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:

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:

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

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.

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


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.


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


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.


So, does the community eat meals together every day?


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.


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


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 –

My love-hate relationship with Amazon

It’s crunch time here: work deadlines are looming requiring late night and early morning attention, kids are focused on finals and chores – are therefore – lapsing, and the pressures of gift-giving is piling up.  I hate to say it: I love to  make those Amazon purchases.

Last night at approximately 2:37am, I was awoken by the item that remains undone on my to-do list.  “Wear solid red tee shirt for holiday performance on Thursday.”  Knowing my schedule during the day and evening in the next few days, I knew I could easily let this task slip.  So: I ordered the shirt on Amazon.  Done.

I shook my head in disdain.  I regret it every time I “buy with one click”.  With that one click, I’m taking away a purchase I could have otherwise made at our local shop, I’m adding to our recycling load (which may or may not be actually recycled), and I’m supporting more warehouse and distribution jobs versus our local retail jobs.  “Is Amazon evil and am I evil for using it?

The struggle is real and it’s something that I worry about.  To help me with this emotional problem, I try to buy local.  Which takes time.  So: carve out time to take a walk up the street.  Make it activity!  Get a treat along the way for the kids.  Also: buy directly from the source.  Many independent or smaller vendors use Amazon as its marketplace.  I feel like I’m doing a good deed when I skip the middle-platform and go directly to the vendor.

It is a first-world problem, to be sure, but it’s something I think about often and consider as I tackle my dreaded “shopping list”.  By the way, did I tell you: “I hate Christmas“?

And…. we’re back

Dear everyone:

After several years of fits and starts, we are here again to serve you.  Staying true to our goals, we want urbanMamas to be your resource.  We used to come here to talk about babies, feeding, nursing, sleeping, vaccinating, all of it.  Search the archives – we’ve discussed a lot over the years.  I think we first started in the fall of 2004.  That’s over a dozen years ago when I had a newborn and a 3-year old.

Now, my oldest is heading to college.  My youngest is a toddler.  And, I have a couple of kids in between: an energetic boy in 2nd grade and a middle school girl that is so …. middle school.

I’ll share stories more in coming posts.  I have lots of them!  In the meantime: please reach out.  I’d love to hear from you.  Want to post?  Have an idea?  Want to help run an event?  I’m still here listening – urbanMamas at gmail dot com.  Be in touch, come back, engage.  Thank you for everything!

Help us maintain uM!

Dear Mamas & Papas:  This community has been in existence for a decade.  In that time, the mamas behind the site have come and gone, with more help in some periods than others.

Now, we are looking to you to help figure out a way to keep the site useful.  Forevermore, the childcare forum continues to thrive, as this will always be a necessity for mamas and papas out there.  In addition to that, we want to still provide value.  If you are interested in talking about how we can keep the community going, please email me personally: olivia [dot] rebanal [at] gmail [dot] com.  I’d love to chew on this with you.  Until then, please keep up with us on FB, for that’s pretty much the only way I seem to be able to represent uM these days!

Dear Portland: Where do we go now?

It has been so, so hard to process last week’s events in the City of Roses.  There are some who have defended the white supremacist Jeremy Joseph Christian.  We have gathered to memorialize the two men that were slain; we consider them heroes.  One of the victim’s last words were: “Please tell everyone on this train that I love them.”  And, the surviving victim encourages us to focus our attention on the teen women who were the subjects of the attack: “We need to remember that this is about those little girls.”

Racism and hate is nothing new to Portland.  It now the time that we will acknowledge this history?  How are we to move on and grow closer after this?  Are we a community divided, whether overtly or subtly?  Are we less progressive than we thought?

In the name of our children: how do we work to build networks of compassion and inclusion?  How do we discuss these current events with our youngest community members?  How do we insist, in the name of the generations that will be after us, that we disable networks of hate and violence?  How do we cross boundaries to strengthen the deepest threads of our community’s fabric and how do we dismantle the institutional barriers that oppress us?

For me, I found some grounding in this statement from a Portland-based community organization: the road is long and journey will be difficult; we must remain steadfast in our commitment for progress and equity.

Finding Passion: Professionally & Personally

Passion drives me day to day, and my passion is mostly around my family, my home, and my children.  I recently attended a huge [somewhat work-related] event in San Francisco, along with 170,000 other people, and I had the privilege of listening into a couple of empowering and motivating speeches.

Nadine Burke Harris is a pediatrician, a mom, and an advocate.  She speaks with passion and evidence.  She explained how she was faced with hundreds of patients daily with a common diagnosis: ADHD.  However, when she looked deeper at her patients’ circumstances, she realized that their social conditions were causing brain-altering stress and that they did not necessarily suffer from ADHD at the core.  Rather, these children suffered from “adverse childhood experiences” that lead to health and societal problems.  She explained how relieved her patients were to know they did not really suffer from ADHD!


Melinda Gates is a mom, high tech professional, and philanthropist.  She believes everyone has value, and she shared how heartbreaking it was to visit Africa 20 years ago when AIDS-infected women would be left by the wayside to die.  Through her work, much advancement has been made in treating AIDS and HIV, especially in Africa.  She wants to eradicate HIV.


