Nestled along Federal Boulevard in Northwest Denver stands a 72-year-old building that around 40 people call their home: Aria Cohousing Community.
People of all ages live at Aria. The youngest current resident is 12-year-old Cooper and the oldest is Ann, who is in her 80s. Residents say their favorite part of living in a cohousing community is how they look out for one another. Vicki Rottman, who has lived in the building for six years, said when she recently took a fall, breaking her finger and hitting her head, her neighbors came to her aid.
“While I was [in the emergency room], one of my neighbors took my dog for a walk and took care of him while I was gone,” Rottman said. “One of them stayed overnight on my sofa to make sure that I was still okay all night, and one of them went shopping for me today and got some things at Walgreens. And to me, that’s what cohousing is all about.”
At Aria, residents participate in collaborative activities where they share work. From landscaping, painting fences and gardening, to cooking and cleaning.
“In our circumstances, when you’re needing some neighborly assistance, it’s beyond the bounds of what you’d get in a normal neighborhood,” said Zia Klamm, who has been an Aria resident since 2018.
“If you think about the way we typically orient ourselves within the nuclear family model, single-family detached housing is what a lot of people aspire to, or see as the ‘ultimate goal’ in America,” said Jeff Lawhead, who’s been living at Aria for six years. “So I think cohousing is one example of a community-minded design solution. [Striking] the perfect balance of private space within our individual apartments combined with our community spaces is a helpful solution to loneliness.”
The building used to be a convent for the Sisters of Saint Francis but was remodeled and turned into a cohousing community in 2017 by Urban Ventures LLC, a Denver-based real estate development company. They worked with the sisters to design an intentional living community complete with 28 individual housing units under one roof that can house up to 50 people. The shared spaces include a large commercial kitchen, shared dining area, laundry room, communal outdoor spaces, living room, library, sunroom, and a spare guest room. Residents also keep sustainability at the forefront of their minds by carpooling, composting and recycling, and growing their own food.
The residents come together to share a weekly meal in the communal dining room, enhancing the sense of belonging and community from living among one another. That feeling was especially meaningful for those like Rottman who lived there during the worst part of the pandemic.
“Knowing I had neighbors I could count on during COVID gave me peace of mind,” Rottman said. “I mean, if I were living in an individual house by myself during that time, I don’t know what I would have done. But I had my neighbors and knew they were available if I needed help.”
Aria does not currently offer any rental options, only a path to homeownership. Although there are eight affordable housing units, those sell quickly, which makes it difficult for many who would be interested in the opportunity to live in a cohousing community but can’t afford to buy a market-rate unit. The median sale price for a unit at Aria is $300-400K, and the units are all either one or two-bedroom apartments.
“Part of the problem with making cohousing units affordable is the cost of construction. If there’s any knock on cohousing across the board, that’s always been the big problem, that the majority of them tend to be market rate,” Lawhead said. “As far as I know, there’s not a lot of rental cohousing. So that makes some barriers to entry for folks.”
Despite the cost, it pays off through community. Aria residents like Lawhead enjoy the benefits that come with communal housing like support, friendship, and sustainability.
“What I appreciate most about living here is the informal relationships that you make, because at the end of the day, you can’t institutionalize relationships,” Lawhead said. “You have to make them person-to-person. Everyone here treats one another really well, all in all, like a neighbor, which is something we’ve lost these days. Neighborly relationships.”