all. You know, we have to look at ways to partner with community land trust, how can we incorporate limited equity cooperative models? How can we open the door to rentals or more rent to own options like there are many ways that we can create ways we can create more affordability and access within our communities. And I think that there’s a lot of inspiring things on the horizon. As far as housing policy, you know, California just passed two pieces of legislation, SB nine and 10, which basically allows individuals individual homeowners to subdivide their lots and have up to three additional homes on their property. So the goal of that was to increase density and therefore, you know, increase housing inventory and then therefore tackle affordability. I see that as an opportunity for us to take the ethos of cohousing and support people not just in having additional homes on their lap but okay, how do you make that a micro village or a cohousing community? How do you build intention then into the space that you’ve developed? And then that can intersect intersect with a more affordable strategy? Rebecca Mesritz 19:58 Hmm, I really I love I love the idea of Yeah, building in those more interconnectedness more interdependence into that, and as I’m thinking about, I have a few questions about all the things that you just said, but, you know, when I think about someone who might want to create a cohousing reality somewhere where they live, you know, that brings up a lot for me around like, what are the steps? How would someone go about doing that? And it seems like there’s two two aspects. There’s the community building aspect. And then there’s the actual physical, like, what’s legal? What does zoning allow for? So I would love to sort of dive into some of that maybe, maybe we tackle the the more legal kind of zoning aspects first, how do people do that? Because a lot of places I’m thinking I mean, I know, I’m sure Denver, I know, most desirable cities where people would want to live have a lot of restrictions. I mean, California has got restrictions. Oregon has restrictions. You know, a lot of these, a lot of states have a lot of restrictions. And short of moving out to, you know, certain counties in Missouri, like we’re dancing rabbit is where you can just do whatever you want. Not all of us want to live in Missouri. So what do you do? How do you how do you approach your local government and get permission to do these kinds of things? Trish Becker 21:21 Yeah, it’s a great question. We often say that forming a community a cohousing community is kind of like a chess game. Like you have to kind of move one piece a little bit, then you know, the next one a little bit. And so you have all these pieces. One of those, of course is like, you’re gathering your people here in the potluck stage, you’re saying, Hey, we have a dream does anyone want to share in this dream who wants to talk about a different way to live together? So you’re gathering those people, then simultaneously, maybe you’re looking for land, maybe you found land, but you’re working on getting enough people to be able to buy it. You’re also then looking for your professionals, your consultants, a developer who shares your passion, that sort of thing. So you’re moving them along? And then when you get to the question of land, gosh, there are so many different scenarios out there, you know, sometimes. So in in the ARIA community that I helped found, it was the developer who had the land and she wanted to do something more intentional with that development. And so she found a group of burning souls and said, Hey, let’s make a cohousing community out of this. So that’s one way. Another story could be that someone, a group of people might find land that’s zoned for residential and so they will have to engage in a rezoning process, which includes community engagement. That’s what we’re doing here at CHI street Commons. So our land is currently zoned for one home. So one acre, zoned for one small home in the middle of Denver in the middle of a housing crisis just feels absurd to me. So our intensive courses to rezone it so that we can build additional homes here. I will say one piece, so the rezoning is often an element of a development so developers often buy land and then they have to get City Council’s support the planning department support as well as the neighbors support and that’s where people get stuck a lot and so this is a benefit of cohousing and that developers who are working on a cohousing community have a built in like community engagement team, right. So if a developer can go to their burning souls and say, Hey, show up at this community meeting, tell them what cohousing is all about. Tell them how much you love this community that you’re a part of as well. It really makes the development seem less scary when people see what it’s about and the human faces that are behind it. So that process is is often a little bit easier or unique in that way with cohousing. Did that answer your question? Rebecca Mesritz 24:07 Yeah, yeah, I mean, I’m thinking about how we might potentially, and I have no idea what the future holds. But part of our vision, where we are is to build community. And you know, we live in an area where you get your your one house, it doesn’t really matter whether that one house is on five acres, 40 acres, or 160 acres, which are the sizes of all the of the plots that we basically are sort of connected with and it’s Yeah, seems crazy to me seems crazy to me, especially because there is a housing crisis. There is a shortage of affordable housing for people. So how do you start to bridge that gap in a way and I what I really appreciate is that there is a community building aspect to this that’s beyond The community that you’re building, it’s also your the greater community that you’re starting to engage. You have to be engaged