Demystifying Co-Housing

When I first moved to Portland, we found a townhouse in tight quarters – in-fill development in the heart of NE, right off of MLK Blvd.  We lived on a “woonerf”. Yes, a woonerf! It’s a shared street designed to:

allow drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and runners to share the same space, making the street much more welcoming and appealing for all. Instead of dividing a street with barriers like curbs, sidewalks and bike lanes, woonerfs open up the street and allow for every use simultaneously. Cars are forced to drive slowly—with traffic lights and stop signs nonexistent—ultimately allowing pedestrian and cyclists to rule the road.  


Read more here: https://www.bisnow.com/washington-dc/news/mixed-use/dc-architects-innovate-with-new-pedestrian-focused-streetscapes-62831?utm_source=CopyShare&utm_medium=Browser

Our woonerf was serpentine in shape, so it had the added feature of a few turns to slow motor vehicles all the more.  It was a great introduction to Portland. Our street had the feel of a communal courtyard. I could even open my front door, holler across the way, and be heard by my neighbor, Cathmum.  We got on quite well: our kids were similar ages, our partners had similar work schedules and even played basketball together. Our two households had many family dinners: I could make one part, she’d make the other.  We could eat together and visit while kids bathed. We were lucky. It was happenchance: we found community in our housing situation, which was certainly helped by the woonerf design that stitched our households and lives more closely together.

Imagine setting out with the intention to find this very type of housing and community.  It exists: people who come together to form community, to support one another when they can, and to live their own lives independently in a lovely condominium community.  Recently, Cathmum and I had the chance to sit down and chat with Adesina Cameron, who moved to the Portland area from the San Francisco Bay Area where she lived next to Temescal Commons, a nearly 20-year-old community of 8 housing units and 23 residents.  Just outside of Portland, Adesina found Cascadia Commons, a community of 26 housing units across 14 buildings.  Here are som excerpts of our conversation:

urbanMamas:  
So, what’s it like, aesthetically and technically and logistically, to live in this “co-housing community”?

Adesina:
At its most basic construct, the community is 100% like living in a condominium development.  Legally, Cascadia Commons is structured as a condominium. My condo is my condo. There really are no strict regulations or rules about our units: Inside of it, I can make improvements, changes to the layout, etc., just like any other condo.  It’s a really lovely development, so we have a waitlist of over 100 people hoping for the opportunity to buy a unit, which range from 1- and 2-bedroom flats to 2- and 3-bedroom townhomes.

We have a Homeowners Association (HOA) with a fee, that helps to cover our building and grounds maintenance. Our shared space includes a playground, a commercial kitchen, a library, a work-from-home office, a couple of guest units for visitors, and a yoga room.  These are amenities many of us would seek out at a condo development. We also have a community garden, and a small plot of our own land near our home that is shared with one other neighbor.

urbanMamas:
What brought you to explore co-housing?  What were you hoping to find?

Adesina:

We moved from Portland to the Bay Area in 2009.  When we left, Portland was still affordable. When we wanted to return in 2015 when my daughter was 10 months old, it felt unaffordable.  Condo units in some of the co-housing communities felt financially accessible.

I was moving to be near my mother, who was aging.  I was raising a young child, while working. My baby didn’t sleep, and I felt like my visions of “home” could not be actualized.  That old adage, “it takes a village” could not have felt more true and intense in that moment. I felt isolated with my care responsibilities.  I needed some support beyond my four walls. Back in the bay area, I lived near a co-housing community that seemed so vibrant and tightly knit. I sought this out when I moved back to Portland because I needed this intergenerational living where we could support each other when needed.  For me, I needed a ready-set community that I could join in my time of need. And, in return, I was also prepared to contribute to this community to support it, too, when my time came. It’s about give-and-take, ebb-and-flow. And, it’s really a beautiful thing.

urbanMamas:

Is co-housing best suited for extroverted and outgoing people?

Adesina:

Co-housing is full of introvert/extrovert couples.  My husband loves his privacy; he needs privacy. He comes and goes as he likes.  He doesn’t do stuff all the time with the rest of the community. I like to engage with the community, so I do get out there.  You really can be private if you want, you can have it at any level you want. It really is like living in a multi-unit community, whether condo, a townhome development, or an apartment complex: if you want to meet and get to know your neighbors, then you can!  If you don’t want to, you don’t have to.

urbanMamas:

So, does the community eat meals together every day?

Adesina:

When Cascadia Commons was created twenty years ago, almost all the residents ate together almost all the time.  Over time, as diets and schedules changed, participation dropped off. Maybe it was too much of a good thing?

Everyone, rightfully so, has their own rhythms.  Some of our community members like to eat at 6:30pm, but I’d starve if I had to eat at 6:30pm.  Plus, for those of us with young children, earlier is better since we have those early bedtimes.  It also has to be the right food, easy, nutritious, and crowd-pleasing.

Right now, we have about half of the community that participates in a meal plan twice a week.  The cost works out to be around five dollars a meal, which is a great deal. Sometimes, residents will just bring their dinner into our communal eating area to eat together.  Honestly, I love the experience of sharing in making and eating a meal together. It’s surprising we don’t do it more.

urbanMamas:

OK, so how can we learn more, experience more, and know more about what it is truly like to co-house?

Adesina:

This is a unique time for Portland.  We are hosting the national association of co-housing in a couple of weeks, from May 30th to June 2nd, 2019.  Community for the Health of It! – if you’re willing to invest in registration – will have some great speakers and topics to learn more about the world of co-housing.  But, there will be tons of free events too. Some great ones to check out include:

We are excited to see more families interested in joining our communities.  If you’re curious, come out and visit with us in a few weeks! See you all there –


One Reply to “Demystifying Co-Housing”

  1. No one says “woonerf” like you omama! We did get on quite well didn’t we? Adesina was such a pleasure to talk to about cohousing, parenting and community – I hope we can speak to her again.

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