Cooperative living arrangements an option as we age and downsize

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Pauline Coffey, 94, stops by the entrance to the Delaware Street Commons, after her daily walk on March 14, 2019.

Pauline Coffey was flushed after a 1-mile jaunt along Lawrence’s Burroughs Creek Trail on a recent afternoon.

Proximity to the trail was an important part of the 94-year-old’s decision to buy a home at Delaware Street Commons, in the 1200 block of Delaware Street, four years ago. Walking every day has been vital to her well-being. Coffey also chose the location because she wanted both independence and a sense of community with like-minded people.

Coffey didn’t want to live in a place where she had to report to a dining room for breakfast at a certain time every day. At Delaware Street Commons, she might show up for the Sunday night potluck, if she feels like fixing a dish.

In this cooperative living arrangement, Coffey owns her two-bedroom, sun-filled home, with enough room for her family to stay for a visit. However, everything outside the house is owned collectively with those who live in the community.

While retirement communities are right for some people, Coffey said that lifestyle wasn’t for her. Instead, she chose the Commons, where her neighbors are of all ages.

“I made the decision to live independently,” Coffey said. “People thought I was crazy. I didn’t think I was crazy. I’m really glad I did it. One day I might have to make a different decision. But not now.”

The 23-unit co-housing development, between 12th and 13th streets in East Lawrence, was completed in 2007. One of the developers behind the Delaware Street Commons is Rich Minder, who lives there with his family. Homes in the development currently sell for between $165,000 and $240,000, he said.

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Delaware Street Commons, the 23-unit cooperative housing development between 12th and 13th streets in East Lawrence, was completed in 2007.

Several flats are also for rent. When 25-year-old Kiley Powers moved to Lawrence in August, she happened upon the Commons while searching for an apartment. She chose the Commons because the price was comparable to other rentals she was looking at around town. Plus, she liked the neighborliness of the place.

How it works

Delaware Street Commons isn’t run by a management company but by the people who live in the community. “Co-housing” is how Minder describes the neighborhood. It’s a place, he said, where residents run the community and gather once a week in the Common House for a potluck dinner, among other social activities, including turning the grapes they grow communally into wine.

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Rich Minder, pictured in the home he shares with his wife, Vicki Penner, said it’s important that people who move into the Delaware Street Commons “have above-average communication skills and work nicely with neighbors.”

“It’s important to communicate to anyone interested in living in the Commons what they are getting into,” Minder said. “You get to know your neighbors and work together. We do say to live here you have to have above-average communication skills and work nicely with neighbors.”

A recent afternoon was mild enough that Norman Westhoff was working on his laptop on his back porch. The retired physician-turned-science-fiction-writer and his wife, Catherine Reed, a fabric artist, have lived in the community for five years.

“For two people, we have more space than we need,” Westhoff said of their four-bedroom, three-bathroom home. “But when the kids come from St. Louis, it’s good to have space.”

When they were moving from California to Lawrence to be closer to family, Westhoff said they wanted to live in East Lawrence because it was historic and diverse.

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Norm Westhoff, left, and Rich Minder talk outside their homes on March 14, 2019, at the Delaware Street Commons, in Lawrence. The housing community is run by its residents.

He feels he is among like-minded people.

“I like the intentional community,” Westhoff said. The community wouldn’t be good for a hermit, he added.

The community has a work day every fourth Saturday morning to maintain the Common House and the grounds, which everyone is responsible for. In the growing season, there’s a community garden.

Coffey worries that she is getting too old for some of the outside work, but younger members of the community pitch in and take over her tasks. From the beginning, she has felt that living at the Commons has been right for her.

“You have to be comfortable with yourself,” Coffey said.

She’s not the only active senior who feels that way. Minder noted that more seniors seeking the cooperative lifestyle had moved into the Commons in recent years, though the development still has what he called “an even mix of ages.”

Specifically for seniors

Across town on the far west side, Sara McBride was flying a drone around the construction site of the Village Cooperative on a recent afternoon. She was keeping an eye on the place; after all, she is one of the owners of Lawrence’s only cooperative housing option specifically for active seniors.

photo by: Kathy Hanks

The Village Cooperative, Sixth Street and Queens Road, pictured on March 15, 2019, is still under construction. It should be completed by June, according to Steve Von Schmidt, marketing director for Real Estate Equities Development, LLC.

McBride owns one of the 52 residences in the three-story complex nearing completion at Sixth Street and Queens Road. Construction should be completed by June. However, that’s almost a year behind schedule. Work was halted back in July 2018, when the construction company hired by the developers — Real Estate Equities Development, LLC, of Eagan, Minn. — went out of business. Landmark Construction, based in Tennessee, was hired by the bonding company to complete the project, according to Steve Von Schmidt, marketing director for Real Estate Equities Development.

McBride, who graduated from the University of Kansas in 1974, spent most of her adult life in Indianapolis. While she loved her home there, her kids were all grown and it was time to downsize.

“I have a lot of friends here, and I wanted a place with no maintenance,” McBride said. “Every summer I go to Canada, and I needed a place where I could close the door for five months.”

The Village Cooperative is specifically for active adults 62 and older who want homeownership and all the financial and tax benefits that go with it minus the headaches of maintenance and repairs, according to Von Schmidt. It’s not to be confused with an assisted living community that provides daily meals and transportation.

“This is independent living,” Von Schmidt said.

The cooperative arrangement has two primary costs. One cost is the equity share purchase, which is a one-time payment based on the size of the home. The other is the monthly operating expenses.

It’s different from other senior housing because the members own a share in the entire development, which is generally not the case with condominiums or townhomes, where residents don’t necessarily engage with one another and have little or no say in how the property is managed, Von Schmidt said.

While building the three-story structure has taken longer than expected, McBride is looking forward to the cooperative lifestyle. She has been meeting her new neighbors at monthly gatherings.

“I am getting to know everybody,” McBride said.

There is an interesting cross-section of people, McBride said, including lots of KU alumni and people from out of state.

Von Schmidt, who said all but three homes in the cooperative had sold, compares cooperative living to going to a reunion of people whom you might not know but who share similar life experiences.

Once they all get settled in, McBride says, it will be a real community.


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