One reason that neighbors-to-be meet at least twice a month to work on the project, as well as attend monthly potluck suppers, is so they know one another well before they move in. Those dinners include prospective residents who want a taste of the cohousing concept. If they decide it takes too much time (around two to three years) or involvement, or don't like the group, they don't commit; a few bow out along the way, or even after they've lived there.
"It's a self-selecting process," maintains DeAnne Butterfield, 59, who moved to Silver Sage with her husband, John Huyler, 65, three years ago, after their daughter graduated from high school. "We looked at each other and said, we don't need the space or upkeep of our 4,000-square-foot four-bedroom house. What are we doing here?" says Butterfield.
They both love their new community's diversity: Six out of 16 units are designated as affordable housing; residents are both working and retired, include a botanist, electrical engineer, grocery store clerk and city councilor. They have couples, widows, divorcees and never-marrieds. The community has Christians, Quakers — some Quakers consider themselves Christian, some don't — Jews, atheists and Buddhists.
Butterfield is on the finance and legal committee, while Huyler, a professional mediator, sits on community development, which covers interpersonal relationships.
Of course, residents can get on each other's nerves or have conflicts. And what if they do?
"We can always go home and pull down the blinds. But I think we're all committed to not burying our disagreements and issues," says Richard Brumleve, 72, who lives in a two-bedroom townhouse-type unit at ElderSpirit Community in Abingdon, Va. Among the 29 units are 16 rentals that fetch $360 to $505 a month. Owner units range from $150,000 to $165,000, but can be more or less, since the seller determines the price.