We had the good fortune of connecting with Lily Kapiloff and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Lily, can you talk to us a bit about the social impact of your business?
The Boulder Housing Coalition addresses many intersectional issues that our society faces. #1 Affordable Housing. Boulder, Colorado is one of the most expensive cities in the United States. Our model goes beyond the cities definition of ‘affordable,’ which is still out of reach for many people. As a nonprofit, we remove the possibility of profiting off of these properties. We believe that housing is a human right and should not be a for-profit game. As a nonprofit, we are managed by a board of directors. Residents from our houses sit on that board. That means that the residents have ultimate control over the organization, making all big picture decisions by consensus, including the budget. The residents themselves crunch numbers every year to determine how low we can keep rent and how much to alot for other expenses like maintenance, tranings, and mediators. Our model is not only permanently affordable, but increasingly affordable. Due to the amount of resident control, our rates go up at a far slower rate than the market, meaning that every year our rents become farther below the city average.
#2 Shared Resources. Housing is, of course, not the only prohibitively high cost of living. Our residents pool money for food, saving them huge amounts of money. When I lived in one of our co-ops, I lived happily off my monthly contribution of $155 for food and supplies. The fridge and pantry in a co-op is always abundant with mostly whole and mostly organic foods purchased from Boulder Cooperative Food. Buying bulk toilet paper, hand soap, laundry detergent and other necessary home supplies saves residents thousands. In your typical nuclear family, everyone needs their own blender, food processor, vaccum cleaner, snow blower. In a co-op all these resources are shared.
#3 Mental Health. We’ve all heard the statistics about the epidemic of loneliness, particularly in the U.S. We are highly social animals and we are meant to live in community. I can speak from the direct experience of going through the pandemic, Trump, wildfires, and my 30th’s birthday in the co-ops. Having people around me kept me sane. I could go and sit in my pajamas in the living room and find somebody to talk to, cook a meal with, or play a game. Many residents have commented on how life-changing it is to come home at the end of your work day to a home-cooked meal and a community of people who ask you how you’re doing. That kind of shared reality and easy companionship make all the difference in our day-to-day lives. By sharing the chores of adulting, we take the burden off of each individual. The grocery shopping gets done, the house gets cleaned, dinner gets cooked. At my co-op, we had home-cooked dinners five nights a week. That means four nights a week I came home to a beautiful meal, and one night a week I got the honor of cooking.
#4 Environmental Sustainability. My sharing your home with 12-20 other adults, you have already dramatically decreased your environmental footprint, before making any other changes. Co-opers use a fraction of the electricity, water, and natural gas as the average Coloradan and produce a fraction of the waste. But we don’t stop there. Three out of four of our houses are powered by solar. Each house has a productive garden that is the envy of their neighborhood. Each house purchases local produce in the summer, composts, and are constantly putting their heads together to see how we can make a bigger impact on our environment.
#5. Resilience. Co-ops are microcosms for our world. When you take 20 low-income adults and put them in a house together to make decisions by consensus about every aspect of their shared lives, we see all the same challenges that our world is facing on a large scale. How do we make decisions about how to upkeep our shared home? How do we equitably share our limited resources? How do we foster constructive dialogue about differences and make space for diversity while navigating complex intersectional conflicts? What do we do when agreements are broken? Whatever challenges our world faces in the next 50-100 years, I am confident that anyone who has had the experience of cooperative living and consensus decisions making are infinitely more prepared to navigate those challenges than people who haven’t. Our residents are trained and practice skills in facilitating meetings, communicating in groups, self-advocacy, deep listening, creative problem solving, getting out of black/white thinking, and restorative mediation. Beyond that, residents learn practical skills like accounting, bulk food buying, maintenance, and cooking. Many of our residents share that their experience in a cooperative empowered them to be more active in their local politics and go on to be empowered change makers.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Before doing this work, my background was in nonviolent communication. I’ve always been passionate about how group dynamics work (or don’t) and what are the missing pieces that can turn a group into a community. I found the Boulder Housing Coalition when I moved to Boulder and was seeking an alternative, and affordable way to live. Like most of our residents, I had never experienced anything like it. In some ways, it was exactly the “insta-community” that I was hoping for in moving to a new city. The day that I arrived, I walked in on a beautiful dinner of homemade veggie burgers and after dinner my housemates showed me the nearby trails. And in other ways, it was much harder than I expected. There is a learning curve. Most of us have spent our adult lives living very individualistically and our aptitude for communal living is atrophied. It took me a solid year to realize the magic of what I was a part of. Communal living, consensus, and restorative justice are all a huge paradigm shift from our individualistic, competitive, and punitive society. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of trainings I was offered as a resident that helped me through this transition, and when I renewed my lease for another year, I knew that I was hooked. I found my voice in house meetings. I began to feel the power and possibility in our group collaboration with little things like repainting walls, designing our gardens, and big things like discussing the impact of broken agreements in front of a whole group of people. It was definitely not easy and everyone has their own process for making the transition. But it has absolutely been one of the most fulfilling and growthful experiences of my life. As many other alumni have echoed, I learned far more about the world from my time in the co-op than I did from my graduate degree. I became increasingly engaged in the co-op over three years and when the organization was hiring for a part-time position, I applied and was hired. The work that I do is creative complex problem solving. It’s my favorite kind of work. We’re dealing with people and systems. There are no right answers, nothing is black and white, endless variables that are always changing. We are all learning and growing moment to moment. It is amazing to be a part of an organization that is so small and collaborative and value-centric that we get to feel and see our collective growth. I love looking at our communities, talking to residents, identifying patterns, making changes, witnessing how that process shifts the culture of communities, and continuing to tweak our systems based on that feedback. So many organizations and institutions that I’ve been a part of don’t have this fluid feedback loop, which can quickly lead to burn out and mistrust. Our size and dedication makes us able to fluidly make changes. At the same, our organization is big enough that the work we’re doing is making a difference. Each house is its own autonomous system of 12-20 people, within our larger community of around 65. There is so much to learn here and it is inspiring to see how much this organization continues to change and grow to keep pace with the residents and our world.