in your local politics. You have to be engaged in your local Social Dynamics. You have to make good neighbors invite them over for dinner and, and yeah, just start building more interdependence even outside of the project that you’re working on, which I think is a really beautiful sort of side effect of of creating that. Trish Becker 25:26 Yes, I completely agree. We also have some we actually have data to back that up. There was a study a few years ago that showed that members of residents of cohousing communities are more civically engaged than the average American and we like to think about cohousing communities as these little microcosms of what we would like to see in a healthy democracy. So there are these spaces where people enter intentionally they say, we’re going to have to work through our stuff, we’re going to have conflict, we’re going to have fun, we’re going to have conflict, we’re going to disagree, we’re going to have difference between us. And yet we’re going to engage in that in an intentional, unhealthy way. And so the hope is that what we model within community will ripple outwards, it will we will open our doors to the surrounding neighborhoods, we will be engaged we will, you know, be engaged in local politics, we will be community organizing around causes that matter to us and then that will ripple outwards to create a healthy democracy. I mean, this is the ideal of course, but but that’s what cohousing communities believe in. They believe that they’re modeling healthy democracy within their communities and that that will have an impact on the wider world. Rebecca Mesritz 26:47 The inside community podcast is sponsored by the Foundation for intentional community. If you are enjoying this conversation with Trish Becker and learning about cohousing, I’d like to recommend checking out the icy.org Bookstore. There they have books on all kinds of topics related to community, but they have a few books in stock on cohousing, specifically creating cohousing, the senior cohousing handbook, and an ebook called cohousing for life all available to you right now. If you use the code inside 20, I’ve got a 20% off coupon for my podcast listeners. And that’s available to us on any of the books in the bookstore. So check that out firstname.lastname@example.org Another amazing resource for your investigations into community is communities magazine. Communities magazine has been a primary resource for information stories and ideas about community living and collaborative culture for 50 years. Communities is a publication of the global eco village network. And you can learn more about the magazine at Gen dash U s.net/communities. Of course, I will have a link in the show notes. But when you go there, you can subscribe to their digital archive which is going to give you access to 50 years worth of articles and writings and stories about community life governance, collaborative culture, all of the things that are related to how to live better together. I definitely recommend checking it out. You can also get their print magazine which will come right to your house and you can add it to your community library. So check out communities magazine today to explore the joys and challenges of cooperation and its many dimensions. I’d like to come back to this idea that we were touching into before around affordability. And you know this, the cohousing movement thus far being something of a middle class endeavor. And I can kind of hear what I’m imagining coated inside of there is whiteness, and you know all of the quote unquote norms of what we’ve what we’ve decided is culturally normal as opposed to what is quote unquote, different and I’m just wondering, you know, how does the cohousing movement or have you seen any specific cohousing groups? Address? You know, age, race gender ability in in good ways inside of their communities? Trish Becker 29:40 Yeah. I’ll probably say too much about this. So Rebecca Mesritz 29:50 use what Trish Becker 29:51 works for you. So, to answer that question, I always want to start big with like the foundations of In our our nation our housing policy right like what we know of housing of property ownership of zoning, like all the policies that uphold our system are exclusionary, they are racist, they are classist and cohousing seeks to push against this by creating an alternative way to live. First of all, so, the model of cohousing is in opposition to this culture of white supremacy, individualism, greed, materialism, environmental degradation that exists and little pockets throughout the country. People are saying, Let’s do things differently. Let’s choose people over profit. Let’s work on affordable housing, even if that means paying for it out of our own pockets. Let’s share our stuff instead of buying and wasting things. Let’s look out for one another instead of just looking out for number one and our own financial gain. So that lays the foundation of what cohousing is interested in. And then so you have that ethos those values, but co housers. They back that up. So as I mentioned, studies show that residents of cohousing communities are significantly more politically engaged than the average American so they’re demonstrating and organizing against unjust policies. They’re practicing dialogue across a difference and then taking those skills out into the community to build coalitions. So there is an integrity there causing communities are putting their values into practice. So that’s all like on this macro level, but then within your communities. cohousing communities, again are home to people of many different identities and they each vary and how Diversity Equity and Inclusion is addressed but they are all built on the foundation of inclusion in decision making and a structure that values each voice with equal weight. So we talk a lot about decision making and