Under One Roof
Communal living for a more sustainable life
STORY AND PHOTO BY BAILEY BARNARD
(above) Sonny “Sushi,” left, Kryss Adams, center, and Andrew Burmell share a laugh after breakfast in the Sushi House Feb. 20, 2015.
It’s already noon, but here it’s breakfast time.
The sun is shining through the kitchen windows of the Sushi House, a collaborative living space on Forest Street. A man is playing an accordion in the front yard, and the smell of fresh banana bread fills the air.
Two people stand in the corner chatting. Another is cleaning the sink while someone else sits beside him and watches the crowd of people waiting to eat. A dog walks into the gathering followed by her owner.
Having this many people in the kitchen is nothing new for the Sushi House. If anything, it’s a quiet day.
As of February 2015 there were 18 people living in the 10-bedroom house. Some sleep in walk-in closets and others in the living room, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
In 2004, Sushi House cofounder Zach Robertson, 31, was a student at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Western, and was living in a three-sided barn.
Zach hoped he could make a difference by living in a way that would decrease his carbon footprint, but after nights of barn living and couch surfing he realized he needed to make a change.
“For one thing I was lonely,” Zach says. He realized he needed to inspire more people to reduce their carbon foot prints in order to make a real impact on the environment.
Zach and a group of friends had been couch surfing and looking for a more permanent place to live. Their group of friends had been holding weekly sushi potlucks, the house hosting the potluck would make rice and the attendees would bring the ingredients. At the potlucks they would come together and share their ideas about a new kind of living.
“We had this idea of filling a house full of people who want to live intentionally and make a difference.” Zach says.
It was then that the Sushi House was born.
Communal living got its first institutional start in the U.S. with the foundation of the Fellowship of Intentional Communities (FIC), according to Yaacov Oved’s book “Globalization of Communes.” The protest movement surrounding the Vietnam War in the 1960s was the most significant developmental period for communes in America, According to Oved’s book.
Today the FIC promotes cooperative communities and sustainable living projects, such as the Sushi House, through student cooperatives, intentional communities and other projects based around people living in a community that shares common values, according to the FIC website.
“Its about intentionality. Instead of it just being affordable housing, we figure out what we want for ourselves and each other.”- Sonny “Sushi”
Intentionality is something the Sushi House focuses on, Kryss Adams, 22, Sushi resident and Western graduate, says. Living intentionally means that everyone in the house consistently takes similar action to reach a common goal, Kryss says.
Zach believes people need to work together in order to make a change.
“We need each other; by creating a place for people to come together we are creating a place for change,” Zach says.
Zach also founded the house under his belief that housing is too expensive, and people are charged too much just to live.
The average Sushi House resident spends anywhere from $100–250 a month.
“When paying to live isn’t such a priority people can focus their energy on other things, and by bringing people into this home we can help show them how easy it is to change things in this community,” Zach says.
“Its about intentionality,” Sunny “Sushi”, 30, says. “Instead of it just being affordable housing, we figure out what we want for ourselves and each other.”
With residents ranging from 19 to 40 years old, it is important for the house to have a strong basis of trust, support and most of all communication to keep things going, and keep people active in the house and larger community, says Kryss.
The community white board is hung in the hallway to the kitchen, amongst paintings and tapestries. People can write whatever they want on the board to start a conversation, Kryss says. Whether its about a gardening meeting or an issue that someone has come across within the house, the residents see constant communication as a key to success for such a large group living under one roof.
“When some people see how cheap rent is, that’s their only reason for coming here,” Kryss says. “And often those are the people that don’t live by what we stand for.”
The Sushites explain that there are many misconceptions that surround the house. They want people to know they are about more than just partying and having a good time.
They now have a system for letting in new residents. They hold interviews and have house meet-and-greets in order to agree upon who may or may not fit into their holistic approach to communal living.
Sometimes residents who were agreed upon initially don’t quite fit in for various reasons, so after the trial month period they can be asked to leave.
Zach speaks about the importance of consistency during the house’s weekly meetings.
“When we keep meeting and talking, we are able to keep each other accountable and actually get things done,” Zach says.
House members have worked to make Bellingham a better place by supporting the alternative library, a volunteer organization that promotes alternative media, by starting community gardens and by working with The Outback Farm, a community garden ran through Fairhaven College, just to name a few.
“Anyone can be an organizer and an activist if they put their mind to it,” Zach says, “And having people who want to make a change living together under one roof is really amazing.”
The Sushi House has evolved into a place of community and change for residents and friends. They hope to keep their legacy going and some members are currently working on getting a land trust, a space to build a sustainable community with affordable housing, community gardens and other valuable resources.
Back in the kitchen as bacon smoke permeates the air, beams of light illuminate the kitchen and the faces that fill it. Though tenants come and go, and the packed rooms of the Sushi House may not be the norm for living arrangements, the residents laugh and smile, and agree that the Sushi House will always be a welcoming home base no matter where they go in life.