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.

Holly Harper and her friend Herrin Hopper (left) purchased a house to cohabitate with their children.

  • I am a single mother of one. I own a four-unit apartment building with another single mother.
  • Siren House was designed to help us build equity and share the burdens of homeownership.
  • Cohousing has changed my life forever.

In early 2018, I separated from my 17-year-old partner. After the dust settled, we decided to coparent amicably and sold the family home. Having lived in a swanky apartment that felt more like a hotel than a home for a year, I called my Realtor. 

As a self-employed single mom, I knew it would be impossible to find a duplex or condo in Washington, DC, on my budget. Having bought three houses in my marriage, I was familiar with the demands of homeownership. I wanted to buy again as an investment for my future. 

To be able to do this, I needed to live with another single mom who had the same needs as me – space, comfort, a home. Not only for us, but also for our children, it has changed their lives. 

I have always been fascinated by stories about shared housing

As long as I can remember, I wanted the idyllic, nostalgic lives I had seen on TV. I loved “The Facts of Life,” “The Golden Girls,” “Grace and Frankie,” and “The Gilmore Girls.”

I wanted to live in a family-oriented community. Additionally, I knew it was possible.

I vowed to be open to new opportunities after my marriage fell apart. 

One of my closest friends shared my “commune dream” and had separated from her husband around the same time I had. 

Our Realtor answered the phone. He said, “You’re mad.”. “Oh, I love it!”

Stability, commitment, and transparency are required when choosing a housing partner

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

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

In addition, we had to agree on the type of house we wanted. In our search for a multifamily property, we sought two units of similar size with no basements. Additionally, we wanted to be close to public transportation and in a safe neighborhood for our children. 

Then we set a maximum budget together and began the search. On the first day of our search, we found the perfect home. 

In early April 2020, we visited the property and prepared the offer. The deal closed in mid-June. Each of our units was renovated to suit our own 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 purchase of assets. In essence, we live in a condo building with a legal, but informal, sub-agreement between us.

By a factor of infinity, benefits outweigh drawbacks

Our housing arrangement has brought us immeasurable benefits.  

Car-sharing and carpooling; potlucks and small favors; built-in babysitting and dog-walking; sharing expenses; friends to ugly cry with and unlimited, on-demand hugs; and feeling safe, loved, and grounded – I have never felt happier. 

As with any family living arrangement, there are challenges.

As the kids grow physically larger every second, we need more room. Noisy and messy, and things break more frequently than in my previous living situations. Whenever I wish for some alone time, I am faced with extra kids to entertain and feed.

I have nowhere to go when I make a mistake, am triggered, act like a monster, or hurt someone. Every day, I am responsible for my behavior.

We put our kids first

The plan fit neatly on paper when we considered the practical elements of cohousing. As moms, our children – ages 9, 9, 10, 11, and 13 – always come first.  

A giant trampoline, a parkour line, a garden, a gym, a big-screen TV, and a craft studio make this living arrangement a kid’s paradise.

Kids who use the buddy system for a walk to get gelato and who have playmates during the quarantine and homeschool months are thriving. 

In addition, they are experiencing diverse perspectives on how people they love navigate real life. 

I want my daughter to learn from us all about divorce, dating, family, being “siblings,” being bullied, puberty, gender identity, s.e.x.u.a.l orientation, entrepreneurship, creativity, d.e.a.t.h, breaking rules, safety, and finding joy. 

The purpose of life is not to achieve some state of happiness, but to create a safe environment where we can pursue happiness at every moment.

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

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