Editor’s Note: The Floyd Memorial Library will be closed March 13 due to snow. We will update this story further when the Sustainable Housing Network meeting is rescheduled.
Most advocates for sustainable housing here focus on getting the government involved in finding a place for working people and seniors to live, but one new group, Sustainable Housing Network of the North Fork, is taking a radically different approach.
Virginia Gerardi, who lives on Shelter Island, has spent the past five years visiting and looking into the idea of “co-housing,” a movement across the country in which a group of people buy a piece of property together, sharing tools and expenses for the common areas, while retaining their own private space. She thinks the concept might alter North Forkers’ views about abundance and scarcity, as well as about their own ability to create change in their lives.
“People buy a parcel of land, have shared values, and develop the community they want to live in,” she said in an interview this week. “It’s done all over the country. It’s about recreating a village atmosphere.”
The Sustainable Housing Network of the North Fork’s next meeting is at Greenport’s Floyd Memorial Library this coming Tuesday, March 13 at 6:30 p.m.
This month’s meeting will include a discussion of Australian expert on creating lasting change Jason Clarke’s TEDx talk on “Embracing Change.”
‘The biggest obstacle to co-housing is in peoples’ minds,” said Ms. Gerardi. “People say, ‘well, what if someone dies? What if someone wants to sell?’ You are going to lose some autonomy, but what are you going to gain? People go into business partnerships all the time, and in this case, they get to pick their own rules. You could go away to visit your family for three months and rent out your space. Your heirs can own it and get passive income from it.”
Ms. Gerardi, a real estate agent with Nest Seekers on the South Fork, is very comfortable with the market-based approach to addressing housing issues.
She said she initially set up the group on the North Fork because it has access to the Hampton Jitney, the Long Island Rail Road and the Suffolk County bus network, unlike Shelter Island, which has no public transportation.
In communities across the country where co-housing has worked, Ms. Gerardi says the price of land is far lower than it is here. But the concept of living close to villages and buying houses cooperatively is one that she believes could work in Southold Town, which recently changed its accessory apartment rules to encourage more people to think about building apartments in their homes.
“A family with multiple members may need two to three bedrooms, but I only need one bedroom,” she said. “We can buy that five bedroom house that nobody wants and needs a lot of work. I’m bringing my credit rating and consistent income to it, while someone else might bring cash but have never owned a home before.
Ms. Gerardi said the biggest obstacle to these arrangements will likely be Suffolk County Health Department sewage disposal rules, and she hopes members of the network will eventually be able to help one another navigate the health department rules.
“A lot of houses on the North Fork have outbuildings, which could be dwellings, along with apartments over garages. But the health department can really slow things down,” she said. “It just takes time. That’s what deters people.”
To that end, Ms. Gerardi is considering at some point incorporating the network as a non-profit whose mission would be to offer people assistance in overcoming regulatory hurdles.
For now, Ms. Gerardi has started an online Meetup group, where people can share what they’re looking for in a housing partner in the hope of finding a match, and she’s hoping the group will take field trips to co-housing spaces in other parts of the country.
“People can develop co-housing based on their own needs. An artist colony in Arizona has common work spaces. In Massachusetts, there’s one that’s senior/retiree-oriented,” she said. “In Cambridge, Mass., one bought a derelict city block and developed co-housing with apartments and a common green. What it takes it the ability of people to come together for the common good.”
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