Bob and Yvette and their son, Holden, moved to Spokane from Arlington, Virginia last July. Yvette has family locally (and grew up in Ephrata) and have visited Spokane for over a decade. It was the offer of a job for Bob—with a newly minted PhD in sociology—at Whitworth that landed them in Spokane now. Bob is part of what’s called the “social service and community action track,” guiding students who aim to be social workers, or who anticipate working with nonprofits. Yvette found meaningful work as the chaplain at Riverview Retirement Community. Holden is in kindergarten at the Spanish immersion program at Libby School.
Sarah Conover: How did you both end up in Spokane?
Yvette: We talked about moving closer to where my family is, and Bob was pretty intentional about getting to know the sociology departments out west. And it just was lucky that Whitworth was hiring and he got the job at Whitworth.
While Bob was in graduate school, I was a pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Arlington, Virginia. I actually wasn't quite sure what I would be doing when I arrived in Spokane. We decided to move before I had secured a job.
Sarah: Are there parallels between being a pastor in community and your anticipation of living in Haystack Heights?
Yes, I think so. In congregations you need to be mindful about people knowing one another and having time, spending time with one another so that the connection is more than skin deep. My congregation had three different worship times on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and I would forget that I knew people who had been there for a long time, but others didn't necessarily know each another if they didn't go to the same worship service. So, as a pastor, I tried to arrange and create opportunities for people to get together other than Sunday mornings in order that they had an expanded sense of the congregation. Even if they didn't worship with particular people every Sunday, they knew them and cared for one another.
Sarah: What do you think the intention has to be for a community to be healthy?
Yvette: I think it depends. In the case of a congregation you have a sense of shared mission and purpose, some articulation that we are here to be a gospel presence or to tell people about God's love. We'll talk about that in different ways and have different ideas of what that is, but God's love is taking care of one another within community. And not only thinking about the people in the community but also looking at expanding your sense of who your neighbor is beyond that and reaching out and showing love to them as well.
Sarah: Haystack is a secular community, so what would be your idea of an overarching purpose? In our first workshops we did do a lot of visioning. What would an ideal community look like to each of you? I'd love to hear.
Bob: I guess what attracted us to Haystack is the two values of sharing life together and a desire to be more environmentally sustainable. Some communities perhaps have religion or faith at its core, but certainly that's not necessary to have a community of shared value. And those two values for me had been really appealing.
I think our family has struggled like many families we know to find community. At first, I wondered if, is it a DC thing or a time-of-life thing? But I think it is maybe just a modern life thing. We know other people who are not in big urban areas who still struggle to connect. If your lives aren't naturally overlapping, then it becomes really difficult, even with intention, to find time to get together. We were close to this one family in particular with two young kids and, if we were lucky, and with a lot of effort, we would see them a couple of times a month at most.
Coming here we were open. We didn't necessarily have Haystack on the radar when we first moved, but I think wherever we would have landed, we were interested in finding ways to build those pathways of relationships that don't make it so difficult to connect. In my experience, when you live in the neighborhood or physically in the same place as your community, it makes it much easier to share life together.
Sarah: Have you lived in community before?
Bob: When I was in grad school, I lived in a group house with other students. We had meals in common and we had some common practices. We didn't have an underlying mission, we just wanted to live cheaply and safely. They had these established things in place that sort of transcended the individuals living there at any particular time. I just showed up and joined in.
Sarah: What kind of things helped you feel like a community?
Bob: I think mostly the dinners we did together. You took turns cooking and providing the food, and then you got the benefit of the meals the other nights. As a grad student, that's really nice. After that year, I transitioned over to living in Washington D.C. to a year-long service program where there were nine of us that lived in a house and we all worked for the same organization.
We shared life together. That house was different in the sense that there was more intention about it. It was a faith-based organization. We did weekly spiritual practice together and then we also did common meals and then we actually had common money. We had to decide as a house how to spend our resources. We had more equality because we were all at different stages of life and from different families with different means. So, we made a rule that no one could bring in outside resources unless they petitioned the community.
Sarah: Wow, that's big.