conflict resolution, how we make decisions for the hole within cohousing community. And the important piece is that in cohousing, there is no leader it is a completely horizontal social structure. And we create structures that allow each member’s voice to be heard with equal weight. Of course, we know that equality and equity are not the same thing. And a horizontal social structure can still silence those with marginalized identities. And so communities are working to address that in many different ways. Some are engaging with professionals. Some are are doing it themselves to ensure that their community processes are structured in a way that centers marginalized voices. And then another big part of this that comes up for me when you ask the question is around labor. So community of course, it requires labor to keep up the physical space to keep the social infrastructure going. And labor and communities by and large is built with varying needs and abilities in mind. So this applies to age Ability Beyond some communities are using a model called timebanking, which values everyone’s time equally and builds a structure for individuals to give what they’re able to what they enjoy doing and receive equal acknowledgement as everyone else. So I’ll give an example of this in our community and Aria cohousing community, the first community that we were a part of my partner and I both worked and we had a baby right after we moved into the community, and we relied so much on the elders, the retired folks in our community to provide child care. I mean, it completely transformed parenthood for me, not only just in that it filled this gap that was there. But it also just felt so good to have my daughter in the care of community members, people who care about her so much, and then within within her own home. And at the same time, my partner is a great carpenter. And so he was he initiated this the building of this gorgeous built in bookshelf in the library of the community. And so he had that skill to offer. That’s not a skill that I have offer. To offer. I’m I’m the organized one. So I organized all the volunteers the materials, and then while this was happening, the elders are taking care of the kids. And so this just speaks to the way that we honor different people’s strengths, abilities. What they have an abundance of or a lack of and we create space for each people each person to enter as they are. So I’ll end with one point that I believe so. Communities, human communities, specifically communities of color, have been doing collectivism and doing it well, for as long as humans have existed. cohousing is not this new concept we didn’t think of the idea that we should come together and support and one another. Rather cohousing is one attempt among many to recreate what has been intentionally dissolved by white supremacy and capitalism. It serves the interests of both to keep us separated and apart and so cohousing is just trying to rebuild a more natural way of being. Rebecca Mesritz 35:58 Hmm. I like that a lot. I really appreciate the that philosophical stance that like no, this is actually how we were supposed to be doing a. And then we somehow started to take a left turn somewhere along the way. And now we’re just trying to get back to being natural people living in a more natural way that is interdependent and is interconnected. Yeah, yeah. Trish Becker 36:33 It has always felt to me like, community is not just a decision. It’s like it’s in us. There’s this longing to be with other people to live differently. And maybe I’m projecting my own experience. But I just feel like the way that our society has been constructed with this obsession with screens and materialism and self, and climbing the ladder and the hustle and, and all of that it feels so unnatural at a cellular level. And of course, like humans are not meant to live this way. We’re meant to live in connection with one another. And so I think that there are many models of communal living, for example, that are just trying to like break down this stuff that we’ve built up around ourselves so that we can return to the way that we’re meant to live. Rebecca Mesritz 37:28 Yeah. I’ll say in reflection to all of that, that I actually know a little bit about cohousing. I’m asking all these questions, understanding that not all of our listeners do. And I have I will admit that I have a little bit of a preconception of cohousing as being on an the end of a spectrum of community. And I don’t think that this is a shock to anyone. But it’s definitely more on the mainstream end of the spectrum, as opposed to, you know, a full income sharing community. But there’s a lot of ranges in between. And, you know, I guess I’m kind of wondering what your thoughts are on on its placement in the spectrum. And there’s things that you’re saying that made me think, Oh, well, this isn’t really all that different from what we did before. But I think in my, in my mind and my understanding, it feels like there’s not as much interdependence somehow because the ownership structure is it sort of allows for people to still have their own, like their own house that maybe they can or they can’t interact with the community or, I don’t know, I don’t not really even sure where that picture in my mind came from. But I’m hoping that you can kind of shed some light on that for us and just talk about where you see cohousing in that spectrum. And is that a fair assessment and maybe this is a growth edge or maybe it’s something that’s already been dealt with? Trish Becker 39:08 Yeah, no, I think that you, you described much of what is true about cohousing, as well as the spectrum of communal living models. There is a spectrum and cohousing is certainly on one end of it. Um, a few thoughts. So I think that it serves us, us being like the big us, the human race, right to have many points on