Communal Living is Alive and Well in Mid-City

In October of 2008, an intentional community known as Synchronicity L.A. planted roots in the Harvard Heights neighborhood in Mid-City. After approaching nearly 30 landlords citywide, the founding residents met a homeowner willing to rent his property – a two-story Craftsman on Westmoreland Boulevard – to a dozen college grads eager to live under one roof.

The original twelve residents were close friends, and nine had attended Azusa Pacific University together. After feeling somewhat alienated during their stay at the evangelical Christian college, the group wanted to form its own inclusive community, one where people with diverse backgrounds and beliefs could live together with purpose. According to the house’s mission statement, residents aim to “enrich their lives and the lives of others by sharing resources and cultivating harmony, friendship, hospitality, and artistic expression.”

Five years later, Synchronicity L.A. is thriving, with eleven residents occupying the rooms in the house.

Jessie, the only remaining founding resident, has been witness to both large-scale changes and subtle shifts in the house and neighborhood. She’s watched as more intentional communities have sprung up on the street in apartments and houses, and she said goodbye to a number of roommates set to start graduate school or get married and establish their own homes. A few residents have even left and returned – a good sign, as far as Jessie’s concerned.

“I’ve found a place for myself in each group that’s come in,” Jessie said. “There are always a few roommates in their early 20s, but some of us older. We’ve gotten a little quieter, we party less, and we eat healthier. All of the changes that I see have been positive ones.” The house recently opened its doors to its youngest tenants yet – one of the roommates has shared custody of two kids and hosts them every other weekend at Synchronicity.

Teachers, activists and artists are among the current group, and they’ve all come to the house via different paths. Ryan, a freelance videographer, was a “solitary liver” once upon a time, but an internship with TOMS, a shoe company known for giving a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased, introduced him to cooperative living. Interns were paid $50 a week and given room and board in a large house near the beach in Marina Del Rey.

“If I wanted to do something fun, there was always four of five people willing to do it with me at a moment’s notice,” Ryan said. “Just before the internship ended, I was invited to dinner here. It seemed like a great transition after living with 15 people.”

Other residents of the house arrived by way of mutual friends or Craigslist postings. Sarah, a campaign coordinator with Mercy for Animals, originally lived in a different intentional community but found herself spending a lot of time at Synchronicity. Within two months, she’d taken a vacant spot in a shared room.

“[The other house] wasn’t as intentional or organized,” she said. “One person seemed to be making the decisions and just letting people know. Here, we have goals for what we want this space to be. We want to be hospitable, share with each other, and have space to be creative.”

To help meet these goals, the house holds communal dinners Monday through Thursday, and the residents take turns cooking. Visitors are always welcome, and there are usually one or more guests in the spare room known as the hospitality room. There is no fee to stay overnight. Instead, guests are asked to contribute to the house in a nonmonetary way.

“We call it an energy exchange,” Ryan explained. Cooking dinner is a common form of payment, but some guests think bigger. The dining room table was an energy exchange project – a hulking, rectangular thing that seats more than a dozen people. The guest who built it spent days salvaging, cutting and staining the wood. Another project was the backyard solar-heated shower, made so residents could rinse off before jumping into the hot tub.

Other backyard fixtures include a serious bike collection, an outdoor lounge area, and a well-equipped art studio. Through the room with sewing tools and an editing bay is a music room and fully functioning recording booth. This studio is where Synchronicity’s salons – monthly art nights – were held, before the audience got too big and the event was moved to the living room.

“Salons began as a few people sharing incomplete works,” Ryan said. “The event gives us incentive to express ourselves, and that is a huge centerpiece of this house – to keep creating. Over time, the salons have evolved into more of an open-mic event. There are more people, so it’s less intimate and less of an environment where someone vulnerable can share something incomplete. That’s a struggle we’ve had.”

Challenges are bound to arise in any house, but consistent systems and structures keep Synchronicity running smoothly most of the time. Residents pay $400 a month for rent, plus an additional $100 for community fees that cover food, utilities, Internet and creative project subsidies. Household duties, from grocery shopping to turning off lights, are assigned to those best suited for the work. There’s even a resident beer czar, responsible for keeping the fridge fully stocked with beer.

Besides sharing chores, residents maintain open communication lines through weekly meetings and check-ins.

“In 10 months living here, I don’t think I’ve been pissed at anyone,” Sarah said over dinner. “That’s unheard of – I’m always mad at people. But here, anything that could be a big deal is never a big deal because we talk about it.”

   The roommates also follow one important rule: All changes in the house must be agreed upon. That’s not always easy in a family of 12. The latest complicated negotiation surrounded buying a Christmas tree.

“A simple idea like that can lead to a multi-day, multi-email discussion,” Ryan said. “Is buying a tree the most environmentally friendly option? Do we want a tree that can be replanted? How about no tree at all? That process requires patience. That’s part of what it takes for 12 people to live in harmony.”

Ryan can recall only one time when the house couldn’t overcome a problem – last year, when a roommate struggling with the consensus model was asked to move out. It was the only time in the house’s history that someone had been asked to leave.

“The person ended up causing a lot of hurt in the house,” Ryan said. “The whole process was hard and emotionally draining. But following that, multiple amazing people came in. There was this burst of love and energy.”

For Synchronicity’s residents, the benefits that come with living with so many friends – constant support, after-dinner conversations about viral videos and beer – outweigh the obstacles. Ryan imagines that even when he has a family and owns property, he’s likely to share the land with others.

“We all have unique interests – some of us even have opposing interests,” Sarah said. “But overall, that’s a strength of our house. We all add to the mix. And having a plate saved for you at dinner? That’s one of the best things ever.”

The owners of the house, Steve Wallis and Eileen Ehmann, also live on Westmoreland Boulevard, and they believe Synchronicity LA plays an integral role in the transitional neighborhood.

“They bring a vibrancy to the street,” said Wallis. “When I first moved here, all the people who could contribute positively to the neighborhood seemed to stay indoors. Now Sychronicity and other communities like it put their energy out. Some neighbors may not know the intentional communities by name – they just call them ‘the kids’ – but they speak about them with smiles on their faces. It’s wonderful to see how other people react to their presence.”

In March, Synchronicity will have housed the same 12 residents for a full year – a record since its inception.

To find out more, visit, attend a salon, or reach out to the residents and attend a communal dinner.You can also check out the short documentary video about them at

Note: Synchronicity L.A. and four other intentional communities in Harvard Heights form a loose-knit community known as the BLVD Collective. Members strive to meet once a month to get to know one another and to organize community projects. One of those projects, bringing more attention to a struggling local restaurant, was featured in the 2013 December issue of TNN.


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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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