Bob: There were lots of things we discussed as a community to try to decide. In general, trying to be wise and kind and figure out rules, ground rules for everybody. There are going to be differences of opinions. Any communities negotiating conflict can be challenging.
Sarah: So obviously it was a good enough experience that you're ready to do community again!
Bob: Yes. It was a good experience. But it's not like those memories were front-of-mind when we decided about Haystack. For me it was more like our recent experience as a family just trying to find community.
It can kind of seem weird to make this big commitment to live with these people we don't really know. But we have all had committed to this broader project. Our friend was reading a cohousing book and apparently there was a point made that most successful cohousing communities aren't made up of people who knew each other beforehand. In some ways, you're subscribing to this broader project and it's not based on the strength of old relationships. There are common values: It’s not necessarily because I like you and you and you (hopefully you develop that affection for one another) but it’s a commitment to those values.
Yvette: I spent two years after I graduated from college living in communities. There were ten of us in Denver, Colorado and we each had volunteer jobs in different organizations, but we committed to living together and we had a stipend and a common pot for our food expenses. It was also faith based, but very much about social justice. I was in Denver for that year with nine housemates. We had commitments to do shared meals together five days a week and we had house meeting once a once a week, and a couple of retreats during the year.
I think common meals—food—work as glue. It's not magic but spending time together over food and sharing your life daily connects people. It makes sense that it be part of what will be our common life.
In my community, there was value in uncomfortable conversations. We had to talk about conflicts we'd been avoiding. There is value in when you're committed to stick with people and you confront the conflict. I just think something that I learned from living in community is that there is value talking about the things that are hard to talk about.
Bob: What I look forward to is the version of sharing life where you help others and they help you. We're in this life together and when something's going on and we need help, people will be there; and there will be times when we're free to be the helpers. There's enough of us that it's not all the people all the time leaning heavily on each other! I was just thinking about when my dad died during one of those years that I lived in community and the value of having a community who walked through that with me every step of the way. Some members are going to be going through something big or even just small.
In community, just dealing with struggles of being at a young family will be easier—those moments like yesterday when Holden was sick and Yvette had to take the day off. We both have duties that involve other people. It was a day I really couldn't miss. And if we lived in a community, we might not have to take a day off work. We could just call around and probably somebody can manage Holden for a day, a half a day or whatever. So, besides just the fun of ongoing rituals and the meals and things, I think it’s wonderful that folks have your back.
Yvette: Although we could have bought our own single-family home, I just want to relate our thinking about being a part of Haystack. Once we started exploring, it just made so much sense in terms of sustainability. Something I really appreciate about the community is that everyone who is choosing to be a part of Haystack is choosing to live in a different way in terms of the amount of space they take and the environmental impact—sharing things like laundry facilities and lawnmowers and stuff, which is weirdly counter-cultural. It doesn't seem like it should be that weird!
It makes me hopeful because sometimes, in terms of climate change, there are moments when it feels like we are just screwed. The thing that gets me is that it's Holden’s generation that’s going to be suffering because of it. It really is meaningful for me to be part of a community of people to whom that matters and they're choosing to live their lives differently. It makes me hopeful. I just wanted to say that's a big part of the value for us. It really was a hook. I'm really grateful that we have the chance to be a part of the community.
Construction Interface Team Report, December 4, 2019
LOTS has happened in November!
Week 28 Meeting Summary by Doug Robnett
This week’s CIT meeting centered mostly on financing. This is pretty exciting stuff, so hold on. We have two lenders we have been working with: Numerica and National Coop. We are moving forward with Numerica for the construction loan! We also got back comments from the city on our permits that UDP and Chuck are working through and once they have had a chance to dissect them, we will report out on where we stand.
The solar panels have been removed from the stands and they are working to get them installed on the Shop this week.
Much of the meeting was spent brainstorming how to get to the 75% membership at 20% down threshold. A strategy Katie has used successfully in the past is backup buyers. In this strategy members (and perhaps others) can commit to put 20% down on specific unit types. This commitment would deliver a premium rate of return which makes it quite attractive.
UD&P is running a cost/benefit analysis of mini splits including life cycle analysis and payoff schedules. This will help us make the decision of which type of heating we want to go with.