the spectrum for people to enter because not everyone is going to be comfortable with a completely resource sharing commune, but maybe they crave just something different than the traditional American dream than the suburban lifestyle. So I think that in order to invite more people Pull into the movement. The more models that we have, the better because we can, you know, we know that living in community is kinder to the planet, it is kinder to other humans, it invites a different way of being in the world. And so, so I see it as a benefit to have many points on that spectrum. I will say in relation to others, you know cohousing, we like to speak to balance. We like to speak to this balance of privacy and community. So a lot of people who enter cohousing, they want to know that they can have their private space that they’re not going to be asked to be in communal interactions at all times. And so the way that the model was built is to honor that desire for balance so that people have a private home, their own kitchens, that sort of thing, but then are invited into a much more community connection than your traditional neighborhood that really works for a lot of people. And then I’ll speak to the piece about like the finances because certainly that is a question. I think that historically cohousing has tried to distance itself from, like the commune side of the spectrum. And I think that does us a disservice actually, because research has shown that one of the things that creates the most connection to a community or that correlates with success of a community actually is the resource sharing and so I’m not suggesting that cohousing should do that. I think cohousing has its place on the spectrum. And that’s wonderful. And I just think that maybe it serves us more to open ourselves up to what what elements of that might be infused in in our model. So one of those might be this discussion around private ownership and does ownership have to be financial? Or is there a way to convey ownership in a community through one’s time and labor rather than just their ability to actually financially own a unit? So that’s an example of ways that I think that we can kind of learn from other points on the spectrum, if that makes sense. Rebecca Mesritz 42:30 There’s a there’s a relational piece that I’m that I’m also aware that I have a conception around that in a cohousing situation, because there is this, this privacy and this little bit more autonomy. I mean, there are actually there are to preface there are other communities that also honor privacy that are not cohousing that do have people in their separate spaces. And also, this sort of bolstering of personal privacy and autonomy. I wonder how cohousing addresses when someone isn’t connected when someone isn’t contributing in the community or when they are in conflict even and how does cohousing or have you seen in cohousing examples of people addressing that either bringing people back in or saying I don’t know. What do you do when someone moves in? They bought their place? They’re a member. And they’re not getting along with people. You know, it’s like, what do you do in those situations? Trish Becker 43:40 Right. Yeah. And that certainly is a challenge that I think probably every community has experienced at some point in their life cycle is this like, people aren’t engaged the way I expected them to be or the way that I’d hoped them to be. There’s this dynamic to where, you know, the the burning souls, the original members of a community, were kind of the majority for a long time and then life happens, time goes on a community, maybe then the majority of community members are our new people who see things functioning differently. And so, this exists, I think, a couple thoughts on how a community can be successful. So first of all, cohousing communities follow the same stages of group formation, you know, the, like, you’ve probably heard of forming, storming, norming and performing like that’s a natural part of community so often, there is this like storming phase where you’re like, there’s a lot of tension and conflict here. And so I think that the more that a community can recognize this and have a little bit of levity around it, I think that will serve a community also just, you know, a community that’s been around longer and has been through These phases is going to have that kind of perspective as well as experience and how to manage that. So, um, I also think that communities that have established very intentional conflict resolution practices will do well, in this space. So many communities have kind of a conflict resolution team or sort of an ombudsman, and then a very low level of entry, so that it’s not like, Oh, we got to this point where there’s this huge conflict, now we have to go to the conflict resolution team. But rather, entering into this process, as soon as anything’s noticed, like, I have just a tingle of attention that might start to form, let’s just engage someone else at this early stage. And so I think that your question around participation, the more that we’re able to invite people in at that very, very early stage, and then assess what gives them meaning. You know, what, okay, you haven’t been engaged in preparing common meals, I had no idea that it’s because you either hate cooking or have a tricky relationship with food, like, the more that we invite you in and get to know you as a person, the more that we can understand where you’re coming from, and then find ways to engage you what would will give you meaning for engaging in this community? What would feel good for you? How would you feel seen as a whole person, and therefore we can increase engagement from there. I also think this is something that I feel like is overlooked in community as a lab is so important, it is critical that we prioritize fun, as much as work. So