Cohousing during COVID-19: An Anchorage community sees risks and benefits

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Ravens’ Roost in Anchorage has 33 households and roughly 70 residents living communally. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the community has seen the risks and benefits of living close together.

“The whole idea of cohousing is neighbors getting to know each other,” said Terri Pauls, one of the founders of Ravens’ Roost.

The Common House, a large building in the center of the property, typically sees two to three meals shared by some community members per week. Dance parties often take place across the neighborhood. But then COVID-19 came.

Common meals were canceled and meetings among residents went online. The idea behind those meetings is to build consensus for big decisions. “And so, we come up with solutions that work for everyone,” Pauls said.

Crews sanitize common spaces and there is a schedule for a shared laundry room.

In recent weeks, residents have begun meeting outside on a large patio to share a drink or dessert. They meet at a safe distance, wearing masks.

Despite the risks of transmitting COVID-19, there are advantages to cohousing during a pandemic. “With 33 households, someone is going to be available to go and get some groceries,” Pauls said.

Ravens' Roost hasn't seen any COVID-19 cases but residents have a plan if there was an outbreak. The person would be isolated and community members would support them.

The communal nature of the neighborhood has other benefits for residents. It is purposefully built for spontaneous meetings, warding off feelings of isolation.

Mailboxes are in the Common House and garages aren’t close to homes, meaning residents constantly bump into each other as they walk around.

“I think it's really helpful especially for those of us alone in our households, we don't feel so alone,” Pauls said.

Yolanda Meza, a retired midwife, sits on a patio with her neighbors and speaks about their closeness. “My family is down in California, so these are my family,” she said.

There are benefits for others outside the community from the pandemic. With no common meals, the shared community gardens are now growing vegetables for an Anchorage food pantry.

“The best gift this pandemic has given my community is that we are coming together to serve those less fortunate,” said Sara Peebles, who lives at Ravens’ Roost and volunteers with a food pantry. “People who are coming for food are happy to have real food, not just canned food.”

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