May 10, 2011

Multi-family Housing & Creating Community

A while back, Taz Loomans at Blooming Rock Blog wrote a post about multi-family housing and how while it's taking off in some parts of the country, it's not viewed so highly here in Phoenix - yet. I've been thinking about it ever since. Robert and I have lived in a small multifamily housing community for about 10 years. While there are certainly pros and cons and I sometimes still want a single family house (mainly because I need the garden space), overall, we've loved it.

These are some of the benefits of a multi-family community.

1. It's cost effective. Our mortgage is within our budget and we share the cost of major repairs with our neighbors. We save money by buying less "stuff" because a smaller space requires efficient organization. And, in a compact space, we can afford high quality, green remodeling while staying within our budget.

2. Less work for us. We hire landscapers, plumbers, overall maintenance people - at a reasonable cost, also shared with neighbors. Perfect for artists like us - who work all week and perform on nights and weekends. There's not much of time left for yard work.

3. Less to clean. A larger house doesn't even appeal to me anymore - for this reason.

4. We can live in the heart of the city. Because we chose a townhouse, we can live in a neighborhood (that would otherwise be out of our budget) near everything we love - like hiking, work, church, urban culture, Grandma & Grandpa *smile*.

5. Affordability allows us to pursue our gifts and passions as careers. Living simply in a multi-family house means we can do what we love - for a living. We have fun all week, not just on the weekend. Don't get me wrong...we work our booties off and we live more simply...but it's worth it.

6. More fresh air. Small space - small children? Sanity requires me to get off my duff and get out of the house frequently - to visit local businesses, the library, the park, our garden at Grandma's house...

7. Community. We know our neighbors. And, they're amazing. From teachers to engineers, business professionals to a hard core biker-hairdresser, they are an eclectic mix - quirky, kind and always interesting!

 This last point is the most important to me.

The people in our community are great people. Financial decisions regarding the functionality, appearance and value of our property are not the only things that tie us together. We know each other and are invested in each other's lives. It's typical for me to go out front to pick rosemary for dinner and find myself in a conversation with two or three neighbors. We look out for each other. If a neighbor goes to the hospital, people in our community often visit - depending on whether or not the person has family.  Rides to the doctor, babysitting and cards to those who have suffered a loss (even a dog!) are the norm here.

Those of you who are into gaming will appreciate the roles played by members of our community. We are a little town unto ourselves. We have the grumpy old man, the healer, the gatekeeper (nobody gets by him!), the resident drunk (position currently open), and the crazy lady who hollars at her kids across the yard (that would be me, oops). There is something refreshing and powerful about discovering it's possible for such different people to live together peacefully.

These past ten years, we've learned important lessons about acceptance (read: love, not tolerance) and community that we might not have learned if we'd been able to drive straight into a garage every night. Our home choice has forced us to recognize our connection to each other and to be more careful of the relationships we need to build and maintain with the people who share our larger space. And our lessons give us a picture of how we should be living in our larger community in Phoenix, in Arizona, the USA, the rest of the world. Our individual choices, financial and social, don't just change our lives, they change the world for those around us too.

My relationships with my neighbors change me in unexpected ways. They have opened my eyes to seeing the world in ways I might have otherwise missed. And, while our financial fates initially tied us together, we have found true friendships here. As I write this, I'm filled with gratefulness for these neighbors who have become my friends. They have shown us love and kindness, compassion and wisdom in the times we've most needed it. If we ever do move, we'll stay in the heart of the city where we can keep learning and keep building these relationships that make us better people. It's something Robert and I believe in and it is what we want our children to learn about our city and the world.

We're doing more than just sharing space. We're creating community.


  1. Monna, great post! It's so awesome to see someone with a family making it work in a smaller, multi-family space. You guys aren't just making it work, you're proving the benefits of the communal aspect of multi-family. It takes a village to raise kids, (and to get through life, if you ask me), and it's so much harder to do that when we live in closed off, distant, single-family detached homes. Awesome and thanks for sharing your experience!

  2. love this hit it on the head....wish my community was a bit more this way. still very young and new. not so interested in getting to know the neighbors....longing for this really.

  3. @Taz - thank you. I agree with the village idea. :)
    @Latisha - I do think the age of the complex can contribute to the way a community functions. Many of our residents have been here 20+ years. But, I think a newer community can accomplish it as well.


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