By Kris McDowell
This year’s National Cohousing Open House Weekend is Saturday, May 6-Sunday, May 7 and a number of cohousing communities across the country will be hosting open houses, either virtually or in person. The open house weekend gives the communities involved a chance to share their stories and answer questions people may have about this form of housing. The Portland metro area has more than 10 cohousing communities, either established or in planning. PDX Commons, located on SE Belmont St., is one of them and will be hosting their open house virtually Sunday, May 7, 3 pm via Zoom*.
The open house weekend is sponsored by CohoUS, a national nonprofit founded in the 90’s and focused on supporting cohousing communities in our changing world. They seek to advance cohousing and shift the culture toward a new American dream where every home is surrounded by caring, collaborative neighbors who use less of the earth’s resources while living an abundant life.
The idea of cohousing is new to many Americans but the concepts that led to the modern version of it have been around for thousands of years and the first modern community emerged in Denmark in 1972. Ann Lehman, a resident of the 27-unit PDX Commons, learned about it over 20 years ago while living in the Bay Area and touring some of their cohousing communities. When she moved to Portland, she connected with PDX Commons, which had selected the site on SE Belmont St. and the design process was started.
PDX Commons is a 55+ community, although the majority of cohousing communities across the country welcome residents of all ages. Chuck Durret, an award-winning architect credited with bringing the cohousing concept to the US, says having a multigenerational community is beneficial to all the ages who live there. “For single parents, everybody knows it takes a village to raise a child, yet we continue to try to do it in a box on a street where kids are isolated. Every 10th house there’s some forlorn 10-year-old playing Nintendo by themselves. Every 12th house there is a forlorn senior watching TV.” By shifting housing from antisocial to prosocial, the community can support one another through all stages of life.
A key feature of cohousing communities is creating both private and community spaces. Trish Becker, Executive Director of CohoUS, says, “It’s a model that balances privacy and connection. Private homes facilitate individual and nuclear family life while common spaces encourage connection and care for our neighbors.” At PDX Commons, shared spaces span those indoors–living room, media room, laundry, workout/craft room, office, kitchen and dining room–and outdoors with three levels of outdoor patio/garden spaces, as well as a sauna. All of the units at PDX Commons face and have their doors opening onto the second floor outdoor courtyard.
PDX Commons residents make plans and reach decisions by consensus, share work that needs to be done for the upkeep of their community and have organized dinners and happy hours. All of the upkeep, except for the exterior window cleaning, is done by residents who take on regular work assignments, as well as larger ones (think the annual “spring cleaning” individuals may do in their homes). Attendees to the shared dinners split the cooking and share the expenses; happy hours are informal, with whomever is around joining in.
The communal living situation isn’t for everyone, Lehman noted, “People can be challenging.” She went on to say that the built-in nature of the community is like “living in a dorm,” which is great for those who enjoyed it. But for others, it’s not a good fit.
To attend the PDX Commons’ open house, visit facebook.com/pdxcommons for the Zoom link. A listing of all the communities taking part in the open house weekend can be found at bit.ly/CohoUSopenhouse. CohoUS also offers a monthly gatherings. Held virtually the 10th of every month, the gathering includes a Cohousing 101 presentation, an introduction to cohousing lingo and ample time to ask questions. Register to attend once, or as often as you like, at bit.ly/CohousingMonthly.
Roof top garden at PDX Commons. Photo by Kris McDowell.
*To attend PDX Commons’ open house, go to bit.ly/PDXCommonsOpenHouse, using Meeting ID: 856 9971 9925 and Passcode: 137327.