Finally, we (and by “we” I mean Abby) are working with Yost-Gallagher and Fred’s Appliance to establish the manageable parameters for individual choice on appliances. Stay tuned for that one.
We’re not talking about politics here, we’re talking about Dan Buettner’s National Geographic cover story a while back entitled, “The Secrets of a Long Life.” Buettner identified five regions in the world as evidence for his argument that certain common factors contribute to some populations living healthier and longer lives than others. The places he identified as Blue Zones (versus Red Zones that are less healthy) span from Okinawa, Japan to the Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California. If he were to do smaller scale studies, he would surely find cohousing communities to be blazing blue spots on the global map.
Why? Here is the list of the nine lifestyle commonalities in these zones:
A cohousing community is designed for many of these lifestyle factors, and it wouldn’t take much effort to hit all nine aspects of Blue Zones easily. The most obvious Blue lifestyle feature associated with cohousing is social engagement—the common house hub where dinners are served, celebrations and performances happen, young and old pool sharks compete, laundry is folded over chit-chat, nightly gatherings around the fireplace in winter, and porch eating in summer. Don’t discount the socializing that happens outside of the Common House—these too are designed into our cohousing site plan—nodes for hanging out throughout the commons with benches, hot tubbing, gardening, shop work, music jams, impromptu outings and team gatherings.
Family engagement: not only do many cohousers move in with their family but also living in community can form a sort of secondary family over time. Young parents will have a bonus tier of eager “grandparents” to watch over their children; someone returning from a hospital procedure will have folks tending to their post-op welfare.
Constant and moderate physical activity are also intentionally achieved by design. Unlike most American homes, you won’t be able to drive a car into your garage and simply vanish through a garage door because all the parking is on the perimeter. Cohousing anti-isolation design has your neighbors smiling at you whether you’re walking, dancing, riding a wheelchair or scooter as you pass by their porches to get to your condo. The garden, shop and meditation huts are at a bit of elevation from the main commons and Common House, so some trips up there are built-in potentials for increased heart rate (and rewarding views of Mt. Spokane and the city).
Stress reduction? Dinner creation and cleanup are taken care of most nights by someone else. If your child is sick and you can’t miss work, there’s a kids’ room in the Common House and retirees that have time to help. We will be sharing items from trucks to ginger powder—there will be someone right around the corner that has what you need to finish your project.
More legumes and vegetables? We’ve got omnivores among us as well as vegetarians, and we’ll be cooking for both. You’ll always have the opportunity to increase your vegetable intake.
Purpose and spirituality? All the way back at the original planning session, we slated a spot above the garden for a sanctuary, otherwise known as the meditation hut. With a quiet place to reflect, purpose can be more easily fathomed, yes? Additionally, living harmoniously in community is its own built-in purpose.
A Venn diagram of longevity clues from Okinawa, Sardinia, and Loma Linda.
This Venn diagram of longevity has a few other aspects that should make
you smile like “empowered women”—we have plenty of em (see this month’s other article on three women from our cohousing group nominated
for Spokane Women of the Year). Sunshine? We’ll have lovely places all around to spend more time outdoors. So, step into a micro Blue Zone with
us at Haystack Heights and you’ll be giving your mind/body and fellow cohousers some big doses of wholesome lifestyle goodness.
Out of the 150 nominations for the Spokesman-Review’s annual recognition of outstanding female leadership in business, politics, arts, philanthropy and social services, our Haystack Heights community garnered more than our fair share in 2019: Susan Virnig, Nikki Lockwood, and Mariah McKay. It’s no surprise that all three are also founders of our cohousing project—we tend to attract people that want to improve our Spokane community overall, not just Haystack Heights.
One of our nominees, Susan Virnig, was highlighted as one of five in the “Legacy Recognition” for a lifetime of work that has had an impact on our region. Her long history of doing good in the region is chronicled in the Spokesman, but even they had to cut short the lengthy list of accomplishments and summarize years of hard work in a small paragraph tucked into the full-page spread:
“While still leading the facilitators group, Virnig kept busy and worked to develop organization vision, resolve staff conflicts and create strategic plans for the YWCA, KPBX, Garfield Elementary School, Shaw Middle School and the Unitarian Universalist Church, as well as the state Commission for the Humanities and the governor’s Task Force on Hunger.”
