Shared House Setup

May 9th, 2020
In my post on helping Lily make dinner I talked about how there were eight people in the house, and someone wrote to me to ask how this works and how we ended up with that arrangement.

We've been living in group households for most of the last ten years: with another couple and their baby in East Somerville; with a rotating group of parents, sisters, in-laws, niblings, cousins, and friends in West Medford; and our current setup in West Somerville. In the early 2010s, Julia and I were thinking about different ways of having a more long-term arrangement, and we decided on buying a large house and renting to friends. Ideally something with multiple units, so we'd have more flexibility if at some point we wanted a different arrangement.

In August 2014 my college friend David saw two posts of ours and was thinking some about communal housing. We wrote back and forth some, and I encouraged them to consider moving to Boston and living with us. At the time it didn't seem like it made sense for them, though.

Julia and I had been looking at multi-family houses in Somerville and Cambridge, and in September 2014 we made an offer on a West Somerville two-family (though the closing ended up being delayed until mid-February). We talked more to David and their partner Al, and they decided to come be housemates with us.

Initially the house had a downstairs unit with two bedrooms and one bathroom, and an upstairs unit with "four" bedrooms and one bathroom. That's "four" because you had to walk through one bedroom to get to another, which would normally be a large downside but ended up being a good fit for David and Al's needs. Julia and I took the other two bedrooms, and the previous tenants stayed on in the downstairs unit.

We made some changes to the house to make it work better with more people: I added a second bathroom to the upstairs unit, I converted part of the front hall to be an home office for Julia, we had dormers built giving two more bedrooms on the upstairs unit, and then I added a hallway to allow the "pass-through" bedroom to be used independently.

After a while friends moved into the first floor two-bedroom, and then when they moved out David and Al moved downstairs and Ruthie moved in upstairs. We also have had a series of au pairs who've lived upstairs with us as well, taking care of the kids.

We do communal food, with a house grocery card and splitting the expenses N ways, and the adults each cook house dinner one night a week. Normally I do most of the groceries, though on a best-effort do-it-when-convenient sort of basis, but since we're not going inside places right now it's a bit different. I've been putting in orders for anything that's available at a reasonable price and quantity from a restaurant supplier (and coordinating with others to distribute bulk goods at the same time), and Julia has been handling Instacart orders for the rest.

Chores are mostly not explicitly arranged, with people generally just trying to do their share. We used to have a more specific arrangement, but as we've gotten used to living together it's seemed less necessary. At some point if things weren't going as well we might try switching back to a more explicit system. Tidying is mostly me and Julia, since the untidying is mostly our kids.

Since Julia and I own the building we're in the landlord role, paying for the house, dealing with landlordish problems when they come up, and charging rent to the others. The goal is for rent to vary with the local market, and I expect the next time we revisit rent it will be going down a lot based on changing local conditions. Especially if colleges are still remote in the fall.

Our housemates (and our au pair when she's off) don't have any childcare responsibilities, though the kids will make requests and people can decide whether to oblige. When Lily was little there was a lot of "can I watch a video on your phone?", while now there's more "can I come down and play the Goose Game?"

Overall I like this a lot. It's a good balance of having enough people around to be interesting, but not so many that there's a lot of conflicting preferences.

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