My neighbors, my co-livers

I live with the same group of 40+ community college and university students throughout the academic year (late September through mid-June). Then a good share of the residents head home (or elsewhere) for the summer, and a more random assortment of folks takes their place.

So far my new summer neighbors include

  • a retired couple from South Carolina who’ve returned for their third summer here
  • a materials science graduate student from a midwestern university
  • a law student newly arrived from Texas
  • a fellow vegetarian across the hall
  • a summer-study group from Asia whose rambunctious young members seem to most appreciate the cookies in the dining hall and the remote control in the TV lounge

Holdovers include our several RAs (resident assistants), who help run the place and thus get an education in building management; a third-floor resident with an emotional support animal who’s the mascot of the whole building (regular pets aren’t allowed); and a smattering of other quiet young people.

Our lifestyle may qualify as co-living (or perhaps “co-living lite”), because we share some amenities — a TV lounge, a dining hall, laundry facilities — as well as monthly social activities such as game-watching parties and cookie decorating.

Co-living is a growing trend in the real-estate industry — much further along outside the United States, but practiced in the US by firms such as Common and Bungalow. I’ll write more about it in later posts, and especially if I attend the next international co-living conference, in Paris in June 2020 — a follow-up to the first one, in 2017. Fingers crossed, mes amis!

One in a million

Other regions of the world, such as Europe, are much further along than the US in meeting the growing demand for micro-housing; for instances, see coliving.com and colivme.com.

So far we’ve discovered only three other US communities remotely like the one I live in: offering furnished rooms with private bathrooms, serving chef-prepared meals every day, affordable to those of modest means, open to all ages (not just students or senior citizens, the only populations for which microhousing is well known and accepted), and allowing long-term residents.

  1. Kenmore Hotel, San Francisco
  2. Monroe Residence Club, San Francisco
  3. Webster Apartments, New York City (for women only; five-year maximum stay)

Know of any others? Let us know in the comments!

ETA 10.3.19: We’ve since learned of The Center at Ananda Laurelwood, a unique community with 150 rooms, in a former Seventh-Day Adventist school, on 175 acres in rural Oregon, and will be going to check it out next week. Stay tuned!

Where I live: defining my home

I can use many phrases to describe the way I live now, and yet none fully does it justice, because the way I live now is almost nonexistent in the United States.

One way: I live in a furnished 220-square-foot room in a 44-bedroom rooming house next to a college campus, with healthy, delicious chef-prepared meals served in a dining hall downstairs. (Because it offers not only room but board [meals], boardinghouse may actually be the more accurate term, making it an even rarer beast in 2019.)

Each resident here has a furnished microstudio with a private bathroom, a huge ingeniously designed closet, and a tiny balcony that fits two chairs so a friend and I can enjoy the late-afternoon Oregon sun.

Each microstudio comes with a microwave and mini-fridge, but not a full kitchen. Our daily meals are made downstairs by a team of chefs, and an array of snacks, beverages, basics (dry cereal, oatmeal, bread, peanut butter, apples, coffee and tea, and too many fresh-baked desserts) are available in our dining hall 24/7.

Any leftovers from meals are packaged in single-serving containers and put in the communal fridge, and usually disappear within 24 hours.

Another way: I live in a privately run dorm, constructed in 1989 by a mission-driven developer who wanted to provide academically minded students with an atmosphere suitable for “quiet enjoyment.” Luckily for me, he also admits non-students who are attracted to that lifestyle. Applicants have to submit three character references, and applications are taken all year; by April or May, there’s already a waiting list for the coming academic year (late September through mid-June).

Some other terms: microhousing (a term not yet well known in the US outside major cities, and often even within them); residential hotel (back in the day, these were common, especially for single working women in major cities; the Barbizon Hotel in New York City is a well-known example); and SRO, or SRO 2.0.

Personally, I usually avoid using the term SRO because of the unfortunate associations it conjures. Ninety years ago, SROs were a common form of housing for people of modest means. According to Paul Groth, author of the excellent book Living Downtown; The History of Residential Hotels in the United States (available online for free), SRO units may have numbered as high as 90,000 in San Francisco in the early 1930s, meaning they were nearly as prevalent as apartments. Unfortunately, SROs were virtually eliminated in city after city in the 1970s.

Only a relative few survive, in places such as San Francisco, Portland, and Chicago, thanks to the dedicated work of advocates for low-income housing. According to San Francisco’s Central City SRO Collaborative, that city’s 518 SRO buildings are home to more than 30,000 people — far more than federally funded public housing in the city, which operates 6,096 permanently affordable units and places another 10,000 people via Section 8 programs.

If you’re interested, you can read more of the fascinating history of SROs in San Francisco here,

When I stumbled across the listing for my current residence while writing a book chapter on finding affordable housing in Washington, DC, I jumped at the chance to relocate next to my beloved alma mater. As a writer yearning to live a simple, stress-free, home-maintenance-free, affordable life in a culturally stimulating place, I felt I had found my nirvana — at least for the foreseeable future.

What happens when a 55-year-old woman moves into a 220-square-foot room with 47 college students, and attempts to promote this way of life throughout the community? Read on, and share my adventures in microdwelling.

About this blog

What happens when a 55-year-old woman moves into a 220-square-foot micro-studio alongside 47 college students?

That’s what my friends all wanted to know. I started this blog to record my thoughts, but I hope to also spread awareness of the growing number of micro-dwelling and co-living options, to connect with others who might like to live this way, and to encourage the development of many more micro-dwelling opportunities in the United States — for all ages and types of people.

In addition to chronicling my own life, this blog will include accounts of other micro-dwelling communities and situations, some of which I’ll be exploring with a local group I have founded.

How did I get here? That’s not such a happy story (but the blog will be).

I’m an only child. From 2002 until their deaths in 2006, 2015, and 2017, I was responsible for the finances and health care of my mother, my father, and a childless aunt.

All of them lived to be in their late 80s or early 90s.None of them had made plans for their later years.

My mother and aunt suffered from undiagnosed clinical depression. My father was a legally blind, disabled hoarder who happily lived in ant- and rat-infested filth. The home where I grew up was ultimately condemned by the city as a fire hazard. (I ended up selling it to Habitat for Humanity as is; they carted what was usable to their ReStore, hauled away the rest, updated the home and added energy-efficient features, and sold it at market rate to fund more of their work. I consider that a win-win.)

After devoting thousands of hours to my elders’ affairs, and making countless difficult and thankless decisions, upon their deaths it fell to me to dispose of all their possessions.

Before my aunt and father died, I undertook stages of stuff-disposal on their behalf. I moved both Aunt Pauline and Dad from their homes to smaller homes, downsizing their possessions each time. My aunt refused to participate in any way (“Just get rid of it all!”), while my father was psychologically incapable of discarding anything. For both of them I had to decide, item by item, what would stay and what would go — and then I had to figure out how best to dispose of the castoffs.

After their deaths, I spent many months searching for a way out of the morass my own neglected life had become. I realized that I not only wanted but needed my remaining years to be simple as possible — simpler than in any lifestyle I had yet experienced. And when my time came, I didn’t want anyone presented with the burden my elders had foisted on me, of having to post-mortemistically dispose of mountains of possessions that had no meaning.

Discovering this microhousing community, this privately run dorm, this nouveau rooming house, saved my life. It showed me that a modestly paid, single freelance writer/editor could have an intellectually and culturally stimulating life in America, with all basic needs taken care of, in a way that is affordable, simple, and nearly stress-free. I seized the last room available, having discovered it in a random web search, and made optimistic plans to move in a month later. (It took two months, at the end of which I had to reluctantly rent a small storage unit to house my Unfinished Business for six more months.)

After I put down my deposit, my downsizing began. With my 220-square-foot target in mind, I kept the essentials, along with selected items special to me, and distributed the rest to a motley collection of friends; acquaintances met through Craigslist, NextDoor, and the neighborhood Buy Nothing group on Facebook; and local thrift shops and agencies serving low-income people and the unhoused. What a small joy each time something was matched with someone who would use or love it, and what a feeling of liberation every time something departed! It was a bit like overseeing my own funeral, but then being free to go on living. It still took three or four car trips, by me and various helpful friends, to get everything to my new home. And now I have spent a pleasant year here, and have begun to reach out to others.

Microhousing communities are still quite rare in the United States, especially outside of major cities, and those offering meals, like this one, are even rarer. Having lived in 220 square feet for a year, more than ever I want this lifestyle to be available to everyone in America who wants it.

Of course I know that micro-dwelling and co-living isn’t for everyone. Many Americans want, or need, or feel they need, a multi-room home, a chef-worthy kitchen, appliances and cookware that they alone control, a backyard for children or pets, gardens to tend, and a fence ensuring privacy from neighbors.

But an increasing number of people — of all ages — have embraced the sharing economy and have come to feel that less is more. They sense that having fewer rooms, possessions, and household responsibilities can leave them with more energy and time for pursuits they value more. If this describes you … join me on my adventure, and let’s learn about micro-dwelling together.

Tags: affordable housing, microhousing, co-living, downsizing, personal

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