GOSHEN — It was about three years ago in May that Mary Ellen Meyer realized she and her husband would not be able to live in their house much longer.
Mary Ellen and Albert Meyer, now in their 80s, have lived in their two-story home in the Mill Race Shanklin neighborhood for about 45 years.
As signs of Mary Ellen’s aging and the worsening of her husband’s Parkinson’s disease became more apparent, the couple began thinking of finding an alternative home.
“I just knew we needed to move somewhere, and I wanted to be in an intergenerational place,” Mary Ellen said.
That’s when the option of a cohousing neighborhood resurfaced.
Cohousing is collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their neighborhood, according to the Cohousing Association of the United States.
Interested in learning more about cohousing or being part of the neighborhood in Goshen? Go to the project’s Facebook page
to learn when the group’s next meeting is.
The concept of cohousing has been around since the 1980s, and Mary Ellen had heard about it around 20 years ago. Back then, a group of young people in Goshen had tried to start a cohousing neighborhood, but the plans fell through.
In 2011, Mary Ellen started asking around to see who could help her plan this neighborhood along the Mill Race, and shortly afterward, she was introduced to Richard Miller.
Miller, a local developer who worked as executive director at Habitat for Humanity for several years, looked into the idea and started to put together a proposal for the city.
The site that the Meyers and Miller were interested in was property along the Millrace that used to be an industrial area. As a result, it was heavily contaminated, but it has been remediated over the last few years.
Now with only one more legal hoop to jump through, the developer is closer than ever to starting construction at the site. If all goes according to plan, Miller said, they could be breaking ground this fall.
The plan is to build 14 houses and a common house in the neighborhood. The houses, which will be built between Purl and Douglas streets, will face each other, with a narrow road between them. The residents will have car ports on one side of the block, but they won’t be able to park their cars near their houses.
Miller is working on pricing a few home plans to give potential buyers an idea of how much building a house in that neighborhood could cost.
The houses will be individually owned by the people who buy them. So, the design of the homes will be mostly up to their owners, with a few exceptions: the houses must be accessible, must include an accessible bathroom on the first floor and must be designed to be energy-efficient.
An important aspect of cohousing neighborhoods is that neighbors must make the decisions together. In some cases, small task groups are formed to manage certain aspects of the neighborhood, like doing the landscaping or cleaning the common house.
In many cases, the neighborhoods schedule a time once a week to share a meal.
Ned and Ann Kauffman are one of four households already interested in becoming a part of the neighborhood. Some time ago the couple came across an AARP article about pocket neighborhoods, which is a similar concept to cohousing neighborhoods.
After doing some research, they learned about the ongoing cohousing neighborhood plans in Goshen. The Kauffmans’ children have moved out of Goshen, so they are interested in building more networks in the community.
They also thought the location of the neighborhood along the Mill Race and near the downtown area would be ideal for moving around without having to drive around much.
The connection from the neighborhood to the Mill Race Canal Trail was also appealing to the Kauffmans.
"That’s what I look forward to,” Ned said. “Those who are walking will be passing by, and I love to make contact with strangers and get into conversation with whomever.”
The Kauffmans and the other four households have already had frequent meetings in which they talk about the design of the neighborhood.
They’ve also encouraged friends and others to learn about cohousing neighborhoods. They still have 10 openings for houses, and so far, it’s been difficult to find families from diverse backgrounds interested in becoming part of the neighborhood. However, the Kauffmans and the Meyers are confident more people will show interest in the neighborhood once construction actually starts.
While doing their research, the Kauffmans visited a few neighborhoods. While talking with one household, they learned about an instance in which an elderly couple formed a strong bond with a single mother and her child while living in a cohousing neighborhood.
“That sort of thing is what we want,” he said. “It’s another facet of being diverse.”
Follow Elkhart truth reporter Sharon Hernandez on Twitter at @Sharon_HT