when we’re talking about engagement, we cannot just say, this person isn’t showing up to committee meetings often enough, like community does take labor, that is true, but it shouldn’t feel like it’s another thing on the work to do list like, this is where we live, this is our home, this is our community. So it’s important that we find space to celebrate and have fun, and get to know one another as humans rather than like what they bring to the community. And that I think, well, we’ve a strong fabric and one that people will want to engage with. Rebecca Mesritz 47:20 I really appreciate how often I hear, you know, my response to these kinds of kinds of questions about okay, but what about conflict? Cuz I think a lot of people probably have that question. But what about like, when you don’t get along, or people aren’t, you know, and that feels to me like a huge stumbling block for people to engage in community. And I am deeply appreciating your response. And the response that I get so frequently is curiosity. What’s you know, instead of that person’s not acting the way I want them to act, and I’m gonna retreat? So like, how about if we just lean in? How about if we say, hey, what’s really going on for you? Is there some need that you have that’s not being met? Is there another way that we can meet that need? I have this need that’s not being met? Ken, would you be willing to meet me somewhere? And in doing that, and this continual falling into each other instead of the perceived safety, I guess, of autonomy and saying, I don’t like that person. So I’m just gonna pull back and pull my energy back, you know, and it really, is that shifting polarity. Yeah, it’s cool. Trish Becker 48:33 Yeah, absolutely. I mean, everyone wants to be seen, right? Like, we all just want to be seen as who we are. And then of course, we all want to be loved. And so that’s the greatest thing we can do for one another, is just really see each other. And you can do that by by starting with curiosity, as you said, so beautifully. Rebecca Mesritz 49:00 I do want to come back to time banking, because this is this is an interesting concept. And I don’t know that we’ve talked about it on the show very much. And so I’d love for you to sort of just share a little bit about what your experience is with that. How does that work? You know, these kindly older folks are watching your baby. How does that do they get paid or is there does everybody have hours? It’s do how does this work out? Sure. Trish Becker 49:29 I love timebanking as a model, and I will say just for the clarity of anyone listening, who’s new to cohousing. timebanking, is not inherently part of cohousing. And it’s a model that I think people are getting increasingly curious about. So time baking is an alternative currency model. It’s an anti capitalist model that is built on the idea that everyone’s time is worth the same. So in our current structure If you’re a web designer, for example, you might make, I don’t know, $125 an hour, but someone who cares for a child might make $15 an hour. And so this works against that idea and says, We’re all humans. And one hour of my time is actually worth the same as one hour of anyone’s time. And so, in time making, there’s this model, where anytime you give an hour of your time, to something, instead of getting paid for that, you would get an hour credit, basically. So Rebecca, let’s use us as an example. Let’s say, I cut your hair, and it took two hours, you would, quote, pay me two hours, I would have to our credits, that then I could spend with my neighbor who is going to fix my computer. And those two hours are equal. So we’re exchanging that money. And what that does beyond like creating this horizontal structure and saying that every time everyone’s time is worth the same, it also rewards work that in our current structure, is not compensated for work, like creating strong communities, like organizing people around a political movement, like caring for the elderly, like cleaning up the neighborhood, that sort of thing, you can create a model where people are getting credits for those times and then can use it on things that will benefit their individual life. Rebecca Mesritz 51:38 And is this tracked through an app or a spreadsheet? How do people actually track that? Trish Becker 51:46 Yeah, so to my knowledge, there are a few websites and apps. And I think there were like a few startups that were creating some apps built on this principle. But I will say I stopped researching those when I saw that, then you could trade your time credits for gift cards, stores, and I just thought, Well, that just completely undoes the idea of like antique capitalism. But yeah, there are a few I can’t think of the name of them right now. But there are a few websites out there. And a lot of people do just have kind of a coordinator who coordinates the time on a spreadsheet and is kind of the exchange person. And then of course, they would be rewarded for their time and managing the time bank with credits as well. Rebecca Mesritz 52:38 That’s brilliant. I really liked it. Yeah, I mean, I can see that also just being something that works in a whole, you know, not just in your little community, but you could in your greater community, you know, something that could really be applicable on a larger, a larger scale. Exactly, yep. So, you know, we kind of talked a little bit before about if someone wanted to, I mean, obviously, there are cohousing, places out there that people could ostensibly join. But if someone was interested in, in starting something like this, or learning more about it, you know, I’m guessing this is a pretty involved process to start one, you know, you talked about engaging with let me read, let me rephrase that. Let me go back. So for someone who is interested, I know we talked a little bit about wanting to potentially