Lonely in a modern neighborhood, one Portland family makes the leap to cohousing.
When Jenny Bevacqua wants to check in on her boys — Al, 9, and Auggie, 11 — she needn’t reach for her shoes or even her phone.
Instead, she simply leans her head out the front door and sounds the family call: “Ahhhhhh-oooooooh!”
Inspired by Hermione Granger’s werewolf whoop in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the cry functions as a low-tech locator beacon, echoing through the trees and trails of the 4-acre hollow the Bevacquas call home. Wherever the kids happen to be, they’ll stop, boomerang the call back, and return to dam-building, animal-tracking, and the general business of a boyhood in the woods.
Al and Auggie, along with Jenny, her partner, Dan Bowman, and an aging Lhasa Apso named Pepito, are among the 50 or so current residents of Trillium Hollow Cohousing Community, a 20-year-old intentional community adjacent to the Cedar Mill neighborhood, just north of Beaverton.
Trillium comprises 29 individually owned units — some freestanding but most housed within the four-story main building — plus a suite of shared indoor and outdoor spaces, including a common house with kitchen, gathering areas, guest rooms, a workshop, and lovingly tended gardens.
The lush property boasts cedar, maple, willow, alder and Douglas fir trees, along with hundreds of native plant species and a carefully maintained creek, and it’s also co-inhabited by deer, rabbits, barred owls, squirrels and the occasional eight-point buck or bobcat.
Trillium’s a far cry from the single-family home Jenny Bevacqua used to own in Southeast Portland’s Reed neighborhood. But Jenny, an OHSU instructor and pediatric nurse practitioner at the Sellwood Medical Clinic, craved a more cooperative way of life.
“We were lonely even though we had good neighbors,” she recalls.
That longing led her family to Columbia Ecovillage, a Northeast Portland cohousing community. The family spent four years there, but when a three-bedroom Trillium Hollow unit came available last spring, they purchased it and relocated, drawn by the forest, fine schools, and close proximity to Dan’s work (he’s currently a graduate student teaching in the Beaverton School District).
Like the rest of Trillium Hollow, their bright, solidly built, two-story apartment was created with community in mind: The kitchen window adjoins a courtyard, and neighbors often stop by to chat when they’re cooking or washing up.
But if they’re craving privacy, adds Dan, “You can just close your blinds and be by yourself.”
At Trillium, all decisions are made by consensus, meaning they must be unanimous, and members join at least one of 10 teams tasked with everything from property landscaping and maintenance to outreach and legal/financial concerns. Monthly, residents also complete six hours of workshare and attend homeowners’ association and team meetings; there’s also an annual budget meeting.
For the Bevacqua-Bowman family, committing to cohousing has paved the way for intergenerational friendships and plenty of autonomy for the boys.
“It’s the whole ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ concept,” says Jenny. “You have other people to help guide your kids, which allows you and your child space.”
Heading into their first winter, the family is still learning the ways of Trillium Hollow, but they say they already feel right at home, and well on the path to forging deeper community connections.
Cohousing isn’t a fresh concept; humans have always gathered to pool resources and reap the practical and emotional benefits of communal interdependence. For Jenny, there’s nothing more natural — or more magical — than choosing to live and to love side by side with other Portland families.
“I’d choose communal living even if I didn’t have kids,” she says. “But, man, it’s a boon for families. [The boys] go out, and I don’t see them for hours … they have tons of freedom, just like generations past.”