What do I want the world to know?
We are all interconnected. We impact each other all the time, in conscious and unconscious ways. In modern society, many of us have the dangerous privilege of insulating ourselves from that interconnection. This illusion of individualism is what drives the insanity of our world. It drives us to make self-serving short-term decisions that have an incredibly high cost to future generations or those in our extended community, as if those consequences won’t eventually affect us too. Our “plastic” culture trains us to treat everything as disposable, including each other. This leads us to be reckless with our communication and our lifestyle choices.
Cooperative living reverses this trend by making the reality of our interconnection much easier to see. Everything I do has an impact on my housemates and it my responsibility as a community member to strive to make that impact more conscious and in alignment with my intention. This can only happen through open and clear communication.
If I don’t do my allotted chore of grocery shopping, my housemates don’t have food in their fridge. If I have an angry outburst at my housemate, I have to continue to see the impact of that outburst day after day in my home. There is no hiding and there are no bystanders. This is true on a grand scale. Co-ops just make it easier to see and to practice.
Like I said, this is an atrophied muscle and it takes time to rebuild. In the next 50- 100 years I imagine many more people will experiment (either out of necessity or a longing for a different way) with more communal styles of living. We are in a learning and transitional phase. Rental co-opers like the Boulder Housing Coalition provide a perfect stepping stone for people who want to slowly “try one” communal living, in a low stakes way, as they rebuild those muscles and refine their vision of community.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The Boulder Housing Coalition is largely supported by the herculean efforts of our residents who volunteer their time to make it all work. Nonprofits are still a radical anomaly in the landscape of capitalism and it is only through the unrelenting (mostly unpaid!) passion of so many individuals that we are able to sustain our mission. I am always inspired by our residents who navigate all the complex challenges of their lives and still show up ready for another board meeting, budget discussion, or maintenance emergency because they believe in what we’re doing. None of this would have been possible without our founder and executive director, Lincoln Miller, who has made this mission his life’s work. I would also like to thank Ramone Sanders and the other staff at Longmont Community Justice Partners. Our organization leans heavily on their support to find equitable and just ways to navigate incredibly complex conflicts and support our communities in more harmonious collaboration.

Website: www.bhccoops.org

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/boulder_housing_coalition/

Twitter: bhccoops

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BoulderHousingCoalition

Youtube: @bhccoops

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutColorado is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.