Linda Lenzke (March 2015)

IN THE FALL OF 2013, I attended my first informational meeting about intentionally-welcoming, LGBT-and senior-friendly cohousing at Union Corners hosted by John Steines, community activist, artist, and member of the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara (SASY) Neighborhood Association, and Caroline Werner, a retired social worker and case manager for Dane County seniors, and an LGBT Senior Advocate for OutReach, Madison’s LGBT Community Center. Both were volunteering their time, energy, and passion for cohousing, not in their of official capacities, but as heartfelt commitments on behalf of our LGBT and senior communities.

As I visualized my future as an LGBT senior living in Madison and aging, I imagined residing in a community of like-minded individuals committed to mutual support and fellowship, while we shared spaces to congregate, celebrate, recreate, and collaborate. I would also need a private, personal space—a room or home of my own. I’d live in a vibrant neighborhood that celebrated diversity and progressive values. This dream may soon become a reality.

Union Corners is a mixed-use project in development by Gorman & Company on East Washington Avenue at the former Rayovac (French Battery) site. I joined others who shared this dream, many of whom were Madison eastsiders and possessed a history and connection to the site; we expanded our vision for the project and formed Madison East Side Co-Housing (MESCoH), a not-for-pro t corporation.


Cohousing is a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and management of their own neighborhoods. At the core of cohousing—more precisely, at the heart of the community—members dream, shape, and determine how and where they want to live, both individually and together. They decide what their common spaces will be, delineate their shared values, and lastly decide how their community will be managed and maintained. A cohousing community is a family of sorts—a chosen family—one with equal rights and responsibilities.


The modern theory of cohousing originated in Denmark in the 1960s by families dissatis ed with existing housing and communities that they felt did not meet their needs. The Danish term bofællesskab (living community) was introduced to North America as cohousing by two American architects, Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, who co-wrote the book, Creating Cohousing. Durrett’s second book is The Senior Cohousing Handbook. The rst community in the United States to be designed, constructed, and occupied specically for co- housing was Muir Commons in Davis, California.


Madison is home to thriving cohousing communities:

  • VILLAGE COHOUSING COMMUNITY is Madison’s first cohousing project. It is located on Mound, S. Mills Street, and St. James Court in the Greenbush neighborhood and includes 18 units in all, 15 in three newly- constructed buildings and three in two existing houses.
  • ARBORETUM COHOUSING located on Erin Street near St. Mary’s Hospital includes new homes in two multi-family buildings, rehabbed townhouse homes, a duplex built by Habitat for Humanity, and existing single-family homes.
  • • TROYGARDENS is an award-winning 31-acre project on the Northside of Madison which combines community gardens, a working CSA farm, a restored prairie, and a 30 home mixed-income cohousing community.


Cohousing is planned for the lower triangle of the Union Corners project, adjacent to existing residential neighbors to the south
and bordering Winnebago Street to the north. Madison East Side Co-Housing (MESCoH) is planning the Sister West building, a three-story, multi-family cohousing community featuring studio, one, two, and three bedroom condo-style units totaling 35 to 40 units, shared indoor and outdoor common spaces, and underground parking. A second cohousing group, Sister East, sponsored by Design Coalition, Inc., and Design Coalition Institute is envisioning a community mix of town- house and apartment-type units. Both projects will include a variety of privately-owned units and commonly-owned amenities.

Gorman & Company reached an agreement with the City of Madison to develop the 11.4-acre site at East Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street. The project includes Phase 1, a UW Health Clinic which will break ground in spring 2015, followed next by Phases 2–3, four to six story buildings that include a grocery store, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, affordable and market rate housing projected to break ground in 2015–2016, followed by Phase 4, two cohousing communities in the lower triangle, retail and work/live spaces, community gardens, pedestrian path, and outdoor public spaces. Phase 5 will be the redevelopment of the former sales of ce for the failed Union Corners Condominium project by McGrath & Associates on East Washington Avenue.


MESCoH has been meeting for almost 18 months, collaborating with cohousing partners including Design Coalition, Inc., Design Coalition Institute, Arboretum Cohousing (ARBCO), SASY Neighborhood Association, alders, Gorman & Company, project development consultants, city plan- ning and design commissions, architects, and mortgage lenders

We’ve hosted informational coffees, co-hosted workshops, a “blue sky” vision re- treat, tours of ARBCO, and created a number of work groups. We’ve expanded our vision for the community, which is a continuing, creative process as new members join. Follow- ing is our preliminary vision, expanding the initial LGBT– and senior-friendly intention to include our intention of creating a diverse, intergenerational, and affordable community:

Madison East Side Co-Housing (MESCoH) is a group of individuals seeking to establish, design and create an intentional community of homes and common spaces on the East Side of Madison at Union Corners, based on the co-housing model. Members of MESCoH have expressed interest in such features as green building, walkable neighborhoods, community gardens, outdoor common areas, and street design featuring traffic calming.

MESCoH invites like-minded individuals with shared values and a commitment to participatory decision-making to join us as we develop our vision and mission statement and move forward to create a welcoming and diverse community that is affordable, inter- generational, LGBTQ and senior-friendly, and dedicated to preserving the quality of life and vibrancy of our east side neighborhood.