Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing

Leaving Colorado and heading to the north-west Pacific area – Portland and Seattle – involved a circuitous route via Houston, Texas. Got to fly over a lot of flooded areas giving truth to the stories Tom and Kathy King from Dallas had spoken about back in Durham. Lots of brown water lying about, swollen rivers and some areas of human habitation looking dangerously inundated.

Arriving into the airport between Tacoma and Seattle (Seatac) the next stop was Seattle. A quick visit to catch up with a few of the friends made at the Cohousing Conference.

The mountains in this part of the world are wondrous. Mt Rainier, actually Tachkoma (T’chakoba /Tahoma/Tacoma) by its native American name, is a mountain that is half a million years old, 14,411 ft (4,392 mts) high and snow covered even in this hot, dry, climate-change disrupted July.

file2981243698616 Mt Rainier

According to the Old Seattle Times*, scientists now recognise this mountain as the most dangerous volcano in the United States. It has more than a dozen summit earth quakes a year and because of its large amount of glacial ice, Tachkoma could at any time produce massive lahars (mudflows) that could threaten the entire Puyallup River valley. With only forty minutes warning the closest towns are very vulnerable. “It would hit hard. Old-growth forests slowed past mudflows, but the trees that would protect the town went through the town on rail cars decades ago.” (Photo – kakisky 704 | 303 | 0)

Powerful and imposing Tachkoma is beautiful to behold.

Grace Kim and Sheila Hoffman were both at the Cohousing conference in Durham and are both involved in the establishment of the Capitol Hill intergenerational sustainable Cohousing Community in Seattle. Grace and her partner, Mike Mariano, are the initiators, the founders.

Screenshot 2015-07-13 07.20.44 Cohousing in and around Seattle

Capitol Hill is the most recent of the growing numbers of cohousing community in this go-ahead part of the world.

This is what the Cohousing US website says about Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing:
“We are a very diverse community in an incredibly dense neighborhood in Seattle – Capitol Hill. We have all of our 9 households with children between ages newborn and 13 years old and our adults range from early 30’s to mid-60’s. We will have 9 units on 4500sf lot (smaller than the typical Seattle single family lot). Our property is located 3 blocks from light rail and has great bus access. We will be targeting high Built-Green or LEED guidelines for achieving as many high-performance sustainability metrics for energy and water usage as is financially feasible both now and planning for future upgrades. We broke ground in late October, 2014 and expect occupancy to be by the end of 2015. Please note we are a unique hybrid model. All members pay $30,000 to join our LLC. The LLC is building and will manage the apartment building. We will pay market rate rents which will become fixed early on to entice longevity. We are still developing a vesting system.”

2015-06-13 10.38.01 Grace and another member

Arriving there in the early afternoon and driving through Seattle on a big Marathon Run day meant copping the banked up traffic on the freeway and the full heat of the sun. A site tour was just concluding and it was fabulous to see the shape of this new community emerging.

A “lot line” development meant that the building was taken right up to the lot lines, as with the neighbours, and so windows to the side can’t happen. It was squeezed onto a small block and went up three levels. It is designed to maximise light and cross ventilation though and go as close to Passiv Haus as practicable. “Eventually we hope to install photovoltaic solar panels on the upper rooftop.”

The plans and floor plan are available on the website.

Capital Hill Urban Cohousing are also intending to have a rooftop garden – actually a very productive farm. “We are talking about more than a few raised planters on the roof. We envision a working, year-round urban farm. We plan to work with the Seattle Urban Farm Company to setup our lower rooftop initially. The upper rooftop will be used for rainwater collection and routed to the farm.”
2015-06-13 12.02.59.Lot line jpg

The members here are making a commitment to downsizing their individual apartments in exchange for community facilities and the belonging that goes with community. The home sizes are 850-1,400 sf (for a 2-3 BR). 2015-06-13 11.02.20 Sheila and Spencer

Sheila and Spencer have already downsized significantly from their house to their condo and are now downsizing even further to be part of this initiative. They are excited to be involved – just have to let go of their much loved but ‘too big for the room’ bed head.

2015-06-13 11.14.22 the plans
A few key decisions have already been made: There will be no onsite automobile parking. “We are a non-smoking and gun free community, allow pets, plan to have inclusive shared meals a few times a week and we will be child-friendly, providing childcare for workshops, etc.”

The bottom floor will be commercial and the architectural firm, Schemata, behind the project of which Grace Kim and Mike are the proprietors, will be located there.

Right next door is a funky little house operating as a café deli and other cafes and generally cool and fairly upmarket activities are moving into the area and (where-ever you are in Seattle) a boutique brewery is not far away.

This community in formation has worked hard to establish and is still working out the affordability and equity issues. It has good support from its members and growing interest from other people because of its fabulous location and the project aesthetic.

“We are planning for a long-term rental model starting at market rates and locking into rent control within a few years. Rents will be market rate for new construction on Capitol Hill.”

Walking through the neighbourhood to Grace’s home to share a delicious lunch of Korean food with her family showed just what a lovely area it is with some graceful old Seattle houses and a lot of new higher density housing.

One development just over from where Grace is temporarily housed while the community is under construction, has an interesting story attached. It was built as affordable housing in such a way as to get around some of the building requirements by sharing facilities and calling it co-housing. However prices have skyrocketed in Seattle just in the last couple of years and these tiny apartments are being charged out at heavily inflated prices. Now there are restrictions on such building as the owners are simply exploiting the market. 2015-06-13 12.10.21 the affordable cohousingThe reality is that affordable housing is desperately needed and desperate people will  accept very small, even inadequate accommodation simply to get something they can afford. Now these places are outpriced for the very low-income people.

Had to cut it short and sweet (til next time) as the rest of the afternoon was devoted to a road trip to Portland so it was off back onto the freeways and heading south along the fir-lined coast.


About Giselle Wilkinson - 4allsentientbeings

Environmental conservation, community and cooperatives have been enduring threads in my life. Promoting sustainable lifestyles and more lately, focussing on restoring a Safe Climate, is work expressed predominantly through organisations such as The Sustainable Living Foundation (which I co-founded in 1999 - current President) and the others listed as links below. I am some way into a professional doctorate with MIECAT on "Mobilising Whole Communities to Restore a Sustainable Environment" and have in recent years moved into MURUNDAKA – a (more) sustainable, (more) affordable co-housing community / housing cooperative in Heidelberg, Melbourne (for which I gave up my co-op house of 19 years including veggie garden and small orchard) and it's great. I'm also a mum of two grown up daughters and have five step children.
This entry was posted in Cohousing, United States. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s