Illinois’s first co-housing development saw shovels hit the ground last week, and membership chair Susan Stall said it is gratifying to see the project coming to fruition after years of planning.
Stall and her husband Charlie Hoch are Oak Park residents who have been passionate about bringing co-housing to Oak Park since they formed the Oak Park Multi-Generational Co-Housing Group in 2018.
The aim of the co-housing project is to foster intergenerational connection, diversity and inclusiveness through a community of adjoining private apartments that share a common space. The common elements are intentionally designed to encourage social interaction among neighbors and to create a safe and friendly environment for all ages.
“It’s hard to get people to believe in this. You’re not just buying a condo, you’re buying a community,” Stall said.
She noted that while the concept of co-housing has been popular in Europe for a long time, it is relatively new to the United Said, which currently has about 285 co-housing communities.
Christened Oak Park Commons, the planned community will be taking shape at 839 West Madison. The 24-unit building will be five stories high and includes a lot of amenities that buyers of all ages are looking for in a building.
Chief among these is environmental-friendliness. The building will be a National Green Building Standard Silver-certified building. Among the many features that will help it earn that designation are: low carbon footprint construction; a high efficiency, whole-building heating and cooling system; low off-gassing finishes made from recycled materials; energy star, low water consumption appliances and a thermally insulated building envelope.
Other green perks will include a large roof garden that will promote a healthy ecosystem, electric car charging stations and fresh air exchangers for a healthy breathing environment.
Stall is particularly excited about the garden space that she said will be impressive. “It juts up against our common space with a patio and our kitchen. I think it’s very captivating.”
While many co-housing communities in the U.S. are built in more rural areas where they can be spread out, Stall said Oak Park Common’s smaller footprint makes it unique. Building intentionally in a more urban area is one of the keys to the development.
It was important to the early adopters of the project that the building be based in Oak Park, with its commitment to diversity and good schools, Stall said.
She noted, “In Oak Park, we pride ourselves on being unusual. Our commitment to being intergenerational is huge. It makes a huge difference in everyday life.”
This commitment is one thing that drew Jonathan Shack and his wife Heather to the building. Shack, whose company Altierra Builders is also involved in the construction of the building, said that he and his wife were both born and raised in Oak Park.
“We remember the days when we were children and everyone on our blocks knew each other,” he said. “Someone was always having a cookout that everyone else came to. When someone was sick or disabled, the neighbors brought meals for the family and helped if needed. When someone needed a babysitter one of the other kids on the block would go over and babysit. There was a great sense of community. That seems to be missing now. Intergenerational co-housing brings back that sense of community again.”
Noting that his wife had a stroke that has left her with some permanent disabilities, Shack said that it will be comforting to know that she will have neighbors around when he is not home. In addition, she since is home frequently, she will be able to help other residents, work in the garden and interact with more people than she can now.
Erica Cuneen of Beyond Properties is marketing the building. As of press time, available units ranged from a one bedroom, one-bath unit priced at $275,975 for 665 square feet up to a three-bedroom, two-bath unit priced at $654,153 for 1,460 square feet.
The building is currently 60% sold, with a number of two- and three-bedroom units remaining available. Once construction begins this fall, Shack said the goal is to complete the building in early 2025.
That milestone is pretty exciting to Shack, who said, “The fact that we are over 60% sold before we have even broken ground with people moving in from across the country along with Oak Parkers, speaks volumes to the number of people looking for that sense of community again”
“I don’t know of any other building in recent years to do that. Oak Park has long attracted people to it who were already moving to Chicago but this is the first time, that I know of that people were moving to Oak Park because they want to live in a specific building,” he said.