Haystack Heights nominee Nikki Lockwood is a Spokane Public Schools’ Board of Directors candidate. Her passion for restorative justice and accommodating all students’ needs is central to who she is and her vision of District 1’s future. As the Spokesman says, “She has been a leader behind the scenes in the schools, tirelessly working to better educate and include our children and provide them the skills they need to thrive in the world. She has taken not only an educational but political lead and has a long history of advocacy for education, human rights and fairness.” We are very excited about Nikki’s candidacy—she has a large and supportive community standing with her in Haystack Heights.
Nominee Mariah McKay is Executive Director of Spokane Independent Metro Business Alliance. SIMBA is the independent business alliance of the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene metro region, promoting a prosperous, equitable, and local economy by organizing and educating regional businesses, consumers, and partners. Until her recent full-time dedication to SIMBA, Mariah has worked tirelessly as a lead in Haystack Heights marketing efforts. Quoting the Spokesman Review, “Mariah has been dedicating her enthusiasm, energy and creativity to the Spokane Community for several years. She is the executive director at Spokane Independent Metro Business Alliance, a board member at Spokane’s University District, and also a former Public Health Educator at Spokane Regional Health District.” The Spokesman can only claim that Mariah has dedicated her energy over “several years” because she is one of the youngest nominees. Those of us who know Mariah are witness to the fact that she seems able to pack into a day or two what would take many of us a month to accomplish. We look forward to the unfolding her vision and capabilities in the years to come.
We are more than lucky and proud to have these three women amongst us in community. Their efforts offer a heartening view of the kind of remarkable work to improve society that concerned citizens can initiate. Who knows how the synergy of so many caring activists amongst us can help shape Spokane’s future?
September 10, 2019 CIT (Construction Interface Team) Meeting Update
We had a productive Construction Interface Team meeting today. The process seems to be in acceleration mode – lots happening!
Attending: Joren and Leslie from UD&P (developer), Katie (consultant), and, Jim, Abby, Molly, Mark, Doug (member representatives).
Property Tax Exemption Explained
By Doug Robnett
I wanted to take the opportunity to try and make as simple as possible the City of Spokane’s Multiple Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) as it applies to Haystack Heights. What follows is my best understanding of how the exemption applies to our project. Please keep in mind that these things can get tricky and I am not a tax lawyer or a city planner – that is my disclaimer.
The area we are building our homes in is designated a Multiple Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) zone. What this means is that new construction of dwellings with four or more units are exempt from city taxes for eight years. As such, this exemption will apply only to newly constructed homes and not the existing spaces in the Haystack Building. The exemption is based on the assessed value of the “housing portion of the property.” The city has told us that the home value includes the shared value of the common house. This means the exemption will be on the assessed value of the home. It will not apply to the land value.
The calculation is pretty simple: for every $120,000 of assessed value there is a $1,600 tax savings. This exemption has a life span of 8 years. So, if your home is assessed at $360,000 (round number for ease of calculation) then you tax savings will be $4,800 per year. Over an eight-year period, your savings on property tax would be $38,400.
If you would like more information please check out the city’s web site page on the MFTE.
Sarah Conover, blog and newsletter editor: as we have a number of families in Haystack Heights, some with teens and some with families whose children are headed to adolescence, I thought I'd feature an article by my friend, Evelyn Messinger, who I can always count on to see any situation in unexpected ways.
My twins Sam and Kate are teenagers now. I’m grateful that neither of them are manic or theatrical children. They are not likely to show up one day as members of a religious cult, or with tattoos on their faces. Nonetheless, at 15 years old, they tend more and more towards the classic sullen teen archetype. Dinner table conversations evaporate. Information is withheld.
It all happened very suddenly, after an early adolescent golden age during which they actually thought their parents were cool. Now they have pushed their little dinghies off from the parental cruise ship, rowing against the fearsome swells to escape. Whether we like it or not, we won’t prevent them from sliding over the waves, hell-bent on mastering adulthood.
