Life lessons and extra support come from community living at Alder Street Co-op
Mike Hudapp and Liz Mattson are glad to be raising their daughter in a shared home where Mazey can be part of a broader community.
On a Sunday evening in the Alder Street Co-op, 2-year-old Mazey is sweeping the carpet with a broom. Happy music blasts from the stereo, and a housemate is cooking spaghetti squash for everyone’s dinner. Mazey’s mom, Liz Mattson, is nearby. Her dad, Mike Hodapp, is in the family’s room, buying a car seat online.
“Mazey can’t do much real work yet,” says Mike, “but she is learning about collaboration and shared work.”
Alder Street is a cooperative house where the half-dozen residents share food, chores, house upkeep and decision-making, as well as impromptu dance parties, a P-Patch plot and a sun deck that overlooks Beacon Hill.
The Fellowship for Intentional Community’s directory lists more than 100 communities in Washington, but that tally is incomplete, including primarily multi-home groups where residents come together to build relationships and live cooperatively and collectively to varying degrees. Smaller-scale efforts like Alder Street are largely missed in the count.
Mazey is the third baby to get their start at Alder Street. However, the house has never had more than one child at a time. Mike feels like they would need to move if they had a second child. “Children take up more space than adults — that’s our biggest challenge,” agrees Liz.
For now, they feel lucky to be raising their daughter in a community. “Our loving and brilliant housemates bring solutions we wouldn’t see,” says Mike. Both he and Liz value that Mazey has independent relationships with adults other than her parents. Their own families live in other states, and they say they’d feel isolated living as a nuclear family.
Living in a community means “more people who are patient,” says Liz. Plus, she says, “there are sweet little advantages. She can go to sleep, we can hand off the monitor, and go out to dinner.”
Shared living also keeps costs low. “If we were ever to buy a house, we would have to move out of Seattle,” says Liz. So they deal with the disadvantages, including keeping noisy Mazey out of common spaces in the early mornings, and dealing with the residue of junk the house collected from previous housemates. During Mazey’s first summer, they hauled what Liz describes as “an entire U-Haul of old furniture and VCRs the dog had been peeing on” to the dump.
Still, they feel it’s all worth it. “We have a decade of history with some of our housemates,” says Mike.
The Clearwater Commons near Bothell’s North Creek is a new community that’s still seeking members.
Residents have their own houses and share common buildings. Born out of the Clearwater School community, the Commons is centered around the shared values of low-impact development, environmental stewardship and collective decision-making.
“Our shared values have to do with decision making, not lifestyle,” says Stephanie Sarantos, one of the community’s founders and a mother of three. To live in a community, “you have to be willing to make decisions with more people than your nuclear family, and that’s challenging, but similar to the challenges of any family. You deal with people’s reactions and values that close them down from having logical conversation.”
Stephanie feels that this intentional process of trying to understand each other during hard conversations is both a challenge and gift of community living, for kids as well as adults. Other perks include being able to play alongside a creek that has herons and salmon, and exposure to hands-on skills. Perhaps the greatest strength is the community itself, and the opportunity it gives children to grow up among an intergenerational, extended family.
This opportunity could benefit the children into adulthood. “I have friends who really struggle with making connections and building community, through no fault of their own, and I am so glad that I learned how to do this at an early age,” says Caitlin Price Youngquist, who lived in communities on Vashon and Beacon Hill as a teen.
Stephanie compares the Commons to the quiet street she grew up on, while Liz and Mike speak about Alder Street being their family away from their family. Caitlin married into another kind of community — a tight-knit Skagit Valley farming family.
In many ways, the community people that create intentionally is just an alternative way to fulfill a very traditional ideal: the proverbial village it takes to raise a child.