By Brad Matsen
In the winter of 2019, my sweetheart and I moved into a fifty-five-and-over co-housing community on the western slope of Morgan Hill in Port Townsend. Quimper Village was a year old, named after a long-ago explorer and the peninsula he claimed for Spain on which the village is planted. It consists of twenty-eight single-floor, row cottages with high ceilings, crisp wood floors, plenty of light, and all modern conveniences. Each cottage on the six and a half acre site has a front porch, an emphatic nod to the most elemental concept of co-housing: lots of interaction among the residents of the village. After a fifty-year career as a writer who cherished my own company and massive doses of daily solitude, it sounded like absolute hell.
Until then, my vision for where my seventy-five-year-old self would spend the later innings ranged from an apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan to a waterfront rental over a bar in Costa Rica, but a lot of things about the co-housing village made sense. Each cottage is completely self-contained, with a shared common house where villagers gather on Monday and Wednesday evenings for dinner if they want to, and on Friday evenings for drinks. The common house also has three bedrooms for guests, a laundry room for those who don’t have washers and dryers in their cottages, and a patio with barbecue grills for the good weather seasons. Villagers also share a bike barn, art studio, woodshop, a storage shed, tools, a golf cart, and a Ford pickup truck.
Because the residents own and manage the village, each is on the board of directors which meets monthly, and a member of one or more teams to handle the work needed to keep the place running smoothly. Nobody keeps a record of how much you do or don’t do, but most people enjoy working together as the most natural sort of community activity. Governance is by a surprisingly facile system called Sociocracy in which decisions are made by consent, as opposed to consensus or democracy, both of which include the possibility that either bullying or a tyrannical majority can dominate. There are a few organized social events like three-day-a-week tai chi and yoga, Sunday afternoon talks, movie nights, and that sort of thing, but nothing, not even the shared meals and cocktails, is mandatory.
When Barbara and I heard about a three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,400 square-foot, one-year-old, Danish-design cottage for sale in Quimper Village, we were on the ragged edge of six years on a beautiful grassy acre with big garden and enough house for ten people. The upkeep had worn us out, so sizing down seemed like the best idea either of us ever had. To get a better feel for what we might be diving into, we went to one of the general meetings where forty people sat in a big circle to politely worked their way through two-hour agenda and we saw Sociocracy in action. A facilitator rather than a chairperson ran the meeting, everybody said what they had to say about each issue that needed a decision, arriving at what they called consent, as opposed to consensus. Consent, someone explained to me, means that you can live with a decision until a review in a year or so, and eliminates the possibility that one member can stonewall something unreasonably. You can lodge what is called a paramount objection, to be addressed in later conversation, which puts the decision on hold. Only in rare circumstances will there be an actual vote, a process that almost always leaves somebody on the outside looking in with bitter feelings. We came away from the meeting thinking, “Wow. People can actually get along if they’re simply kind to each other.”
A year later, that simple truth about co-housing, in our Village at least, is at the heart of its deepest sanity. There haven’t been any do-or-die conflicts, but the little ripples of discord that wash over the place have transpired in a kindly way with no grudge holding and the clear understanding that all of us have agreed to get along. In one instance, the owners of a cottage were stalling about landscaping their front yard and it was starting to look like an urban scar. Their neighbors, all of whom had spent a lot of time and money on their own yards, brought the matter to a reconciliation team and the owners of the offending yard agreed to fix it sooner than later. That afternoon I watched one of the most-grousing neighbors greet the offenders in front of the common house with embraces and smiles.
Everybody doesn’t like everybody here. There are a few people I like a lot, some who are simply not of my tribe. We’re dug in pretty well, though, because we’ve found a sane place to live in the morass of a crumbling culture, institutional meanness, and, sigh, now a global pandemic. I think often of wise old Kurt Vonnegut who wrote:
Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies. “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
To learn more about co-housing at Quimper Village in Port Townsend, please visit: