article in Lund Report: Covid forces cohousing communities to exaine shared values and relationships
From: lienjud (
Date: Thu, 29 Apr 2021 16:59:23 -0700 (PDT)
 Forces Cohousing Communities to Examine Shared Values and Relationships

Judith Graham
PDX Commons members by Joanne Fox.jpg
The PDX Commons Cohousing is located in Southeast Portland./Joanne FoxTensions 
were running high at PDX Commons, a cohousing community for adults 55 and older 
in Portland, Oregon. Several people wanted to keep visitors off-site until all 
35 residents were vaccinated. Others wanted to open to family and friends for 
the first time in a year.How do communities with dozens of members decide what 
to do during a public health crisis when members have varying tolerance for 
risk and different opinions about safe practices?Cohousing communities have 
grappled with such questions throughout the coronavirus pandemic. These are 
groups of people committed to communal living who own homes in complexes with 
shared common areas, such as clubhouses, laundry facilities and gardens.This 
past year, these communities have been a godsend for many residents, with 
ongoing virtual activities and a sense of camaraderie that has shielded them 
from the relentless loneliness and boredom that have traumatized so many older 
Americans.“All you have to do is go out on your porch and someone will come and 
sit with you,” said Elizabeth Magill, 60, who lives at Mosaic Commons in 
Berlin, Massachusetts, with her husband, Ken Porter, 70. “I can’t imagine not 
being in a place like this during the pandemic.”But now, as the country emerges 
from over a year of lockdowns, percolating differences among residents about 
appropriate precautions have been heightened as people long to return to 
normalcy — and expand outside their “pod” of the community.“You have this 
tension between personal freedom and respect for other members of the 
community,” said William Aal, a Spokane, Washington, consultant who recently 
advised PDX Commons about strategies to improve communication.There are 170 
such communities across the country and an additional 140 under development, 
according to the Cohousing Association of the United States. About two dozen 
are for older adults; the others are intergenerational. On average, communities 
have about 30 units occupied by people who live alone, couples or families.The 
pandemic upended their rituals, as in-person activities and communal dining — 
typically offered several times a week — were canceled and relationships 
sustained by regular contact began to fray.“It’s created all kinds of 
challenges for community living,” said Mary King, an organizational consultant 
and a resident of Great Oak Cohousing in Ann Arbor, Michigan.Disagreements have 
arisen over everything from when residents should wear masks (outside in common 
areas? should children be required to wear them?) to how laundry rooms should 
be used (sign-ups for one family at a time, with what kind of cleaning 
precautions before and after?) to whether visitors are welcomed, with what 
restrictions.“Some people have felt at super-high risk and have wanted to take 
really strict precautions, while others have felt ‘This is no big deal, it’s 
going to blow over,’” said Karin Hoskin, a resident at Wild Sage Cohousing in 
Boulder, Colorado, and executive director at the national co-housing 
association.Because residents are independent homeowners, some feel they should 
be able to do whatever they want. Yet cohousing communities see themselves as 
more than a collection of individual homeowners and typically adopt policies by 
consensus.On the positive side, communities have adopted strategies to keep 
residents safe and connected during the pandemic. Great Oak Cohousing, an 
intergenerational community, created a buddy system for each resident, with one 
or two people who would check in regularly. King said one resident became 
seriously ill from COVID, and “a couple” of others had mild cases.Communities 
have hosted outdoor parties or concerts, organized activities such as weekly 
poetry readings, formed walking or hiking clubs, planned communal takeout meals 
and arranged to have tech-savvy members help other residents schedule vaccine 
appointments.The advent of vaccines has inspired an even more complicated round 
of conversations: Should common areas reopen as residents become fully 
vaccinated? What level of vaccination in the community provides enough 
protection? What about residents or visitors who decline to be 
vaccinated?“We’ve talked about how we’re not going to require vaccinations for 
somebody to participate in meals, because there are people who will not be 
vaccinated, whatever their reason is, and we need to be OK with that,” Hoskin 
said of her Boulder community.At PDX Commons in Portland, most residents have 
been eager to set aside strict policies adopted when the pandemic took hold 
last year. Unlike many other cohousing communities, PDX members live in the 
city, in a single, U-shaped building with shared entrances, with three floors 
of condominiums facing an inner courtyard.A sleek two-bed, two-bath unit is 
currently on the market for $595,000, with homeowner association fees of about 
$550 a month. Social interaction is a selling point. This one, the listing 
says, is “in the center of the action.”Out of an abundance of caution, the PDX 
COVID committee decided early on that no family members or friends could come 
inside the building. A discussion of how to host visitors outside took four 
months to resolve, provoking frustration. Strict cleaning and sanitation 
protocols were seen as overbearing.“We were lectured many times on washing 
hands, and it didn’t feel very good,” said Karen Jolly, 75, who moved her 
95-year-old mother into her two-bedroom condo for much of last year rather than 
leave her alone in an independent living facility.“The rules we created were 
too controlling, too restrictive, too much telling people what to do,” said Dr. 
Karen Erde, 68, who sat on the emergency COVID committee, which was disbanded 
last summer after residents objected. They did work, however: PDX has not 
reported any COVID cases, Erde said.Claire Westdahl, 75, couldn’t tolerate 
being apart from three young grandchildren and moved from her PDX condo to a 
tiny home put up on her son’s Portland property from May through October. She’s 
since decided to sell her condo and move in permanently with her son’s 
family.“The lockdown forced people to make some really deep choices about what 
they valued and how they wanted to live,” said Westdahl, a widow. “My deep 
choice is I’m here to be a grandma.”Like other seniors, she’s deeply aware of 
time lost during the pandemic and doesn’t want to wait even a few more months 
before reuniting with friends and family. “Turning 75 really changed my sense 
of time,” she said. “I don’t know how much I have left and what I have is 
precious and I’m not going to waste it.”That sense of urgency, shared by other 
PDX residents, fueled difficult discussions over when and how to open up the 
community in March as most residents became fully vaccinated but three younger 
members still hadn’t gotten shots.“We’ve protected older members who have some 
pretty significant risk factors and, now that those people have been 
vaccinated, it’s a turnaround — they have to protect us,” said Gretchen 
Brauer-Rieke, 64. Since we first spoke, she’s received one shot of the 
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and expects to get the second in early May.At a meeting 
in early April, Brauer-Rieke and several others proposed a compromise: Visitors 
would be allowed back into PDX if they wore masks, were met at the door by a 
member and escorted to a residence, and avoided common areas inside the 
building.This new policy has been delayed, temporarily, as Multnomah County, 
which encompasses Portland, has moved into a “high-risk” COVID category. It 
isn’t what everyone wanted, but it’s something they can all live with.And that, 
ultimately, is what cohousing is all about. “How do we deal with tensions in 
our community? We talk it through. We have workgroups. We compromise,” said 
Janet Gillaspie, 65, a PDX co-founder. “And we think about what’s best for the 
community as opposed to ‘What do I need?’”
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