Monday, September 15, 2008

George Fox class Q&A: Intentional communities

Jason Clark is teaching a course on Missional Ecclesiology at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, and one of his textbooks is The Suburban Christian. His students are reading the book this week and next, and Jason asked me if I'd be willing to interact with them via this blog. I said sure, I'm game.

So here's the first question, from Tom B.: "On page 51, you discuss intentional community and the idea of a sixplex with individual living quarters and a communal kitchen, dining area and common area. This idea is intriguing. Are you aware of any such dwellings here in America? Is there any information about how this concept actually works in practice?"

I first heard this idea from Tom Sine of Mustard Seed Associates some years ago, and he described it as an alternative to typical suburban single-family housing, which tends to isolate us from one another and also saddles us with heavy individual mortgages. The sixplex model was designed by one of Sine's friends, and he referenced the sixplex idea in his books Cease Fire and Mustard Seed vs. McWorld. Here's a little more detail on the concept:
Sine suggested beginning "cooperative communities" as an alternative to suburban living. A starter home in Seattle, he said, costs an average of $150,000. Financed over 30 years, the accumulated cost is $500,000, he observed. By contrast, homes can be built in a "six-plex" with common activity areas for about $60,000, financed over five years. Eventually, a husband and wife living there could afford to cut back to 20 hours of work per week, freeing up more time to spend with children and for ministry. "We're going to have to think that radically," he said. "The single-family detached lifestyle is the most expensive way to live," Sine said. "If we don't create a community where people start to care for one another, we don't have a future."
I'm afraid I don't know to what extent this has been lived out; you could probably contact Sine and find out. Of course, the new monasticism has been saying a lot about intentional communities in recent years, and it seems that they can take form in any number of kinds of living spaces, whether traditional single-family houses, rehabbed storefront or warehouse space, apartment complexes or old churches or school buildings. With the ongoing mortgage crisis, some are speculating that today's suburban McMansions will become new multi-family housing for the suburban poor. It's possible that suburban new monastic groups could get a big foreclosed house on the cheap at an auction and turn it into a new way of doing intentional community in the suburbs.

I'd love to hear suburban examples of intentional community in whatever kind of housing configuration. Stories?


Anonymous said...

You say, "homes can be built in a "six-plex" with common activity areas for about $60,000" - do you know if that is per -plex?

Al Hsu said...

Yes, it's apparently $60,000 for each one of the six. If you click on the link above to "Cease Fire," you'll see an excerpt on p. 270 of that book that mentions that $360,000 is needed to build a sixplex.