It Takes a Village

THE HOME FRONT The Home Front: It takes a village

Originally published in PQ Monthly, August, 2013.

Maybe it’s because the campaign for “Hillary 2016” already seems to be full swing that the title of her 1996 book came to mind. But it does tie in nicely to the theme for this month’s article. Over the course of the our queer civil rights movement, our tent has continued to enlarge (and get more fabulous); in my lifetime I’ve seen the evolution from “Gay & Lesbian,” to LGB, to LGBT to LGBTQ — and the initialism continues to grow.

On the home front, our needs and wants continue to evolve, too. No longer marginalized to specific neighborhoods, our housing choices tend to mirror the public at-large. Some of us want to walk/bike/bus to work, some want that extra space and privacy in the suburbs, while others seek a little place in the country — “Brokeback Mountain”-style. And more commonly, our households have become more multi-generational; we’re having or adopting children, or moving in parents during their final years. And in higher cost-of-living places like Portland, countless of us have housemates to share expenses.

Portland is city of in-migration. How often do we find ourselves simply asking, “Where are you from originally?” It’s almost presumptive that that person came from elsewhere. “I’m a Portlandia interloper, so you must be too!” Many of us have biological families far outside of Portland, which we visit as often as we can. But on a day-to-day basis, it’s our chosen family that we see, rely on, and love as our own. We form these chosen families through joining groups or getting involved in community organizations. In my case, one of those is Portland Frontrunners. Most of the group has moved to Portland from elsewhere, so newbies are warmly welcomed. The same can be said for groups like the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, the Amazon Dragons, OutKayaking, our synagogue, and so on.

We also embrace the concept of intentional living. Intentional living is the desire to live in a manner that is consistent with our core beliefs and values. Whether it be an ecological consciousness, concern for fair trade, or social equality, Oregonians see the global big picture in how we live locally. Basically, we want to walk the talk.

In the world of real estate, nowhere are the ideas of “chosen family” and “intentional living” better manifested than in cohousing. Cohousing is not a hippie commune. With cohousing, people buy and sell their homes just as any other condominium. But there are inherent features that set it apart from most condos; for many this is exactly what they are looking for in their community. Recently, my running buddy turned client, Bill Cunnighame, bought a unit at Daybreak Cohousing. He offered to share his reason for buying and his experience thus far.

Steve: Why compelled you to buy?

Bill: I knew I wanted to downsize so I went to an open house. It was conducted by both the homeowner community and the realtors. The room was packed with interested parties.

Steve: What caught your attention about cohousing vs. a regular condo?

Bill: The intentional way of living in the community. You have to buy in to the concept. You’re not just sharing common walls — but share maintenance, landscaping, garden spaces, group dinners. Everyone knows the children.

Steve: What do you like most about the community?

Bill: The pleasant surprises — it’s truly multi-generational. I work from home during the day and I crank open my windows just to hear the kids playing. In some ways it’s an extension of my First Unitarian Church community — inclusiveness, concern for sustainable environments, or shared spaces like the woodworking room, which minimize excessive possessions.

Steve: What appeal do you see for the LGBTQ community?

Bill: It’s very diverse — straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual. A single lesbian just had a baby and the community offered to chip in with babysitting. I wanted it to be a mixed environment with all ages and types of people, with lots to learn from each other.

Steve: Any advice or things you would’ve done differently?

Bill: Just be very thorough. Attend group dinners before buying; ask tons of questions. Meet everyone.

As Bill summed up, cohousing is not for everyone. You interact much more with neighbors than a conventional condominium, and there is an expectation that everyone is engaged in operations to the best of their ability. But it fills an important niche for the homebuying segment who seeks something just a little bit different and a little bit more. How Portland indeed!

Steve Strode is Portland-area realtor with Meadows Group Inc., Realtors. He is also co-founder of a newly forming non-profit organization called rEqual, a nationwide LGBT real estate coalition.