They demand that we no longer treat them like children, even though they act like big babies. We hear less and less about their exploits, even as they venture further and further from home. Of course, they don’t drive themselves to these adventures—oh no. It is still I, mom, who spends uncountable hours driving clusters of girls or boys hither and yon. The girls mutter incomprehensibly to each other between fits of irritatingly raucous laughter. The boys play video games that we can’t comprehend, but suspect might be bad for them.
They don’t cook much, or clean up without prodding. They do come to the dinner table when called, to consume massive quantities of food that have been lovingly prepared for them. So my drudgery goes on: all that food is purchased and lugged home, cooked and consumed, the leftovers discarded and the dishes washed–mostly by us.
But here’s the surprise: this situation has led me to see the great secret of the battle between teens and parents that characterizes the modern age. Truth is, the kids are getting a bad rap. It’s the parents who rebel against their teenagers.
As the most onerous aspects of parental indenture fall away (think diapers, glitter, and broken keepsakes), parents begin to remember what life was like before the great child-raising task began. We find ourselves considering our own needs, long deferred. We hit a breaking point; we demand that our teens be more responsible for the family enterprise. “You are old enough to take some responsibility!” means: I am done being your slave!
That is when we become entrenched in a kind of domestic sectarian warfare, where retaliation can escalate to punishment. “That music is awful,” I scream. “How many times have I told you to use headphones? I need to listen to the news on NPR and it wouldn’t hurt you to start paying some attention to the real world. I said, HEADPHONES! Be careful, I am about to take that phone away…wait, wait–since when are you a fan of Lamar Kendrick—I mean, Kendrick Lamar?”
Imagine how this looks to the kids, their whole lives until now bathed in the tender love and attention of childhood. My sudden demands must feel like a form of rejection, even abandonment. And their reactions look like rebellion, but may be closer to confusion. Because after all, I’m the one who wants more now–more time to myself, more interesting food, more engaging entertainment. They just want what they have always had: unconditional praise and affection.
This is embarrassing for a parent like me to admit. How often have I imagined myself the better parent–better than my husband, my own parents, the parents of my kid’s friends, the parents of the future shoplifters, hackers and dropouts who lurk just beyond the horizon of my protection? But how can I be a good parent when the only positive outcome of parenting is that my children leave me? Does the “good” parent buckle them into their lifejackets and set the engines of the mothership in reverse? Or am I “good” when I hold the prow of their rowboats in a frantic grip and insist that they’re not going anywhere.
I’m only now groping towards understanding this problem. It has something to do with mutual respect, and with a parent’s role in maintaining civility. If I ask them to grow up as well as to continue to love me, I should be prepared to be grown up too, or more precisely, to stay grown up. At least until they graduate from high school. I have a feeling it doesn’t actually end at that, but I’ll let you know when we get there.
Eveylyn Messinger is the television producer of www.thisplanet.tv
Interview with Haystack Heights member Carol Bryan
by member Sarah Conover
Sarah: What does community mean to you these days?
Carol: Well, right now it means my neighborhood. It's taken me 17 years to feel like this is my community and it's changed because of the meditation group that I began and hold at my house every morning.
Sarah: Can you tell us about that? You started it how long ago?
Carol: About a year and ¾ ago. We meet at, theoretically, seven in the morning. We go about 40 minutes. Our plan is we have 10 minutes of a guided meditation and then 10 minutes of silence. Then we spend time afterwards going around the circle and we pass a stone. We take turns and we share what responses we had to the meditation that morning.
Sarah: What initiated this, why did you see the need for this? Was it a vision that a meditation group would bring your community together?
Carol: Oh No! My motivation was that a meditation group would help me meditate! I needed support. I needed the group support. And that's why I did it. I had thought of this for maybe six months because I was going to the Monday night meditation group at the Unitarian Church and they kept saying, “practice every day” and I just wasn't doing it. I thought about it, and was going to do it, but I didn't do it. Then I went up to Sravasti Abbey for the New Year's retreat. I came home on January 1st and went upstairs and typed out this little half sheet of paper on my computer. The weather was good, so I went outside and passed them around to my neighbors that very day and said, “It starts tomorrow.” There wasn't any room to change my mind.
