The Movement for a New Society activist group started to disband in the 1980s, but its West Philly members stuck with the organization’s principles. They turned a collection of houses into a housing cooperative and non-profit called the Life Center Association, and it still runs today.
But they’re not just a group of latter-day hippies.
“It’s living in a shared space, under one roof, and having mutual shared resources. Really sharing all of the economic pieces of living together,” says Esteban Kelly, 34. He’s lived in a Life Center home for 10 years, and was the president of the organization. He’s now the board president of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance.
“I think collective living is misrepresented as just young single people living together,” he says, “and often unintentionally and without a lot of structure. It’s really about resource-sharing.”
The Life Center has eight houses within the co-op framework.
“We break down to two different families,” says Kelly of his house. “There are three children and seven adults; one of those adults is not related to anyone else. I think it’s grounded and anchored in the multi-generational aspect. It keeps things really high-functioning.”
Rhone Fraser, 35, has been living in another West Philly Life Center house since last year. He lives with five other people.
“It’s been very educational for me in terms of working together,” says Fraser. “In a collective, consensus is honored and discussion is honored. Debate is honored. That’s different from a rooming house where everyone has their own agenda.”
How does it work?
When it comes to something like hiring a plumber for one house, everyone within the Life Center has some kind of involvement in making sure that anything wrong gets fixed as democratically as possible.
“Seventy to 80 percent of our budget goes towards a maintenance pool,” says Kelly. “Individual houses could write a proposal, and the board has the authority to allocate money.”
The amount of rent due is divided almost equally among the residents of Life Center houses. The money collected is then pooled to maintain all of the properties.
“I think it is a model for the future of what Americans in this economic recession should do, in terms of learning how to live together,” says Fraser.