start a co housing, of course, they could always go and join another one. But if someone was interested in getting one off the ground getting one started, you were a co founder. You know, you talked about working with a with a designer and getting community engagement. At what point can you kind of break it down just a little bit further, like, do you when do you start to look for the land? What what are what is the kind of steps that are required? I mean, or what resources does koho us have co-housing us have to support people and in figuring some of those things out? Trish Becker 54:21 Sure. Yeah. Um, I hesitate to give us step by step because there are so many different paths. But yes, if you wanted to start a causing community, the first thing I would do is try and find other people with a shared dream in your area. And you might actually go one step backwards, start visiting existing communities, which you can just do, you can identify via our directory, the coho us directory, so find some communities, start visiting them, go to some common meals, get to know what it’s all about. Get to know Oh, who else they know because oftentimes cohousing communities are connected with other people who either can’t get into that community or working on building their own. So that would be a place that I would start. Then once you have a group, there’s a threshold where you’re ready to start engaging professionals who can help you with the design, the buying of the land, the development who can kind of provide consultation and guidance on the process. So that’s what we did about a year after we had our land we engaged with a consultant who has kind of held us accountable and walked us through the steps of Okay, first, you need to rezone. Here’s what that will require because, you know, most cohousing community members or burning souls are not developers themselves, so there’s no way to know this thing. So that’s a good time to engage professionals. koho us does offer quite a bit in this space. So we’re good place to start. First of all, if you just want to learn what cohousing is about how to do it, what it’s like, once you’re in that sort of thing. That’s what we provide. So koho us provides virtual and in person programming that’s designed to support everyone from the burning souls, which is a term that we use a lot in cohousing and an intentional community just to me and like the people with the dream and with a commitment to bring that dream to life. So we support everyone from them to the veteran communitarians to the professionals who helped get communities built and thriving. So our topics of programming that’s upcoming as well as we have tons of resources, recorded events, all sorts of things, everything from how to acquire land, how to build a community, how to build deeper engagement among your residents, how to prioritize equity, inclusion, how to have more fun, that sort of thing. So we have a wealth of resources there. We also have a number of partnership programs for individuals as well as forming or existing communities. So we I think we’ll have the link in the show notes for that, but a number of ways for folks to plug in and start getting those trainings, those resources that staffing support. And another recommendation that I would make is to attend the National cohousing conference in August in Madison, Wisconsin, we are overdue, because we rescheduled from last year and we’re actually going to have an in person live conference. And traditionally our cohousing conferences are spaces for people to get the training and the resources that they want. But also just to connect with people with shared dreams, and to connect with the professionals that can help make it happen. So those would be my recommendations. I’ll also mention that we have a robust directory and listing of communities. And when I say communities, that might be a group of people on the potluck stage, it might be an existing community with an opening. So we have a listing of ways that people can plug in with other groups. Rebecca Mesritz 58:18 Sounds like a really excellent and robust resource library that you have I love that there’ll be people actually at the conference that are supporting, you know, the professionals that are there as well. That’s great. I feel like yeah, I could see that being a stumbling block for a lot of people just I don’t even know where to start. This is a lot. Trish Becker 58:43 Totally. Yeah. And we were right there too. You know, just because you have a dream doesn’t mean that you have the knowledge or skill set to make it happen. So you got to look elsewhere. Rebecca Mesritz 58:54 Mm hmm. I’m curious because you are newly the director of coho and where do you see this movement? Evolving to where do you see the cohousing movement growing? Trish Becker 59:07 I get really excited about this movement. When I think about the ethos of cohousing. This idea that people want to live in a place where they know and care for their neighbors that they want common space to share and to gather. That’s what I mean when I say the ethos, and I think about the cohousing ethos being applied to different forms of housing to explore access, and affordability. So one example actually is Chase street commons, the community that we’re forming here, so very much built on the ethos of cohousing, we will have shared meals we will have shared decision making we’re entering each one of the members are entering with an intention to be in deep community with one another. And yet it looks pretty different. And then piece of land that then we build new homes and a common house on rather we’re reusing community space, we’re turning our garages into our common house or, you know, our common space. And we’ll have a lot of outdoor space. We are also different in that we’re exploring using a ground lease model, which is basically