Seniors & Aging

Amenities, rich texture of cohousing life suit Bellingham couple

Dan and Janet Taylor inside their three-bedroom home at Bellingham Cohousing on Donovan Avenue.
Dan and Janet Taylor inside their three-bedroom home at Bellingham Cohousing on Donovan Avenue. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Janet Taylor, 64, and her husband, Dan Taylor, 74, live in the Bellingham Cohousing project on Donovan Avenue in Bellingham's Happy Valley neighborhood.

Backgrounds: Dan did land-use and economic planning work for Whatcom County government, and held similar positions elsewhere. He also served on the county's Parks and Recreation Commission for a dozen years. Janet has been a researcher, veterinary technician, secretary and a rolfer.

Family: Janet and Dan have been married 41 years. They have two grown children.

Cohousing idea: Dan became interested in Bellingham Cohousing after he retired 14 years ago. He soon became involved in the project's planning and construction.

Life on South Hill: The Taylors bought a 1,500-square-foot "fixer" on Bellingham's South Hill in 1986 and lived there for 14 years. Janet says she wondered what their life would be like in the house as they became elderly.

"It was literally on a steep hill," she says. "It was too easy to get solitary."

Cohousing defined: Cohousing is a collaborative approach to housing in which people own their units but share common facilities and actively participate in the community's life. At Bellingham Cohousing, residents of the 33 units each contribute up to 20 hours a month planning meals and activities, attending meeting, and working on projects.

Initially reluctant: At first, Janet wasn't sure if cohousing was for her.

"We didn't need to move from South Hill at the time and I wasn't interested in moving," she says. "I didn't think I was generous-hearted enough to live with 70 other people in close quarters."

Change of heart: As construction of Bellingham Cohousing wrapped up, Dan presumed that he and Janet would not move in. He was wrong.

"Dan needed more sociability than I could give him," Janet says. "Eventually, the words 'co-housing' floated across my forehead."

"When Dan came home one day, I said, 'Let's move to cohousing.'"

"That's when I had to think about it for a couple of days," Dan says. "I loved old houses, but as we were getting older on South Hill, I realized being in a place like this cohousing project was pretty appealing."

They decided they liked the classic design of a unit in the front of the development, and made the move.

Easy move: "It wasn't a problem to downsize," Janet says. "We gave up a piano, a bunch of wood and a roll-top desk. But I find I get rid of stuff very easily."

Amenities: The Taylors love to show visitors the beauty and utility of Bellingham Cohousing's common areas, including a large common house, complete with a kitchen, library, computer room and laundry.

Close by, there's a large workshop, community garden, open space and plenty of parking.

"Our common workshop is just incredible," says Dan, who has been building a small boat with another resident.

Consensus: Janet says everyone at a cohousing meeting must agree for a proposal to move forward. "This can be frustrating for activist types of people," she says. "You have to look at things from other people's points of view. But if you're willing to put in the effort, you'll always have allies here."

Village life: "It's like an English village, only different," Janet says. "It's easy to be relaxed here, because you know nobody's going to do anything extreme.

"But emotionally, it can be work," she says. "You can't use avoidance easily when you live in cohousing."

Life with texture: "There are times I've felt angry and didn't want to live here, but those feelings pass because the texture of life is so rich and varied," Janet says. "I tend to need solitude and I can have that, but when I get too much solitude, I open the door and the flow of life carries me out."

Personally invested: Dan says cohousing wouldn't be the right choice for people who are likely to make trouble. "It's not paradise, it's not all roses, but it's nice," he says. "We realize we're all in this together; you're not going to want to live here if you don't fit."

A good fit: "When I was young, I lived in a trailer park, a military barracks, a dormitory," Dan says. "So, in a way, the norm for me for a long time was to live in a community."

Helpful people: "One of our residents once was due into Bellingham at 2 a.m. and he e-mailed (the cohousing community) and asked if anyone would be willing to pick him up," Dan says. "It turned out he got four offers. That's the kind of place this is."


MORE INFORMATION

For information about Bellingham Cohousing, see bellcoho.com.

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