Coming to a Neighborhood Near You
By Josie Anderson
Behind closed doors of brick-lined row houses and enormous Victorian mansions gather masses of like-minded individuals who opt to live together in shared spaces in the surrounding areas of D.C.
The Washington region boasts an eclectic mix of group living settings, complete with a hodgepodge of personalities for housemates. Scan the online rental ads and find every shape and size of home and roomie option imaginable. Dig deeper and find a place with shared expenses, active social calendars and supportive community, all included.
Group living homes seem to have a peculiar anonymity about them in the D.C. metro area. Some Washington residents might not know that right next door live a small group of unrelated but deeply connected housemates. Or, if they do know, their understanding about group living varies from a traditional perception like assisted living, to halfway houses and hippy communes.
Styles of group homes in the district range from income-sharing homes and intentional living cooperatives, to multi-family co-owned homes. In a city filled with interns, artists and transient politicos, typically single, professional, unrelated adults share a roof, rent and common interests.
As more ads pop up on Craigslist for open rooms in a group living home, the demographics continue to shift. In the district, 71 percent of all adults were single, according to the 2010 Census and the numbers don’t appear to be slowing down.
GPaul Blundell and fellow residents of The Keep in Washington D.C., opened their doors to those interested in group-style living. The Keep, which is a cooperative living house, along with the 70+ attendees to the meeting discussed various topics. Photo Courtesy Josie Anderson
Over a decade ago, Rodney L. Cobb And Scott Dvorak released their analysis on the evolution of the generational home for the American Planning Association. They found that while family demographics are changing, the housing stock is not managing to keep up, stating, “Underused space in single-family houses is one of the nation’s largest untapped housing resources.”
While the housing market in D.C. tries to mold to a changing cityscape, human nature remains organically rooted in a social sphere. Many group homes have active communities that are interest-driven and creatively-inspired. Some look toward the practices of intentional living, while others the principles of Burning Man.
Anthropologist Kristin J. Sewell explains, “A couple of hundred years ago, most people lived within groups, however, everything changes over time and we no longer have multi-generational homes,” Sewell said, “But I can see how, as more people start families later in life, why having a group of other like-minded individuals would become pretty popular.”
Glow House resident Aarthi Ananthanarayanan suggests that singles in their late twenties and thirties may have something in their internal wiring, which makes group living attractive.
“We don’t really have a good model for being lonely as adults. We don’t have the community structures people had in the past through religion, or family and we also don’t have an answer in a more individual life,” she said, “ we are not meant to live alone.”(For full video interview click here)
Cooperative management developer, Joel Rothschild of ecovillages.org, jokes that if this is the Utopian way of life, then why don’t we all live in a group community? “I suspect that many of us don’t because we can find affordability, support, and connection,” he said.
For many in the Washington region, however, the city can be a place with few certainties. Group homes may provide some sense of security. People come and go, but the ebb and flow of community growth in a group home falls in line with what Sewell says is a part of the advancement of civilization.
“We still rely on everybody else in our group to keep us safe, to nurture us, to educate us, to take care of us in general,” Sewell said.
THE GLOW HOUSE
Glow House owner, Darrell Duane bought the house in 2000. Roommates keep connected through electronic communication and message boards, but there isn’t a formal meeting schedule. Personal space is respected and a sense of individualism upheld. There isn’t a shared chore list, but they do have a housekeeper. They honor some of the Burning Man principles, but not everyone is a Burner…even though everyone is welcome (check out their couchsurfer invite). The house holds a number of social events that they all try to participate in. This plays a very important role in the house’s internal community and sense of connectivity.
To see more pictures of the Glow House transformation over the last few years, CLICK HERE
WHO LIVES THERE?
Glow House Owner and Roommate, 15 years
“To be able to live with people who are not your family brings an awareness to things that I would otherwise may not have known.”
Legal Recruiter and Consultant
Roommate, 3 years
“This is one of the healthiest ways to live your life, being able to release things, to say things, to be able to joke around and just be there for each other.”
Department of Treasury
Roommate, 2 months
“One thing group living does is that it assumes that you are not just extracting from this relationship, but you are also giving back.”
THE NUT HOUSE
Built in 1919, the Nut House has been a group home since 2006.
Group house manager Barry Silber, aka “Blue”, considers the house more of a benevolent dictatorship, in that people are willing to express concerns, but people are not too concerned about things.
Although there isn’t an overt philosophical agreement among the roommates, there is an understanding that goes back to the Nut House Interview Questionnaire. The house has a voice in the decision of potential roommates, and the answers to the online interview are critical to the process.
There are few house meetings, which means more opportunities for house socials and events, a famous Nut House pastime. Silent Discos, interactive art shows, and other festive gatherings are a favorite for many who are in the inner circle of the group house community and the Nut House invite list!
Like other houses, some of roommates uphold a few of the Burning Man principles.
WHO LIVES THERE?
House Manager and Roommate, 9 years
“I don’t know if group living is good for any person. It kind depends on where they get their energy —If they get it from other people, then they should give group living a try.”
Roommate, 1 day
“Living in a group environment can introduce you to the things that you would never do on your own, go to a zoo, relax with a glass of wine with new friends, expand your mind.”
Head Shop Employee
Roommate, 2.5 months
“ It is hard to explain to others that even in a group house… you can have your own space and the closeness of family still is there…if you want it to be.”
Live Theater, Sound Designer
Roommate, 1.5 years
“I hadn’t heard of group living before I moved to D.C. This is really something that people don’t know a lot about. Here it is a really cool idea in these big houses, to share common spaces.”
WhyteStone Creative Outcrop
WhyteStone Creative Outcrop (WCO) has just begun its next adventure at the new location in College Park, but has been around for a few years.
Founder and house director, Doug Sanford considers the WCO an “intentional group living community” that lives by Burning Man principles (which are displayed for all to enjoy).
Some of the things that the group shares include: expenses for food, communal meals, utilities, living areas, transportation, and of course an appreciation and love for random acts of art.
See more WhyteStone Creative Outcrop imagery by Doug Sanford
Social gatherings are a crucial part of the day-to-day inertia of the house. There is always a steady flow of people. Couchsurfers, volunteers, travelers, and friends of residents make the house a constant beehive of activity. This adds to the continual transformation both inside and outside of the physical structure of the location. Sanford notes, that helping to make their new house better then when they moved in makes not only their landlord confident with group tenants, but also makes group living truly a community of giving.
WHO LIVES THERE?
House Manager and Roommate, 4 months
“When you’re alone, you can get stuck in a quiet inertia that’s hard to get out of. We’re meant to be in communities, we’re meant to go back and forth with each other.”
Roommate, 2 Months
“This is a beautiful way to live. My job and society is set up to be very isolating, and it hard to take time to accommodate for community if it isn’t already built into your way of life.”
Director, Roommate 4 years
“What makes this so special is a shared desire to be a part of a family that is impossibly incorrect and imperfect.”
CODEPINK National Coordinator, Activist
Roommate, 2 years
“It is a smart thing to consider for people in my generation to survive in such a competitive country and it is a unique way to come together.”