1. What is Bay State Commons Cohousing?
Bay State Commons is a group of people who want to live in a cohousing community together. We are working as our own developer, designing and building a community of thirty households in Malden, Massachusetts. Our four generations of families, couples, and singles have a wide variety of tastes and interests. The goal of cohousing is to find “the old neighborhood” feeling, where people not only know their neighbors but are part of one another’s lives. It is important to us that our members can age in place and that parents have the support of their neighbors in raising children.
2. Are you a commune?
We are not a commune. Bay State Commons is a cohousing community. In cohousing, units are privately owned and fully self-sufficient in the same way that condominium units are. That means as a member and owner, you will have your own kitchen, bathrooms, living room, and in larger units, bedrooms. When you close the door of your unit, you are assured the privacy of your own space. There is no income sharing. And only the common spaces are shared. For more information about cohousing, see What Is Cohousing?
3. So, are you just a condo?
Legally and in terms of ownership, we will be organized as a condominium. That said, we differ from a typical condo in design and concept. Our private units are designed around a 5,000 square foot common house. While some condos have common amenities, this is a far larger ratio than usual. The common house will include children’s play areas, exercise facilities, art and music spaces, a workshop, decks and gardens, as well as a “great room” suitable for a common meal of 70 people, a kitchen large enough to cook such a meal, and multiple living rooms and multi-purpose spaces. We will share and govern these amenities as a community because we believe the joys and efficiencies in such an arrangement are as important as sustainability and living lightly on the land.
4. Will I have to rent the common spaces?
The common house will function as an extension of your private unit. In cohousing, common spaces are used freely and often. Creating the opportunity to run into neighbors and spark conversations is a goal, so the common spaces will be designed to facilitate interaction. This also differs from most condos, in which the clubhouse is locked unless rented. Donations may be requested for holding meetings of outside groups or office meetings, but this is a community decision. Residents will just reserve the rooms on the community calendar.
5. How much community will there be?
We seek a balance between the private and the shared. While engagement with governance and maintenance is necessary, participation in events is by choice. Members pick and choose between events and maintenance tasks. Like most cohousing communities, we will share the maintenance of our common facilities and grounds the same way we shared their development. There will be regular common meals, probably 2-3 per week, cooked by a rotating team of residents who have chosen to participate. Aside from this, we expect that our members’ passions and hobbies will result in all sorts of movie clubs, game nights, holiday traditions, and outings. Community engagement is expected, but in cohousing there are fairly wide ranges in type and amount of engagement. No one will ostracize you or kick you out because you’re too busy at home or work this week or don’t like gardening.
6. How will the community be child-friendly?
Bay State Commons is focused on being a great place to raise kids. Our community will have dedicated indoor and outdoor children’s play areas, secluded from the street and in clear view from common spaces. Beyond the facilities, cohousing offers particular benefits to children and their parents. In a community of trusted neighbors, children can run freer than is typical in today’s cities. Proximity makes it easier for neighbors to watch one another’s kids, or to take them along to the zoo or museums. Not only does this help busy parents balance everything they need to do, children can grow up knowing many adults as friends. Cohousers report that their children grow up with a better understanding of adult life and are better prepared to take on adult roles when grown up themselves.
7. Where will the community be?
We are currently under construction at 368 Pleasant Street, Malden, Massachusetts. While we are replacing a commercial building, the site is in a walkable residential neighborhood.
- 4 minutes’ walk to Malden Center MBTA Station:
- Orange Line Service to Forest Hills via North Station, Downtown Crossing, and Back Bay
- Commuter Rail on Haverhill Line
- Bus hub for 20 bus routes
- 6 minutes’ cycling: Northern Strand Community Trail, a bicycle trail for commuting into Boston or cycling up the coast
- 5-10 minutes’ walk: Stop & Shop supermarket, Walgreens, Dunkin’ Donuts, Bikeeny Cafe, Caffe Nero (opening 2021) and Super 88 Asian Market
- 5-15 minutes’ walk: Italian, Chinese, Ethiopian, Mexican, Vietnamese, Indian, and American restaurants
- 5-10 minutes’ walk: Idle Hands Craft Ales, Hugh O’Neill’s Restaurant and Pub, and Faces Brewing Co.
- 5-10 minutes’ walk: Boda Borg, Wanyoo Gaming Co., 8D Room Escape and Board Games, and Bit Bar (opening 2021)
- 2-15 minutes’ walk: Beebe School (elementary), Mystic Valley Regional Charter School (K-12), Malden Public Library, running track at Macdonald Stadium.
- 10 minutes’ walk: Fellsmere Park, with a tree-lined pond and fountains, and Middlesex Fells Reservation, a state park of 2,200 acres with reservoirs and over 100 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and horseback riding (Source: Wikipedia )
8. What will the units be like?
In individual units, we favored an open floor plan for flexible uses: even our smallest studio can host a holiday feast. The units themselves range from a 384 square-foot studio to a 1,222 square-foot three bedroom. They are include all the amenities of modern, self-sufficient homes. While the design is important to us, it is typical of cohousing to place more focus on sustainability features than commercial housing.
9. What are you doing to be environmentally sustainable?
We have prioritized energy efficiency using exterior walls with an R-value of 40. The roof is designed to capture rainwater in barrels for watering our vegetable and herb gardens. It will also be constructed to support solar panels. But we are still evaluating the best ways to include solar power generation. Highly energy-efficient boilers will be used for heating and to bring fresh air into the building using a heat exchanging system that minimizes energy loss.
10. Will the community be accessible for someone with a mobility impairment?
Yes, we are designing with accessibility in mind. Often called “Universal Design” the focus is on greater accessibility for everyone, because everyone is likely to be disabled at some point or the other. An elevator will provide access to all floors. All private units will be visitable by a wheelchair. Any unit can be converted to be fully wheelchair accessible. We view this as essential to fulfilling our promise to help members age in place and to being an inclusive community.
