Work will begin this month on Montana’s first housing cooperative. It’s a milestone that’s been a long time in coming for Paul Travitz, executive director of the Ravalli County Council on Aging.
For the past 12 years, Travitz and others focused on helping people age independently have been dreaming of the day the 8.5 acres adjacent to the council’s headquarters would be transformed into a vibrant community for people over the age of 55.
When complete, the Riverside Crossing Active Adult Cooperative will include 51 cottages carefully arranged in “pocket neighborhoods” that include shared green spaces, circular walkways and a common house where residents can entertain family and friends.
“This is not going to look anything like housing for old people,” Travitz said. “It will be a place where people can build community and live a more carefree life.” People interested in calling the new development home will embrace an alternative method of acquiring a residence.
While there are close to 1.5 million cooperative housing units in the nation, the idea of becoming a shareholder in a corporation that owns the property that you call home hasn’t caught on yet in Montana.
“It’s an unfamiliar way of doing things here,” Travitz said. “It’s funny because Montana was build by cooperatives—from electric and telephone to co-op farmers. When it came to housing, the idea never got pushed along.”
People interested in living in the new housing cooperative will initially purchase a $50,000 stock certificate that will be applied toward the cost of the cottage they select. With that, they become partners with a vote in how the development is managed and who will get to live there.
The people who live in a cooperative housing development don’t actually own their homes. They own a share in the development, which they can later sell. The value of the cottages can only increase 1 percent a year.
“What that does is limit the equity growth, which keeps it affordable for the next people who come,” Travitz said. “It helps you to sell it faster when you decide to get out. If you are looking to make money off of real estate, this model isn’t for you.”
After they move in, residents pay a monthly fee that covers the cost of property taxes, maintenance of the grounds and the cottage, a stipend for utilities, the cost of lawn care and snow removal and other amenities.
“People won’t have to worry about their neighbor’s cottage getting run down,” Travitz said. “The integrity of the neighborhood stays the same because the cooperative owns the cottage. If it needs painting, the cooperative paints it.”
The older people get, the more difficult it becomes for them to take care of their property.
“It’s harder to get up on the roof and clean out the gutters,” he said. “It’s harder to get that painting done. That’s where this is going to help.
“Everything inside your cottage, everything outside your cottage is taken care of by the cooperative,” he said. “If a dishwasher breaks, the cooperative comes in and fixes it. If it can’t be fixed, the cooperative buys you a new dishwasher. All that is built into the monthly service fee.”
The fees are based on actual costs. If the money isn’t used, it’s allocated back to the cooperative’s members.
Being a member of a housing cooperative also provides some peace of mind for people who like to travel.
“You can set up cottage checks where the manager comes in and makes sure that everything is OK,” Travitz said. “You can leave for three months and know that everything is going to be fine.”
The cooperative housing model has been popular back east and in the Midwest.
“Colorado is building these things left and right, but they are three-story type of buildings,” he said. “That just didn’t work for this location.”
Travitz knows the co-op model will take some explaining.
“Once they see what the price includes and quality of craftsmanship of these cottages, I think people will warm to it,” he said. “We’re looking for people who are ready to downsize. You’re not going to bring your snowmobiles or campers here. The neighborhood isn’t made for it, but we do have about eight million storage units just down the road.”
The Council on Aging started working on the idea back in 2006 and had a developer ready to go. But then came the real estate bust and the developer pulled out. The council’s board decided if the project was going to happen, it would have to take the reins and move it forward.
“It’s a different option for housing that we thought could fit in the Council on Aging’s concept of helping to keep people independent as long as we can,” Travitz said. The development will offer seven cottage designs that range in size from 684 to 1,817 square feet.
When Travitz looks at the development’s site plan—with the cottage’s front porches all pointed to a common green area and connected by circular walkways—he imagines people waving to each other and developing a community in which people care for one another.
“It’s exactly like what I envisioned,” he said.
—This article was originally published by The Ravalli Republic.