I bought a house with another single mom to share costs and maintenance. Now we have a kid paradise, with built-in babysitting, car-sharing, and a craft studio.

·4 min read
On closing day (from left, Herrin Hopper, Holly Harper, Madeline Harper)
Holly Harper and her friend Herrin Hopper (left) purchased a house to cohabitate with their children.Holly Harper
  • I'm a single mom of one. I bought a four-unit apartment building with another single mom.

  • The Siren House was intended to help us build equity and share the burdens of homeownership.

  • The benefits of cohousing have changed my life forever.

I separated from my partner of 17 years in early 2018. As the dust settled, we committed to amicable coparenting and sold our family home. After a year of living in a swanky apartment that felt more like a hotel than a home, I called my Realtor.

I knew it was going to be impossible to find a duplex or condo in Washington, DC, on my self-employed, single-mom budget. I knew the demands of homeownership, having bought three houses during my marriage. But I wanted to own again as an investment for my future.

To be able to do this, I found another single mom with the same needs as mine — space, comfort, a home — to live with. It's been a life changer for not only us but also our children.

I have always loved shared-housing narratives

For as long as I can remember, I wanted the nostalgic, idyllic lives I'd followed on TV. I loved "The Facts of Life," "The Golden Girls," "Grace and Frankie," and "Gilmore Girls."

I wanted to live in a familial community. Furthermore, I knew it was possible.

When my marriage fell to pieces, I vowed to be open to unique opportunities.

Serendipitously, one of my closest friends shared my "commune dream," and she had separated from her husband around the same time I had.

We called our Realtor. "You're mad," he said. "I love it."

Video: Why a homeowner designed his house for 24 rescue cats

Choosing a housing partner requires stability, commitment, and transparency

In order for our housing journey to work, we approached it like choosing a platonic spouse.

We ensured our values aligned in many categories, including political outlook, parenting style, finance, and lifestyle.

We also had to agree on what type of house we needed. We wanted a multifamily property that would allow two units of similar size, with neither of us sleeping in a basement. We also wanted to be within walking distance of public transit and in a safe neighborhood for our kids to play.

We set our maximum budget together and then began the search. Our perfect-fit house was discovered on the first day of our search.

We visited the property and prepared the offer in early April 2020. We closed in mid-June. We renovated each of our units to our personal needs. We offered a rent-to-own option to another single mom in the forth unit. And by August 2020, three moms, the five kids between us, three dogs, two hamsters, and a gecko were all settled in.

Legally, we are coinvestors and have an operating agreement for the asset purchase. We then created a sub-agreement by which we are considered "tenants in common." Essentially, we live in a condo building with an informal, but legal, agreement between us.

Benefits outweigh drawbacks by a factor of infinity

The benefits of our housing arrangement are immeasurable.

From car-sharing and carpooling; potlucks and small favors; built-in babysitting and dog-walking; sharing expenses; having friends to ugly cry with and unlimited, on-demand hugs; and feeling safe, loved, and grounded in the family — I've never been happier.

The challenges are similar to any family living arrangement.

We need more room as the kids are getting physically larger every second. It can be noisy and messy, and things get broken at higher rates than in my previous living situations. I often find myself with extra kids to entertain and feed when all I want is some alone time.

When I make a mistake, am triggered, act like a monster, or hurt someone, I have nowhere to escape to. I have to own my behavior every single day.

Our kids come first

When we considered the practical elements of cohousing, the plan fit neatly on paper. But as moms, our children — ages 9, 9, 10, 11, and 13 — always come first.

This living arrangement is a kid paradise, complete with a giant trampoline, a parkour line, a garden, a gym, a big-screen TV, and a craft studio.

Our kids — who can use the buddy system for a walk to get gelato, and who have playmates during the quarantine and homeschool months — are thriving.

Not only that, they're experiencing diverse perspectives on how people they love navigate real life.

My daughter is learning from all of us about divorce, dating, family, having "siblings," bullying, puberty, gender identity, sexual orientation, entrepreneurship, creativity, death, rule-breaking, safety, and finding joy.

The goal of life is not to reach some plane of happiness, but to create an environment where we are safe to pursue happiness in every moment.

Holly Harper is the founder of Anagram Consulting, Blue Bike Communications, and Siren Foundry. She and the founders of Siren House are also the cofounders of Main Street Pearl.

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