5th Street Commons: A Retrofit Cohousing Community

 copyright schemata workshop, inc.

copyright schemata workshop, inc.

Affordable housing in Seattle has reached crisis levels. And to be clear (since we do a lot of work in the area of subsidized housing), I’m not just talking about housing for the lowest-income households, I’m talking about non-subsidized, affordable-to-you-and-me type of housing – aka workforce housing. And for those who can afford to make housing choices and seek an intentional community-setting like cohousing, the costs can certainly be a barrier to entry.

 copyright schemata workshop, inc.

copyright schemata workshop, inc.

So it was with great wonder and interest that we toured 5th Street Commons with Ross Chapin and Karen Delucas this summer.  To quote from Ross’s website, “Fifth Street Commons is a multi-generational, intentional community of 16 households located near the center of Langley on Whidbey Island, WA. It was created through a local initiative to transform an existing apartment complex into an affordable ownership community of socially engaged residents.”

 copyright schemata workshop inc.

copyright schemata workshop inc.

Although Ross doesn’t call it cohousing, the one and two bedroom homes that surround the central green and Common House, certainly has the appearance of a cohousing community. In fact, I would consider this a “retrofit cohousing” community because it wasn’t purpose built, but instead an adaptation of older buildings to accommodate the intention of living collaboratively.

 copyright schemata workshop, inc.

copyright schemata workshop, inc.

Architecturally, the homes are not fancy – the existing buildings were renovated and the grounds are a work in progress, evidenced by the care of the plantings and new interventions seen throughout. The innovation is really the model by which they were able to finance the purchase of the property and renovation with no bank financing. And the cost of purchasing the individual homes: $108,000 – $140,000. This short video tells their story. We hope it catches on and that others will learn from them to create their own retrofit communities.