11. Will I have to do laundry in the common house?
All private units will be equipped with attachments for in-unit laundry. There will also be laundry rooms on each floor of the common house, each with multiple large washers. We want the opportunity to save on this large appliance expense without dictating that all laundry facilities be shared. The common laundry can be a pleasant place to encounter neighbors, and it’s a useful backup even for those who have private washers and dryers.
12. Will I hear my neighbors?
We believe proper sound insulation is essential for neighborly harmony. We have prioritized between- and in-unit sound dampening and plan on walls rated at 54 STC. This means that even if your neighbor is practicing the trumpet, you will not hear them.
13. What about parking?
There will be underground parking for cars and bicycles. Our plan is to include one parking space per bedroom, as required by the City of Malden, so we will have ample spaces for everyone and their guests. The parking garage will be wheelchair accessible by elevator from the interior and a ramp from the street.
14. How many units are still available?
Check out our Site Plan and Unit Availability Page for a full overview of what units are still available. As of February 2021, 29 of our units had been sold. In cohousing where communities are developed and financed by the future residents, it is usual for three-quarters of the units to be sold before construction begins.
15. Where are you in the development process?
Bay State Commons has been meeting since 2013. Our building is currently under construction, with a winter 2021-22 move-in expected. Along the way, we have gone through a sequence of critical phases:
- 2013: Project definition: We spent the first year defining key parameters of our project. We committed to making decisions by consensus and began receiving training in doing that well. We brought on cohousing consultants to help us compose our project vision statement. Starting from that vision and researching the area, we settled on four Boston-area cities to search for a site.
- 2014: Company formation: The following year was all about bringing together our group and establishing our governing documents. We grew from four to eight households, defined the approach we would take to project financing, wrote our organizational by-laws, and incorporated as an LLC. In late September, we took our first equity investments from members.
- 2015: Site search: Together with development consultants, we scoured our top four towns for property where we could build. We rapidly discovered just how challenging this process would be. Developers are buying property near Boston as quickly (or usually, before) it comes onto the market. Would-be sellers ask prices that make building affordable housing outright impossible. Even so, we attracted the investment of three new households. And late in the year, we entered into negotiations to buy a promising piece of property.
- 2016: Site search into development: We hired Chris ScottHanson — author of The Cohousing Handbook and development manager for over 35 cohousing communities in the United States — to help us negotiate and move forward through site acquisition. We worked with architects to develop a program for how we wished to use the property and explored in detail how to approach ecological sustainability. Enthusiasm for our momentum helped us add two more invested households.
- 2016: Another site search: After six months, however, it became clear that the site we had focused on would not work out and we went back into search. We quickly identified 368 Pleasant Street in Malden and put in an offer. The American Legion, owners of 368 Pleasant Street, accepted our offer, and we began formally evaluating the site’s feasibility for our project.
- 2018: Purchase of American Legion Building: Bay State Commons purchased the former American Legion site at 368 Pleasant Street in April, 2018. We evaluated proposals from three teams of architects and selected the Neshamkin-French and French2D team to design a new building specifically for the site.
2017-2018: Architectural Design
- December 2016-January 2017: Our architects led us through a “visioning” phase, in which we laid down the general parameters of our project for the architectural team. We identified key uses of common spaces, our preferences for private unit features, and how the overall structure would inform the relationship between the private and the shared.
- February-April 2017: We continued into “concept design,” in which we selected the overall building structure, the placement of parking, and the mix of unit sizes.
- May-July 2017: We worked with the Neshamkin-French/French2D team to develop a “schematic design.” This phase entailed placing the individual units within the building, evaluating light and airflow in the context of various materials, and developing aesthetic choices.
- August 2017-August 2018: The architects led us through “design development.” This highly technical process involved contributions from specialists in many areas of engineering. The architects placed windows, developed detailed plans for wall composition, and called for final decisions on things like ventilation. Based on an initial building permit denial for having a portion of the project be over four stories, design development was continued to formalize a three-story version of the project.
2018 – 2021 — Permitting, Construction and Move-In:
- August 2018-November 2019: We began the formal process of applying for project permitting from the City of Malden. For the remainder of 2018 and for 2019 we were applying and receiving approvals and permissions from various boards and commissions. Due to the unconventional qualities of cohousing, including small private units and the large amount of shared common space, it took longer than usual to work our way through the conventional Malden approval process.
- January 2020: We received final approval of our design, now including elements suggested by the Malden Historical Commission.
- February 2020: Official groundbreaking.
- Spring 2020: Construction begins. Move-in is planned for winter 2021-22.
16. Good story, but when should I get involved?
If you are curious and waiting for the opportune moment, the time to get involved is right now! As soon as cohousing projects reach this final stage, units tend to sell quickly. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or come to one of our or business meetings that occur every two weeks. We would love to meet you.
17. What’s the procedure for buying a unit?
Bay State Commons has a membership process intended to give new households the opportunity to get to know us and make an informed decision as to whether our community is right for them.
After coming to a few planning and social meetings and reviewing the basic project documents, a household can come up to an Associate membership for a one-time non-refundable fee of $250. Associate members haven’t bought a unit yet but they participate in our meetings and decision-making.
When a household has properly evaluated the rights, responsibilities, and risks of involvement during the development process, they can come up to Equity membership. The financial obligation of Equity households is $5,000 up front and the remainder of 10% of their unit price within 90 days. For households demonstrating financial hardship, we offer payment plans in consultation with mortgage lenders. When construction is complete, this investment in BSC becomes equity in the new home.