The Commons on the Alameda was first launched in l989 and is one of the oldest cohousing communities in the United States. After planning and construction, folks started moving in in l993, and the community still thrives today. With 28 households and about 75 residents, The Commons is intergenerational and has a full range of families, singles, and working people ages 96 to 7.
The land and homes are exceptionally attractive, with individually designed, adobe-style homes, curving brick pathways, and a central plaza complete with a fountain and graceful cottonwood trees. Small gardens dot the land and nearly every unit has a covered parking spot for the winter snows.
But cohousing is a lot more than beautiful homes and landscapes. It’s about people living in community, sharing and helping and connecting.
“We’re seen to one of the best cohousing communities ,” says Ellen Kemper, a founding resident who seems to have her finger on the pulse. “We truly love and respect each other here- it runs deep.” The community has an active meals program and monthly work parties. Many have attended communication trainings and have actively worked to promote collaboration and peaceful conflict resolution.
Owners are required to offer a minimum of 8 hours of service per month to the community. If they come up short after 6 months, they are charged $10 per hour to help make cover the labor shortage. There is a safety net of surplus hours for those who have had personal crises which got in their way. Twice Weekly meals have been sustained from the beginning, with every resident expected to work one kitchen shift per month . Meals are served family style, supporting conversation and relaxed relationships.
Although condo prices are high compared to many other co-housing communities because of the Santa Fe market, the desirable city location, and the happenstances of the US economy when homes were built, the community was designed to include lower-income residents. Larger households sometimes include rent-paying housemates, and 11 “casitas” attached to homes are mostly occupied by renters as well.
Ellen describes The Commons as a “mature” community. “We went through growing pains,” she says. But over time many of the initial conflicts were resolved. Time limits were placed on meetings, and people learned how to gain broad support for initiatives before proposing changes.
Residents care for each other. When a single mother with an 8 year old child was badly hurt in an accident, everyone came to help with meals, transportation, and support. “You can count on people,” Ellen says. During the last decade, the community had 20 children under 5 years of age. “We love having kids around,” says Ellen.
From the outside, it does look like a giant extended family. Each month birthdays are celebrated with cake. People gathered recently for dinner and laughed and smiled as a young celebrant played “Two truths and a Lie”. Everyone I met seemed happy. Ellen smiled at me. “We live in gratitude,” she said.