When I went around to my neighbors, I was astounded at how polite people were, how friendly. Many of them said, well, I can't come because I work, but I love this idea. The next day 11 people showed up and I was just flabbergasted.
Sarah: Did you know all of them?
Carol: No. No. I didn't know them at all. I’d gone to some “meet your neighbors” and I knew them to some degree, but not very much. Not the degree I do now. Some of them couldn’t keep coming to meditation because of jobs transfers—they moved away, this and that, you know. Some said, “I already have a meditation practice, so I'm not interested.” It astounded me, frankly, how many had a practice and were already committed and had their routine.
The rest of us were all floundering and just learning. It was just the start of me belonging here. I had tried various things for 17 years—I have gone to neighborhood meetings up the Yin Yang and I've been working on neighborhood projects and I still do all that. I've had a lot of adversarial situations around my shared driveway and I have 17 rentals in a circle around my house, closer than most people have to their closest neighbors. I've had every, almost (I haven't had any murders), just about every situation to deal with, more than I could have imagined.
Sarah: Do your renters come to your group?
Carol: They're always invited, and some come. Some don't.
Sarah: I'm going to ask you again, what does community mean to you now? I hear you say that it means a sense of belonging, but what else?
Carol: It means mutuality. I help you. You help me. And even if we don't call each other for help, we have a sense that there is someone we can call. I notice this at cohousing as well. I think people enjoy contributing when they know how to contribute. I get a lot of positive feedback for the meditation group. I'm not living in isolation. Even if some come just for Friday mornings because we do treats. We usually have a few more people on Fridays, and most people admit, eventually, that they come on Fridays for connecting with neighbors, not for the meditation.
I really never know who's going to show up. It’s taught me some trust and patience and self-acceptance. I've just gotten a lot of positive feedback and appreciation and…love. Really. I mean we have such an assorted group. I would say my best friend in the group is an ex-heroin addict who lives on disability. I was afraid of her. She was afraid of me. Now I think she might be the kindest, most sensitive person I’ve ever encountered. When I was passing out papers that January day, I just thought, well, I guess I'll give her one. And I did. I thought she’d never come. But she came and I played this “Welcome to the New Year” meditation, all our welcome here, regardless of religion, regardless or sexual orientation. She kept coming back and she invited other neighbors. And this Mormon woman, who I just love dearly, blew my stereotype of Mormonism.
Sarah: Has anyone had to go through some really, hard personal stuff during the time you’ve been together and talked?
Carol: Not yet. Not yet.
Sarah: Can you see how what you’ve learned might carry over to cohousing?
Carol: Oh, absolutely. There are people that are interested in getting together in many different ways, and I'm assuming there will be people who have their own meditation practices at cohousing but others who might like to explore it with me. I will certainly be offering it in cohousing and hopefully some of my neighbors here might come over there, and some of the neighbors around our project may also come. It won't just be co-housing, it'll be a little broader community event daily.
Sarah: Well, you have a daughter, a son-in-law and a son involved in Haystack Heights cohousing. Why did you make the jump into co-housing as well?
Carol: I read in the newspaper that I'm going to be living at Haystack Heights.
Sarah: Is that really how you ended up with us? Otherwise, your previous plan had been to age in place here? Oh, please tell us the story!
Carol: I was never going to leave my home. I mean, I was considering co-housing because my daughter was involved, but I really hadn't decided until I read it in the Spokesman Review and people kept coming up to me at church: “So when are you moving in with your daughter?”
Sarah: I’m assuming it was an article in the Spokesman that featured your daughter, Mariah!
Carol: Yes. So, then I decided I would try it and get to know more people. I think a turning point for me was going to Portland to the National Co-housing Conference with our group. I noticed every time I saw somebody from Spokane cohousing, I just felt elated and it was like seeing a long-lost family member. It was so fun, and I thought, wow, I am more interested in this and committed than I thought! And when I saw all the different ways that people do co-housing and all the possibilities and all the joys and all the perils and pitfalls, it just seemed like a grand new adventure. And that's when I really got hooked, thinking of it as an adventure in life, and fully living while I'm alive.