A Success Story: The Creation and Growth of the Monterey Co-Housing Community
By Bud Seltzer
Nine years ago, in 1991, five independent groups of people in the Upper Midwest started working on plans to create co-housing communities. Only one group succeeded, the Monterey Co-Housing Community (MOCOCO). It stands alone as a unique community of fifteen households.
MOCOCO started when an ad appeared in a St. Louis Park, Minnesota, paper offering for sale a three-story Georgian brick building. This 14,000 square foot structure was originally constructed in 1924 as a retirement residence and contained 26 bedrooms and 14 bathrooms. In 1992, 12 households started out to create a new community there. They were caught up in a whirl of activities, creating a legal structure, selling their individual homes, buying the mansion, moving in, and then starting the process of rehabilitation that eventually turned the building into eight independent apartments with 6,000 square feet of common space on two and a half acres of property. Four households left the project. However, plans were later made to construct a number of townhouses on the remainder of the two and a half acres of property. As is typical of co-housing, each unit is individually owned with each unit owning a share of the common space.
The MOCOCO residential units created in the original mansion range from small two-room units of less than 500 square feet each to a three-bedroom unit of over 1500 square feet. The mansion also includes an elegant formal living room, a cherry-paneled library, three fireplaces, an existing institutional kitchen, a TV family room, a childcare room, a laundry, and shop facilities. The community kitchen serves all households and each unit also has a kitchen of its own. It is amazing to think of the countless hours of meetings, and then the hard work tearing down walls and working as a team to create the individual units and common spaces. This common effort has served to build a sense of community with plans for the future.
One of the pioneer MOCOCO households is Dorthea Moga and her then 33-year-old son, Nick. Nick has been diagnosed as having autism. He has three siblings, two sisters and a brother, all of whom are married and live in their own homes. There is a family closeness that brings them all together to celebrate special holidays.
It has been almost five years since I visited MOCOCO. My first impression upon returning was how majestic the mansion appeared with its three-story-high Greek columns. Seven new and separate townhomes have been constructed and occupied since I was here last. A lighted and heated tunnel connects all the buildings together, both the new and the old. Each unit now has its own kitchen and the old institutional kitchen has been remodeled with much shiny new stainless steel equipment. The shop facilities have grown and the childcare area shows active use. A bulletin board clearly displays the weekly division of responsibilities for each aspect of management and maintenance of the property. Regular board meetings are held to maintain progress.
My return visit ended with the impression of serenity and beauty of this vital community. Some incisive observations will now come from Dorthea Moga herself:
- The interview for information for this article provided me with an opportunity for deeper assessment of our/my co-housing experience. In reviewing my son Nick's and my six-plus years of residency in our Monterey Co-Housing Community, I can clearly state that it has brought a sense of physical safety-in-living to us, which had been missing for 20 years or more. Since finding that safety had been a major goal, I consider us successful in this.
- Another goal has been to find a way to expand our intimate, two-person living arena. As our lives progressed through Nick's adolescent years, I knew that when his siblings were on their own, we would need to do this to prevent becoming isolated. In the past two years, I began to realize that my intimate living arena has expanded and is intertwined with those of our 14 other Monterey households. Nick's is only minimally so intertwined. Together, our experience of autism-living is much the same that we've known for most of Nick's 37 years.
- My general inclusion in and Nick's general acceptance by this solid community of people - along with our safety - make this unmet goal less difficult to shoulder. Persons on a journey like ours would do well to spend some part of their trip in a co-housing community like Monterey.