“At some point you need to have that bigger vision in mind and that long term goal.”
Getting along with apartment building neighbors requires at least a modicum of social grace. Getting along with potentially lifelong neighbors that are also equal owners in a partnership to develop and own a building mandates serious training.
After breaking ground in 2014, and years of planning prior to that including classes in consensus decision making, the members of Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing are ready to move into their new home (and their 12th and Howell building is almost ready for them). You can get a sneak peek of the building on Saturday from 10 AM to 4PM as part of National Cohousing Open House day.
The 12th Ave cohousing development isn’t a traditional cooperative. CHUC residents are their own developers. While tenants in a cooperative or condo building have to eat the costs of a developer’s profit, CHUC residents say there are keeping their costs as low as possible and will essentially impose their own rent control once they have moved in. The nine families making up the community are all equal partners in an company that obtained a loan to develop the building.
Looking back on what it took to get to this point CHUC co-founder Mike Mariano paused when asked if he would do it all again.
“If you think about it too much, you would never do it,” said Mariano, a principal architect at Schemata Workshop. “At some point you need to have that bigger vision in mind and that long term goal.”
As Mariano and the rest of the CHUC members discovered, financing is not easy when you’re not trying to simply maximize profits. Developing the property as a community was a means to an end for CHUC — ends that include communal meals and work in the rooftop garden, longterm stability, and a tight-knit support group that will hopefully last a lifetime.
Nine founding families will make up the CHUC community, which includes 17 adults and 10 kids. The group came together over many open house meetings held by Mariano and his partner, Grace Kim, stretching back to 2010. Most of the families have now been involved for serval years.
“My son really feels like he has a lot of kids in his life that are less than siblings, but much more than neighbors. And that’s before we’ve even moved in,” said Doug Erickson, a CHUC member and librarian at Seattle University.
Erickson first attended a cohousing talk given by Grace in 2010. Two years later, Erickson, his wife, and now 10-year-old son decided to join.
CHUC units are not quite “affordable housing,” at least not yet. Erickson said the units are probably around current market rate, but should not increase much over time. “Longterm, my aspiration is that this long outlives the residency of the founding families,” Erickson said. “I hope that families come and go long after any of us live there.”
But first, the founding families need to move in. Most of the units at the 12th Ave building are nearly complete, but a handful of smaller details are still getting worked out. Mariano says he hopes residents can start moving in by mid-May.
Construction delays have caused some logistical complications, especially for families with children. Mariano said most families, including his, are on month-to-month leases around Capitol Hill while they wait to move into their new homes. Two families are sharing a space during the limbo period.
Some of those logistical hurdles proved to be too much for some early CHUC members who have since backed out of the project. “The challenge is that to achieve (what) we’re talking about you have go through all the trial and tribulations of construction, financing, and legal stuff,” Mariano said.
Mariano acquired the 12th Ave property, formerly home to Schemata and Lucky Devil Tattoo, for $975,000 in 2008 with plans to build a short-term, container-housing project at the location before eventually embarking on the much more significant cohousing project.
Schemata will return to the property, occupying CHUC’s ground-level retail space.
CHS first wrote about the project back in 2010 as Mariano and Kim began a series of workshops designed to inform about the possibilities of creating cohousing in the city — and recruit. Several of the residents came to the project through the workshops. The workshops continue. CHUC founder Grace Kim will host a “Cohousing 101” talk on Saturday, April 30th at 10 AM inside the Braeburn building at 14th and Pine.