The word “commune” tends to drudge up images of hippies, long hair, and perhaps peace pipes. While most people may think of communes as a thing of the past, they are alive and well in Corvallis in the form of old fraternity houses and sororities turned into houses of communal living for people looking to save money.
The Brick House
Though the name lacks in creativity, the house is filled with culture and inspiration. As the name suggests, it’s a large brick house located on 23rd and Harrison, home to 20 Corvallis residents. Filled with rooms from the basement to the attic, the house offers independent leases per room. There are two large shared kitchen areas, one located on the first floor and another one on the third. Although some may find sharing a kitchen annoying at best, here it becomes one of this home’s more endearing traits.
The house manager, Blake Gordon, related that the common reasons people stay in the house are that it is inexpensive and there is a community feel. He described the house as feeling much like a family. The house has been a home to upwards of seven languages at a time, veterans, students, and the disabled. The tenants are not only getting an inexpensive place to live, but they are living with people who they might not otherwise be exposed to as housemates. As for the negative, Blake cited the normal complaints of living with a large family, with the most common scuffles arising over cleanliness and the noise level.
The Veggie House
Located on 23rd and Van Buren, the Veggie House takes a bit of a spin on the communal living idea. The 18-bedroom abode is described as a “Vegetarian Rooming House.” It’s based on the same premise as the Brick House with the same owner, the obvious difference being that the tenants are vegetarians. If they aren’t, they must not bring meat into the alternative protein palace.
The Veggie and Brick houses are only two examples of communal living spaces in Corvallis. There is also the International House, as well as the iHouse, both with a theme of accommodating Corvallis residents looking for an ethnically enriched living environment. The iHouse claims to be “like spinning ninja kick awesome,” which is no exaggeration. From all the reviews, they seem to live up to the claim. For a different spin, Corvallis also offers CoHo EcoVillage, which is sort of the upscale, modern version of community living. CoHo offers 34 units of community living near downtown Corvallis ranging in age from infants to grandparents.
The return of the commune may have emerged out of the need for affordable living, or even just opportunity. No matter what the reason, it seems that it still has the ability to really create community as the name would suggest. Not only is it easy on the wallet, the tenets are also getting a culturally diverse living environment that challenges the norm. From all accounts it seems to pay off.
Couples and families are taking the plunge to move in together, through thick and thin. I recently spoke with Stephanie Doyle, a young mother from Corvallis. She and her partner have one child and between the high cost of rent, childcare, and student loans they were struggling to pay the bills. Eight months ago the Doyle family made the decision to move in with Stephanie’s sister and family. The joined household consists of two sets of parents, and three children between the ages of four and seven.
Stephanie explains that with diverse working schedules neither family has to carry the burden of child care. Each family cooks meals two nights a week; the other nights are leftovers, or nights to eat out. This drastically cuts down on food costs when buying and cooking in bulk. The families did move into a slightly larger home, but overall are still paying less than half of what they were in rent before the move. Aside from the monetary gain, Stephanie says she is happy that her daughter is not being raised as an only child and is learning valuable life lessons about sharing her toys and space. Though only eight months into the experience, Stephanie says there is little she would change about her current living situation.
Much like the Doyle family, many families are making the move to combine households. Multigenerational living is becoming very popular not only in Corvallis but across the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2007 3.6 million adults moved in with their children, which was a 67% increase from 2000. With these numbers on the rise, it’s not uncommon to see three generations under one roof.
Multigenerational living offers many of the same advantages as cohousing: shared living costs, child care, food costs, etc. Many websites such as Bankrate and Turbotax give step-by-step instructions on how to claim your live-in parents as dependents for an extra tax break.
Not only are many families taking care of elderly parents, but many kids are staying home longer or returning home after financial hardship. Oregon State University professor Richard Settersten has studied the trend of young adults staying at home longer. Settersten commented that in many cultures the youth of the household stay at home until they are married; however, our culture has created a stereotype that independence is linked to being grown up. He pointed out that the median age of marriage in our culture is currently 27, and that the current economy has slowed the move of 20-years-olds into adulthood. Settersten outlined all of this research in his book Not Quite Adults: Why 20-Somethings Are Choosing a Slower Path to Adulthood and Why It Is Good for Everyone.
There is no question we are living in a difficult economy. However, Corvallisites are forever strong, as well as creative—making alternatives to affordable housing that are not only cost-effective but foster family and community. The people of Corvallis’ communes, cohousing, and multigenerational housing seem truly happy. Perhaps this is because they have alleviated their financial burdens, or maybe it is the increased time they are getting with their families. No matter the reason, these small villages within our community seem to make a lot of sense.
by Amy Rose-Simpson