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Raven's Roost plans to build first shared-space co-housing in Anchorage

A computer-generated image of Raven's Roost community housing project. Courtesy Raven's Roost

Correction: The number of hours of volunteer work is 4-8 a month, not 4-8 hours a week, as previously stated.

Several Anchorage residents are looking to redefine their concept of community by building the first co-housing neighborhood in Alaska’s largest city, where neighbors become friends and family -- and shared spaces become home.

The Raven’s Roost co-housing group had an open house at the Middle Way Café on Wednesday night to float the idea to Anchorage, in hopes of recruiting more folks to their community so they can start building their version of a suburban utopia.

The group has purchased 6.3 acres off of Abbott Road in South Anchorage, where it plans to build a community of 35 housing units, a common room, and shared gardens. Co-housing is the most mainstream of the community-living models, group member Terri Pauls explained. Everyone has their own home and private property, and there is no underlying ideology within the group -- simply a desire to live in a community-focused setting.

Shared duties

They plan on sharing community meals several times a week and shared duties, such as snow shoveling or cooking, which are expected to take four to eight hours a month. Community decisions will be made by group consensus, although the exact mechanism is still being worked out.

The homes are envisioned as energy-efficient living units clustered together. Each unit has its own kitchen, living spaces and optional laundry facilities. The units are fairly small: A one-bedroom starts at 720 square feet, and the largest unit, a four-bedroom, is 1,550 square feet.

“Your unit is smaller, but you’ve got a lot of other spaces,” Pauls said. The common house will have a large shared kitchen, kid’s play room, guest rooms and spaces for other activities. Gardens, a work shop and atrium will also be on the property. Parking will be clustered together, allowing for much of the acreage to be left undeveloped.

“When you cluster not only the homes but ... the parking, you end up saving a lot of green space,” Pauls said.

Group member and architect Tom Pierce-Bulger will move from a 3,600-square-foot house into a unit a quarter the size, but he’s not worried about cutting back on space. “We’re willing to shrink down in our personal space to expand our community space,” he said.

Some 100 co-housing communities

The concept of co-housing arose in Denmark in the 1970s, Pauls explained, and there are now more than 100 such communities in the U.S. In November 2011, Raven’s Roost brought up two architects to give a presentation on co-housing models, and more than 200 people showed up. “We know there’s interest here in Anchorage,” Pauls said.  

Intern architects Melissa Toman and Alanna Blough said the community design is a trend that will likely catch on. At least, “if it’s up to us it will be,” Toman laughed.

“I think Anchorage (property) is pretty much maxed out – we need to start building up, and sharing space.” Blough said. “I think it’s inevitable for it to happen.”

“It’s like that globally, really,” Toman said.

Cherri Scott and her husband Allan Scott just signed on to the project. She is excited to have a reason to “get off our butts,” and join a neighborhood where people are valued and cared for.

Ian Miner, 21, will be living in the community with his family. “It’ll be nice having people to talk to. Where I live now, we don’t really talk to our neighbors very much,” he said. “Hopefully with this, we’ll be interacting a lot more, on a daily basis.”

Jeff Heusevelt and his wife are considering joining the community but aren’t sure yet. Heusevelt said the most appealing aspect is “knowing your neighbors. The housing is a secondary consideration, although they’re still nicely designed. However, “the cost is kind of prohibitive,” Heusevelt said, calling high prices the biggest hurdle that Raven’s Roost faces. “I think that’s just a hurdle for co-housing in general.”

The cost of a unit ranges between $215,000 for a one-bedroom unit and $489,000 for a four-bedroom home, partly due to the costs of shared spaces. Such costs create a problem for bringing in people who are interested in the project but lack sufficient funding, especially younger families that the group is hoping to attract. Right now most of the group members are in their 50s. Pauls said they hope to find families with children to help create more diversity within the community. She also said the makeup of the community will likely change once it is built and in operation. As people move in and out, units will likely become available for rent, and at least one couple plans on heading south every winter, opening up one unit to long-term house sitting.

The group still has work to do to start building their vision. Right now, they have 9 households signed up and ready to go; they need 9 more in order to have the investment to start construction. They hope to break ground this summer.

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com