where we allow our incoming community members to pay for the land over time, because traditionally, the cost of land is about 30% The cost of entire home and banks are confused by this model. And so we’re able to offer the ability to pay for that over time, instead of having families need to come in with that money in cash. So that’s just one example of how I see the cohousing ethos being applied to different models. So we’re talking a lot within our organization and within the movement about the definition of cohousing because there are some critical pieces to co housing, if we’re going to call it that. And the first of those is intention. The other one is common spaces. And that common space piece of the definition is an area where I think that we can, we can push a little bit where we can say community doesn’t have to have a common house and in fact if we explore different types of common spaces, we can increase access and affordability. So one example is a community that I recently visited called Troy Gardens, which is in Madison, Wisconsin. They had a common house in their design, but they were building their community. The the building of the community coincided with the 2008 housing crash and so they were never able to build their common house and they are no less cohousing as a result they just gather at people’s homes, they picnic in the shared green space, that sort of thing. So I do think that there are some areas within the definition of cohousing that we can kind of push at the edges while maintaining the critical pieces, which is a balance of privacy and communal space. That’s a critical piece of cohousing that I think needs to be maintained. And then that intention piece so I’m I get excited about these cohousing adjacent models. You know having the social infrastructure of cohousing matched with a limited equity Co Op or partnering with community land trusts to bring down the cost of housing, these sorts of things. Get me really excited. I also am excited. As I mentioned, there’s housing legislation that is really paving the way for us all to have little villages. So this housing legislation out of California is widely expected to spread to other parts of the US and that will be so exciting because then people who felt like joining or building a cohousing community was unattainable. They can explore how they can build community into their lives where they currently live. Rebecca Mesritz 1:03:30 Beautiful. Well, I hold that vision for cohousing. And I’m I’m glad that you’re out at the front line spearheading this movement. Trish Becker, thank you so much for joining me on the show. It’s been a pleasure to talk with you about this. Trish Becker 1:03:50 Thank you so much for having me, Rebecca. It was a joy. Rebecca Mesritz 1:03:56 Thank you so much for joining me for this conversation with Trish Becker. I hope that you have learned a lot about cohousing and get a chance to go and check out some cohousing near you and see if it’s a good option for you and your community journey. I’m gonna have links in the show notes on all kinds of stuff. I’m going to have a link to the national cohousing conference. That’s coming up in Madison, Wisconsin August 26 to 28th. I’m going to have links to Tricia his TEDx talk about cohousing that I definitely recommend listening to I’ll also have links to the icy.org bookstore where you can use that inside 20 coupon code to get 20% off the books of your choice and and more and more. So please go check out the show notes and you can follow up on some of these things that we started to talk about in today’s episode. If you’ve enjoyed this show, I hope that you will come and find me on Facebook or Instagram at inside community podcast or even on Tik Tok at in Side Community. And if this content has been meaningful or helpful to you, please subscribe rate and review and share with your friends and maybe even consider visiting ic.org/podcast To make a donation and help us keep the show going. Thank you so much, everyone. I look forward to seeing you next time. Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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The Inside Community Podcast brings folks along for an inside look at all of the beautiful and messy realities of creating and sustaining a community. We provide useful and inspiring content to support people on their quest for resilience, sustainability, and connection.
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Inside Community Podcast host Rebecca Mesritz is a community builder living in Williams, Oregon. In 2011, Rebecca co-founded the Emerald Village (EVO) in North County San Diego, California. During her ten years with EVO, she supported and led numerous programs and initiatives including implementation and training of the community in Sociocracy, establishment of the Animal Husbandry program, leadership of the Land Circle, hosting numerous internal and external community events, and participation in the Human Relations Circle which holds the relational, spiritual and emotional container for their work.
In June of 2021, with the blessing of EVO, Rebecca and 3 other co-founders relocated to begin a new, mission- driven community and learning center housed on 160 acres of forest and farmland. Rebecca is passionate about communal living and sees intentional community as a tool for both personal and cultural transformation. In addition to her work in this field, she also holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from San Diego State University and creates functional, public, and interactive art in metal, wood, and pretty much any other material she can get her hands on. She is a mother, a wife, an educator, a nurturer of gardens, an epicurean lover of sustainable wholesome food, and a cultivator of compassion and beauty.
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