The air at 130 Cox Ave. is thick with incense. The walls are draped with cheap Christmas lights and indie band posters. Most nights, at least four people can be found lounging on the squatty, modernist apartment building's concrete porch, clutching bottles of PBR while cats climb over their feet.
The six-unit apartment building near downtown Raleigh is a collective in the loosest, most obtuse sense of the word: There are no meetings or chore wheels or guest policies. It's just a group of people that share resources and friendship—rare in the many fragmented, vast apartment complexes pocking the Triangle.
"We're totally intertwined in each other's lives—we're best friends, we do everything together," says Sue Edelberg, 28. "Camping, snow days, we do everything right here. Melrose Place on a budget."
Along with Sue, there's also Crystal, Dane, Miles, Brandon, Marie, Kathryn and John. Crystal just finished grad school and is a waitress. Sue teaches English as a Second Language to middle-schoolers. Marie designs dresses. Brandon has worked for The Player's Retreat for seven years. Dane is in cosmetology school.
Collective living is becoming popular for Recession-crushed youth. It makes economic sense (it's hard to afford your own place when you're broke) while also addressing the alienation and physical isolation of the millennial age.
Whatever the reason, those who end up in group living situations often come away with something more valuable than cheap rent: a sense of belonging. "Everyone really cares about each other here," Crystal says. "I remember I almost quit grad school. I went over to Marie and she calmed me down, gave me some lavender oil. It's like an instant community. Everyone takes care of each other."
"There's always something to do," Dane says. "You have your core friends all around you, so even if you decide to have a night in, there's always someone doing something, someone having a birthday party or a bonfire outside."
Sue says that after graduating from UNC-Greensboro she felt lost. She volunteered for the AmeriCorps program and, afterward, wound up in Raleigh. "You know what's funny? I don't feel lost, I feel like I found myself here."
Sue wants to make a movie about her experience at Cox Ave. She keeps a log of her memories with entries like "Cox Goes to Dix" (when they went sledding on Dorothea Dix campus) "Cox Pitches a Tent" (when they went camping) and "Cox Gets Wet" (when they took a trip to a river.)
In many ways, the complex seems like a group of college kids who never grew up. Sue says she is fine with this. "Am I happy about that? Yes. Because I'm a grown-up at school [where she teaches] and I get to come home and be myself."
Geographically, 130 Cox is within walking distance to N.C. State, downtown and several of Raleigh's core neighborhoods. "We'll do apartment brunches and breakfasts at Pullen Park, and we can watch kids from the YMCA shoot archery during the day. We can hear drum circles from the park and the band at N.C. State practicing. And we always know when the hour changes because of the chimes from the Belltower," says Sue. "You can see the train here, too, so whenever you want to get away you can just walk down the tracks and hop on a train."
But anyone who has ever done it knows how problematic group living can become. The building is old, and the walls are paper thin. Some see this in a positive light.
"You don't get a lot of privacy," Dan says, "So you always know what's going on. I can be downstairs and I'll hear Sue playing her guitar, and I'll text her, 'That was really pretty. Do it again.'"
Though it may not be for everyone, the cozy little complex on Cox seems to work for the residents. "It makes me feel like I have a family. Because I was an only child, I feel like the people here are the brothers and sisters I've never had," says Sue. "People keep asking me to move in with them and I keep saying nope, nope, nope. I'm going to live here until they tear it down."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Where everybody knows your name"