Friday, August 12 2022

More than five years ago, Jim Dawson and Mariah McKay had a vision to create a sustainable intergenerational village with clustered homes, green spaces and shared amenities.

The couple’s vision came to fruition in May with the opening of Haystack Heights Cohousing, a 39-unit community at 731 S. Garfield St. in the South Perry district.

Haystack Heights Cohousing is the first of its kind in Spokane and Eastern Washington.

Cohousing communities consist of fully equipped private homes and shared common spaces, such as large dining halls, workshops, craft rooms, gardens and more.

Members own their living units, but meet for meals, collectively manage shared spaces and plan activities.

“What we really envisioned was a highly functional community where we knew our neighbors and could rely on each other to make life easier and more meaningful,” Dawson said. “We have that in spades.”

Create a community

Dawson and McKay’s idea of ​​cohabitation was driven in part by a desire to connect with others.

“We truly care about community and are community organizers in our professions, bringing people together to bring change to the world and to our city,” Dawson said.

In 2017, they launched Spokane Cohousing, which was later renamed Haystack Heights Cohousing.

That same year, Haystack Heights members hired Katie McCamant of CoHousing Solutions as a development consultant.

McCamant has helped develop more than 50 cohousing communities in the United States

The project began when Dawson and McKay purchased a one-acre home from a couple on Eighth Avenue.

The same couple later agreed to sell an additional four acres for what would become the Haystack Heights cohousing community. It included the Haystack building, which was integrated into the overall project.

As the cost of development rose to $15 million, some parties abandoned the project due to the investment required and uncertainty, Dawson said.

Despite member turnover, Haystack Heights has pre-sold all of its planned housing units.

“We found that there was a ton of interest and a lot of people tried to build co-housings in the past and it didn’t happen,” Dawson said. “We were able to build our band pretty well through the process and we were sold before we started building.”

Haystack Heights was originally designed to include five buildings, but one structure was cut to keep the project within budget.

Members formed a limited liability company and made installments to provide capital for a construction loan.

These deposits were applied towards the purchase of members’ housing units, which ranged in price from $250,000 to $450,000, depending on size.

“It took a lot of work to find a credit union that was willing to fund the construction of the project, just because it was different,” Dawson said. “Even though we’re using a very traditional HOA model of ownership, and people have committed to putting 10% to 30% down and pre-selling all units up front.”

building success

Another key to Haystack Heights’ success was working with developers who had a deep understanding of cohousing projects, Dawson said.

Haystack Heights members worked with Portland-based Urban Development + Partners.

McCamant of CoHousing Solutions and Spokane-based Yost Gallagher, the project’s contractor, were also instrumental in the project’s success, Dawson said.

“I think a lot of the communities that don’t succeed with cohabitation are the ones trying to do it on their own,” Dawson said. “If you make a mistake, it could cost you $500,000. It takes a lot of discipline and experience to know where these pitfalls are and avoid them.

Because Yost Gallagher purchased the lumber needed for the project before recent price spikes, he saved thousands of dollars in construction costs, Dawson said.

Groups looking to build co-living communities often face a learning curve as this is their first time developing a project.

There’s also a financial factor, as cohousing communities are typically new developments that cost more per square foot than a 20-year-old home, said Karen Gimnig, a nationally recognized consultant with a passion for cohousing communities.

“Usually a developer with access to money, land and skills builds a property and sells it,” Gimnig said. “With cohabitation, people who want to live together usually form a group and have to finance a large part of it up front.”

“They are investing in a development project, which is different from putting a down payment on a house,” she added.

People living in cohousing communities can see cost savings in other areas because they share resources, she said.

“The sense of connection and relationships – that’s the value people buy,” Gimnig said. “You do it because you love the community.”

Growing cohabitation

There are about 170 cohousing communities established in the United States and 125 in various stages of development, according to the Cohousing Association of the US, a national nonprofit organization that supports newly formed and existing communities.

“We have certainly seen growing interest in our programs and signups to our mailing list,” said Trish Becker-Hafnor, executive director of the Cohousing Association of the US.

The pandemic has spurred demand for cohousing communities as people seek to connect with others to avoid isolation, Becker-Hafnor said.

“The pandemic has really shown us how much we really need each other. Many of us have experienced isolation in new ways and seen how connected the connection is to well-being,” she said. “As a result, we looked to other role models and said to ourselves, ‘We need to create more connection and community in our lives. ”

Spokane resident Ana Trusty was drawn to the community aspect of Haystack Heights.

Trusty heard about the cohabitation project through a friend. When a spot on the Haystack Heights waiting list opened up, Trusty jumped at the chance to live in the community.

Trusty, a mother of two, was able to quickly sell her home in Spokane’s booming real estate market, allowing her to put down a deposit for a unit in Haystack Heights.

“I really appreciate that there are a lot of adults my age. I’m thrilled that my kids are here and learning from so many people,” she said. “It’s a great place to raise a family, that’s for sure.”

Haystack Heights members are not alone in their efforts to develop cohousing communities in Spokane.

Former Spokane County Commissioner Bonnie Mager and her husband are among five families who have formed a group to build a cohousing community.

“We’ve been aware of cohabitation and think it’s a great way to live,” Mager said. “Now that we’re retired, we started talking to our son and our daughter-in-law, and they were interested, and we wanted to live next to our grandkids.”

The Magers plan to build a 20-30 unit co-housing community on a site they own.

“We hope to grow to 15 families, so we can start the design process,” Mager said.

Haystack Heights referred interested parties to the Mager Cohousing Group, which is planning a series of cohousing information meetings and design workshops in the Spokane area.

Mager aims to innovate on the cohabitation space in two years.

“We’re looking for lots of additional families who want to live in a multi-generational community with like-minded people who want to conserve resources while maintaining their own homes,” Mager said.


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