- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

DALLAS (AP) - Angela Alston had always lived with roommates, at first to save money right out of school and then because she liked it.

Sometimes total strangers ended up becoming great friends, despite the challenges of cohabitation.

The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/1MeGmqo ) reports so by the time she stumbled onto the idea of cohousing, it made sense: the thought of agreeable neighbors in a cooperative community of private homes around shared common space.

“We don’t need 50 blenders,” said Alston, who along with husband Hugh Resnick has revived efforts to launch a cohousing community in Dallas after an aborted try two years ago. “We don’t need to have a commercial kitchen. Because we’ll have one we can use whenever we like, in our common area.”

Across the nation, voices like Alston’s are drawing like-minded people for whom the idea of a downsized, simpler, community-oriented and green-friendly lifestyle appeals. Cohousing, a concept born in Denmark in the 1970s and imported to the U.S in the 1980s, has surged in recent years, a trend driven by baby boomers, though its numbers remain small.

In Texas, such projects are still in embryonic stages, but like their counterparts, they’re a mix of urban and rural efforts built around ideals like consensus decision-making and architectural designs promoting social interaction. Common areas might include playgrounds or other recreational areas, a communal dining area and kitchen, laundry or fitness facilities and more.

Proponents say such arrangements let residents pool efforts and resources to do chores, provide meals and child care, and support general physical and emotional well-being through neighborly community. Environmentally, they also leave less of a footprint, with shared gardens or even farmland stocking each household’s pantry.

“We want to live in a way that helps us and helps society,” said Alice Alexander, executive director of the Durham, N.C.-based cohousing association, who moved with her husband into an urban cohousing unit in Durham last summer.

Dallas’ Alston, her interest piqued, started visiting such communities in Seattle, Cambridge and California’s San Francisco Bay Area. Then, on a trip to see a former professor in Denmark, she visited Saettedammen, the world’s first cohousing community - a mix of several dozen families, some long-standing, some new.

“It was exactly the way I hoped it would be,” she said. “Their children can run around anywhere because there’s always an adult looking after them. They have meals together. And it’s multi-generational. That’s what Hugh and I want.”

The couple once lived in what Resnick calls a 4,000-square-foot “monstrosity of a house” requiring housekeepers, a yard guy and a pool guy. There was a formal dining room, a guest room and party space that they used only several times a year.

“I looked around and said, ‘What are we living in?’” Resnick said. “I thought, ‘What if I could live like I’m living now, but only paying for part of it and sharing the other parts?’ That’s cohousing.”

Their first attempt involved about eight to 10 households. But the closer they got to securing a property, the more people started to fret about the project’s financial viability.

Sometimes such communities are perceived as communes, whose residents share their income.

When Alston and her previous group scoped out potential cohousing sites, “there were eight to 10 of us looking at this vacant building, and the police stopped to ask who we were,” she said. “We told them we were looking at buying the building, and they said, ‘Oh - you’re hippies.’”

The lifestyle, though, is not without its challenges. Group decision-making can be tasking, and issues like how many pets should be allowed onsite, or whether guns should be at all, can pose conflict.

“In this culture, people usually raise an eyebrow and say, ‘How can that possibly work?’” said the national association’s Alexander. “But when you learn to work together and trust, it works really well.”

Financing is another challenge, as banks aren’t always sold on the cohousing concept. Municipal regulations may pose other barriers.

Going rural is one approach. At Wildflower Ecovillage, a budding cohousing development past Greenville, environmental activist Terry Jensen purchased a swath of former cow pasture where she imagines two dozen households - in homes made from biodegradable adobe-like block - and adjoining farmland on about 30 acres.

“If you want lots of space to yourself, like 2 or 3 acres, don’t come here,” Jensen said. “We’re going to live close together and share the land.”

Because of the rural setting, those who’ve so far signed on are people who can telecommute or don’t mind driving to jobs in Greenville, McKinney or Rockwall - people like 32-year-old Matt Perdue.

Long interested in a greener life, he’s the kind of guy who signs off phone calls with “Party on,” who gathers walnuts and strews them where he thinks trees should go, and who learned frugality from his grandfather, raised in a family of 10 Depression-era kids.

One day, a customer he’d talked to while working at a supermarket told him about Jensen’s Meetup group.

“When I came out for their classes, I realized, this is not a thing that’s weird anymore,” he said. “I’ve never seen a Meetup take off the way it did with this group. We’re all those kind of tree-hugging people, vegetarians and people who butcher their own chickens.”

Wildflower’s residents will help each other cultivate a supply of pesticide-free produce. The group has already bought a dozen fruit trees for the property, where Perdue envisions rows of tomatoes and cabbage and lemon trees instead of the insect-ridden wild field it is now.

“It’s the opposite of a good farm right now, but little by little we’ll put better stuff out there,” he said. “We’ve got a great little corner of the world.”


Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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