These amazing people – these women, these mothers – are changing the world, changing the way we see things, and changing the way we do things.  As I listened to them, I kept thinking: how do I breed a change agent just like them?  How do I make huge change in the way they make huge change, both in my personal life and in my professional life?  What drives them to scale impact and how do they get it done?  What can each of us do to make the world a better place, in big ways and in small?

I like to think that giving birth to urbanMamas was one of the biggest things I’ve done.  Five years ago, when I moved away, I slowly stepped away from it, though I never completely left it behind.  Now, I realize that urbanMamas is a home to me, it is a passion to me, it is what I want to leave behind, it is the impact I want to have.  I come back to the site, intending it to transcend geographies, hoping to resurrect it as a place where we can come for support, for laughs, for new insight, for  a safe place to share.

As it was in the beginning, we cannot do this alone.  If you want to help, please reach out.  It takes a village.

Mamas: Finding your BFF

Moving to Portland was scary and exciting all at the same time.  We heard rave reviews of the city, we were thrilled at the opportunity to try it out for a spin.  We arrived, 7 months pregnant with 3-year old in tow, and we knew just one or two other people, my partners' colleagues.

The rest is almost history.  That was over ten years ago, and I met my mama BFF within months of moving to Portland.  When we first moved, I was eager to hit the mama-dating circuit, to meet other like-minded families, to share fun & adventures with new-found friends.  We gave birth to where countless other mamas & papas have made connections – found life-long friends, care providers, jobs, support through transitions like moves or divorce – all through the urbanMamas community.  Needless to say, I found my mama BFF plus so many other dear, close friends.  

And, then: we moved.  

Two years after the move, I have to say: I am still seeking a new partner-in-crime, a new best mama pal.  I am still seeking that special someone(s) who will make me laugh so hard I pee, who will talk to me about peeing when I run and how to deal with it, who will talk through career issues like working part-time or trailblazing mamahood in the workplace.

Maybe when you find your mama BFF, it's one and only.  Maybe it just takes a bit more time.  Maybe it requires being even more outgoing than ever.

When you move to a new place or start at a new school and start afresh: how do you make friends?  What are you looking for?  Candlelit dinners & walks on the beach?  Similar-aged kids, similar lifestyles, similar family structures or values?  What have you found was the absolute thing that draws you to another mama?


Adopt a Family 2013 – from mine to yours

The urbanMamas community has a long history of adopting a family, pooling resources to be able to offer another family the brightest of holidays.  This year, my own family decided to adopt a small family, and I cannot tell you how powerful it has been from the beginning.

Our school district serves hundreds of children who are homeless.  My kids and I went to the district office to adopt a small family – a mom, her 4-year old daughter and her 9-year old son.  They don't have a wish list, but there are some suggestions on what to get them.  Toiletries in a portable bag for mom including deodorant and bath gels.  Compact blankets or sleeping bags that fit into a backpack for the kids, as sometimes there aren't enough blankets at the shelters.  Speaking of backpacks: a pack or duffle bag that can easily fit all of these items for easy transport.  Warm pants, coat, gloves, as the wintery season is now upon us.

The kids are putting love into thinking practically and sensibly about what the kids might love most.  Toys with many pieces might be frivolous.  Paperbacks instead of hardbacks?  They are value shopping, thinking what can we get more for less?  3 pairs of socks for $3.99 versus 2 pairs of socks for $2.99.

As they write their own wish lists to send to family who ask for them, they start to think of how superfluous their requests might be.  We live charmed lives, even if we feel like we cannot have everything we want.  We do, basically, have everything we need.  For this, we are so grateful.

This year, urbanMamas isn't hosting a family as a community, but there are many other opportunities to join other groups in their adopt-a-family efforts and wrapping parties.  If you have a group looking for more participants, please post below!

For a glimpse on our adopt-a-family achievements in the past:

Throwback Thursday: Trick or Treating, Pumpkins, Candy

I am sure our Search for the Great Pumpkin could use some updating!  Old haunts, new faves, please share.  

See what else families around town do for Outdoor Autumn Fun: apples, salmon, and – of course – the pumpkins.

And, always so much to talk about as it relates to Halloween:

The Door-to-Door Saleperson

It was a no-school/no-work day in our family.  It was a great day to sleep in and catch up on more intensive chores like digging out the depths from under the bed.  I had unearthed a lot of dust with all the tidying and I was just starting my detailed vacuum job when I heard a knock on our door.

In our new house in a new neighborhood, we get a lot more knocks on our door than before.  We have a lot more foot traffic.  When I opened the door, a youngish man in a tie stood with a slip of paper with the statement "We will Deep Clean & Dry Foam one room – NO CHARGE".  He explained he was showcasing the Kirby, that he wanted to demonstrate what it could do.  

He caught me at the right moment, just as I had been sweating for a couple of hours already cleaning and vacuuming, just as I was lamenting the condition of our carpet in the entryway and just as I was getting ready to ask a neighbor to borrow (again) her industrial carpet shampoo machine to deep clean the entryway.  When this man, with his trainee, offered a free deep clean in 30 minutes, no obligation to buy, I was sold.

Continue reading “The Door-to-Door Saleperson”