World Half Full
Single mums form co-housing community
Two single mums who decided to raise their children together in a four-unit home a few years ago have now been joined by two more women and two more children and they’ve bought another building to expand housing choices for women.
Friends Holly Harper and Herrin Hopper have both been through numerous life changes in the past few years, including the end of both their marriages. During covid, the women found themselves living in individual apartments and struggling with the challenges of single parenthood. Harper has a nine-year-old and Hopper two children, aged 13 and nine. After years of joking about raising their children on a commune, the women thought buying a home together would help create a support system for themselves and their families. So, in August 2020 they moved into a four-unit home in Takoma Park, Maryland, USA. Not long after, another single mum, Leandra Nichola, and her two children — aged nine and 12 — moved into the basement unit and a few months after that, Harper and Hopper’s friend Jen Jacobs began renting the top floor unit.
The women call their home Siren House, named after the half-bird/half-woman creature in mythology who lured sailors to their death with their enchanting songs. The women see the siren as a symbol of female empowerment and are now planning to expand their co-housing concept to other mums.
“There is almost a spiritual safety net every day here,” Hopper says. “I could be my worst self, I could be my best self, and they see me for who I am, and it’s okay.”
Harper says she always felt she had to follow traditional roles in life. The opportunity to move in with her friend came at a time when she’d just gotten divorced, turned 40 and her dad had died. “Just like my life was burned to the ground,” she recalls feeling. “I could turn to Herrin and say, ‘I literally have nothing left. Let’s just do this.’”
Since moving, she says she’s realised, “You can do whatever you want. Burn the rulebook of life and just look at it differently. There’s always someone to play a game with for the kids. It’s just the most fun.”
And for single mums, the co-housing arrangement offers a rare form of freedom. If someone wants to go for a run, they can do so knowing there are other adults around for their children.
On a practical level, they have regular “homeowners’ meetings” where they discuss topics such as roof repair and yard work expenses. “We’re definitely like sisters, and the kids are more like our nieces and nephews,” Harper tells the Washington Post. “We’re not dependent in an unhealthy way. We’re interdependent.”
“We all have this awareness of each other’s humanity, and a genuine desire to care for one another,” Hopper adds. “We’re not romanticising it. It’s real and true and deep and doable.”
Their support for each other even extends beyond Siren House. Together, the women helped Nichola fulfil a lifelong dream of opening a café. In March 2021, they co-founded the shop Main Street Pearl, a “youth-centred, queer-friendly micro-café” managed by Nichola.
They say it takes a village to raise children. For these women, all it takes to form a village is a close-knit group of friends and a mutual desire for support.
TOP The people of Siren House making funny faces
PHOTO Siren House