The scene might resemble an extended family’s Thanksgiving dinner — roaring fire in the hearth, soft music, delicious food smells, people of several generations eating and talking — except that the main dishes on the buffet table are baked salmon and a colorful salad, and most of the people are not related to one another.
It’s an ordinary Thursday at the Monterey Cohousing Community in St. Louis Park, one of two nights a week that the community’s residents gather for dinner.
Cohousing communities such as Monterey, sometimes called intentional communities, are groups of people who occupy a single housing development. Residents typically have their own fully equipped apartments or condominiums but gather in common indoor and outdoor areas for meals, meetings, shared projects or ordinary conversation.
People who want time alone can find privacy in their own units. Those who want company can usually find it — often spontaneously. Residents work together to maintain the building and grounds, take turns cooking meals and perform other needed tasks.
“The everyday functioning of this place brings people together,” said Monika Stumpf.
At 76, Stumpf is Monterey’s oldest resident. She became involved in its founding in 1991 for “very simple” reasons, she said. Having grown up in a multigenerational household, she missed casual interaction with others.
“I didn’t like living in apartments, or even when I lived in a house where I didn’t know the neighbors and the neighbors didn’t necessarily want to be involved or even say hello,” she said. “That drove me crazy.”
Joelyn Malone, 66, a Monterey resident for 21 years, had a similar experience, having grown up on a Nebraska farm among aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. “When I moved to the city, I was so lonely,” she said.
Minnesotans’ notorious social reserve made things worse. “Everybody was still best friends with the people they went to first grade with.”
There are hundreds of cohousing communities around the country (and many more around the world). A few, like Monterey, date back to the 1980s and ’90s, but most have popped up since 2000. Minnesota has only two so far (the other a small community in Rushford). At least a couple of others are in the works, with groups formed to make plans and search for sites.
Monterey is relatively small as cohousing communities go, with 29 people in 15 households, including younger and older adults and a handful of children. The development includes a brick mansion built in 1924 that houses common areas and some individual homes, and a cluster of newer condominiums next door.
Joey Baity and Heather Garrett-Baity are among several residents in their mid-30s. They moved in about a year ago with their now-6-year-old daughter, Keightyn. They didn’t set out to find cohousing — they needed a place to live, and came across Monterey — but they felt at home right away. On the day they moved in, residents rushed to welcome them, help carry boxes or offer gifts of food.
“We love it; it’s great,” Garrett-Baity said. “We want to stay and die here.”