Here's one answer to the "Where to go next?" question being asked by those inching toward retirement, or those looking to escape the increasing cost of Seattle living and combine resources with a like-minded community.
Not long ago, a story about a place called “The Llano Exit Strategy” made the rounds on social media, and people of a certain age nearly lost their minds.
A group of eight friends had purchased 10 acres of land along a river in Texas and had an architect design four, eco-friendly tiny houses (350 square feet) that cost $40,000 a pop, along with a 1,500-square-foot kitchen and communal area. The Internet dubbed their vacation site “Bestie Row” as a place to live with those you love.
For many, though, the “Exit Strategy” looked like the answer to the “Where to go next?” question being asked not only by those inching toward retirement, but those looking to profit from the region’s real-estate boom, escape the ever-increasing cost of Seattle living, and shack up — separately — with a like-minded community of people. Cohousing.
Architect Charles Durrett has been advocating the cohousing lifestyle for years, and conducts workshops for those looking to establish communities where people live in smaller, private homes, set close together around communal spaces. Neighbors share household items, meals, coordinate activities and make group decisions about how things run.
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Durrett will be on Bainbridge Island on June 15-17 for a “Senior Cohousing Weekend Intensive,” where those interested in creating a senior cohousing community will hear what it takes, and visit Quimper Village in Port Townsend, which Durrett designed.
The event is sold out, but Durrett invites people to connect through his website, cohousingco.com.
Durrett, a partner at McCamant & Durrett Architects, coined the phrase “cohousing” 30 years ago and until recently believed that only 1 percent of the population knew about the lifestyle. Of that group, only 2 percent, he said, want to take the plunge.
That has clearly changed, he said. “I’m busier than hell.”
The workshop on Bainbridge Island was put together by a group whose cohousing plan stalled, and who have been “remotivated” to find a parcel and build something after seeing the success of the Quimper Village cohousing community in Port Townsend. (Bainbridge already has Winslow Cohousing, which is a mix of families, not just seniors.)
“It’s state of the art,” Durrett said, adding that he always includes a caretaker unit and makes sure it’s “luxo-swank.”
“This person is going to be taking care of me in my weakest moments,” Durrett said of the residents’ thinking. “I want them to be happy so they stay there a long time.”
Just that morning, he said, the residents at Quimper Village had a three-hour session on “The art of dying.”
During the Bainbridge Island intensive, Quimper Village residents will explain the steps they took to establish 28 households and create a functioning community.
“These are people who thought their lives would be more convenient if they made a cooperative new neighborhood,” Durrett said. “They have been there less than a year, and I can’t imagine a group that has had more activities. All I hear is raves about their common dinners. They can’t stop talking about them.
“They’re so on top of it,” Durrett said. “It’s amazing.”
Durrett sees cohousing as the solution to not only older people’s plans for the future, but those of young people looking to grow families. To him, it’s an obvious exchange of housing stock: Older people downsizing into the tiny houses that young families have been squeezing into, and those families having the room to grow.
“It’s important to have a shuffle of housing stock,” Durrett said. “It’s not only a boon from a financial point of view, it’s a boon from a lifestyle point of view. The same household where you raised three kids is not the one you should retire in.
“It’s not about being unhoused,” he said. “It’s about being mishoused.”
For the last 12 years, Durrett has lived in a cohousing community in Nevada City, California, with 30 adults — 20 of them seniors — and 20 children.
But cohousing is not so much about the physical aspects of living — the size or design of the house.
“The ‘software’ necessary is people coming to the table believing in community and believing that their lives will be more fun, healthy and giving cooperation the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “That’s the only common denominator: People who believe their lives will be better if they will cooperate with their neighbors.”
In that sense, he said, “The community doesn’t choose the individuals. The individuals choose the community.”
Durrett’s community of 34 households share one lawnmower, one swimming pool and one ski shack. Residents can even get part of a shared car with their house.
Research has shown that people live longer when they’re socially engaged.
But the social can turn to a bit of drama, especially when there’s a smaller pool of actors.
“I think that somebody would have a good time with a sitcom on cohousing,” Durrett said. “It’s not high drama. We take a lot of measures to figure out how to get along. The ones who age successfully are not too cranky and not too selfish or cantankerous.”
Cohousing can also change a person.
“It’s tempered me a lot,” Durrett said. “You have to try to get along. And that’s a great practice. It’s also given me an immense amount of optimism about society.”
Those intrigued by cohousing — but still not sure — have another option: Units along “The Llano Exit Strategy” are available on Airbnb for $1,200 a night.