Last winter Joseph Walz found a three-story house in Midtown which neighbors had labelled a crack den, restored it, named it Dreamland Intentional Community House, and invited five others to move in with him. Living as a makeshift family, they grew food together in a communal garden, split chores, shared meals, and had group outings on the weekends.
Dreamland, like other “intentional communities” across the Twin Cities, was founded as an alternative to the isolation of modern living. They attract young people who otherwise couldn’t afford to live in the city or are too busy to start a traditional family.
But as the idea of communal living takes root, housing laws haven’t evolved in step. In most parts of Minneapolis, only three unrelated adults are allowed to live together, regardless of how many bedrooms there are. The limit exists to prevent unscrupulous landlords from cramming renters together, but makes no exception for communes purposely trying to create that intimacy.
After a year in operation, Dreamland is teetering on the verge of disbanding this week. Walz says the city is withholding the certificate of occupancy he needs to move his commune from their old house, where the lease is ending, to a new location in south Minneapolis. Though the new place has 10 bedrooms, zoning codes prohibit filling them with unrelated people.
Unable to see any way around the restriction, two of Dreamland's original six residents have already vacated, and the rest are preparing to follow suit.
"The real frustrating part is you build community, you bond with people, it's practically like family," Walz says. "Where other cities have changed the laws to incorporate different definitions of family, zoning and occupancy laws in Minneapolis are fairly ridiculous."
Another commune, Lake House, used to be located right next door to Dreamland. It was a quiet boarding house that hosted 8-10 people at a time. The occupants kept their heads down and ran their house in secret, Walz says, because the setup was basically illegal. Lake House has since dissolved as well.
Dan Perucco of Winona House, located in Ventura Village, remembers the October 2013 evening he came home to find an eviction notice tacked to the door. Winona House hosted seven Lutheran Volunteer Corps members at the time.
After many visits to zoning board meetings, Winona House residents were ultimately allowed to stay, Perucco says, because they argued on grounds of being a part of a volunteer program. While he'd hoped to broaden negotiations with the board to include other communes, regulators weren't interested.
"It’s such a shame because the city self professes that they’re trying to increase their urban population, they’re trying to get more population density, reduce the urban sprawl, and support the inner city," Perucco says. "One of the ways that organized people are trying to do that is through intentional communities, and the city is utterly failing to recognize that."
Lisa Keacher will be evicted this week if Dreamland can't get an exemption. If all fails she'll find a new place with roommates. But it won't be the same without Dreamland's potlucks, weekly jam sessions, and surrogate family.
"It's something I value highly, being connected to the place I live, being connected with the people I live with," Keacher says. "It's the only thing I do outside my career, and I'm feeling really uprooted right now, honestly. It really breaks my heart."