Community is More than the Building

It’s been a long six years and a particularly long last six months but we’ve finally arrived. Persistence pays off! We moved into CHUC (Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing) on June 14, 2016.

Backstory
[My husband] Spencer and I have long been interested in community and in cohousing. We explored it with our friends Larry & Karin in the early ’90s but didn’t want to leave the dense, diverse and walkable neighbor we’ve lived in on Capitol Hill. After 20 years in a house in this neighborhood we moved into a condo ten years ago describing it as “cohousing-lite”. And while I was the president we indeed had some sense of community. But with 150 units, high turn-over, no actual intent to BE a community and a 5-person board making all the decisions, that sense dissolved rapidly when I left leadership. When we heard there would be a new cohousing development right in our neighborhood (literally half way between our old house and the condo) we attended the next gathering and were quickly “all-in”. That was in April 2010.

About Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing
You can visit our website for more specifics and see photos of construction on Flickr, but here is a brief overview of what it has taken to build our community. We began with regularly scheduled introductory meetings promoted through the neighborhood blog. During this process we “kissed a lot of frogs”. Many folks were excited about cohousing and/or our project, but for an assortment of reasons it didn’t work out for them. Such things as timing, size, cost, layout all played a role. And of course in some cases it just wasn’t a good match. It was a “self-selecting” process with no application form, background checks or approval. But it worked. We eventually had all nine of our households committed and participating for more than a year before we moved in. Everyone involved was drawn to living in community AND specifically to this Capitol Hill location. We are currently 17 adults and 11 children including one born since we moved in (and not pictured below).

What does “participating” mean exactly?
Early on we had several all-day, professionally facilitated workshops including creating our vision and values, learning about decision making by consensus and how to resolve conflicts, our communication styles, etc. We had monthly business meetings with potlucks from the beginning and a few years ago added bi-weekly Supper Club meals where one household hosted. These activities plus assorted social events such as baseball games, bowling, game nights, pumpkin carving and post-Thanksgiving potlucks all served to create connections and a sense of community long before we were in the same physical space. And of course there were also numerous team meetings to devise plans for our common meals, how to integrate the kids into the community, and most importantly the design and development of the physical plant and how it would all get financed and maintained. Our unique hybrid approach to our financial structure is a little more detailed than the purview of this post. Suffice it to say that our finance-legal team (dubbed Finegal) met weekly for a couple of years to sort it all out and aren’t quite done yet! It’s a lot of work creating a community.

So what’s it like?
At this time, it’s been two months since we moved it. We’re still in the start-up phase where we’re settling in and figuring out how to live together with our different styles and preferences and how to get all the work done while holding down jobs and nurturing families. What’s wonderful is that the building is designed to encourage interactions, with tall windows, facing kitchens, wide open walkways and ample common spaces.

There are many wonderful things about living in community. Here’s a short list of joys that come immediately to mind:
**We often hear children playing in the courtyard.
**Spencer has already had many coveted opportunities to play with the kids.
**We get fresh greens from the rooftop farm.
**We have impromptu visits from neighbors.
**We share resources and workloads.
**We eat together 5 times every two weeks and each only cook once in that time.

We’re confident that the start-up workload will settle down and that we’ll continue to find both joys and challenges in living in community for a long time to come.