In her modern kitchen, Sandra Jeffers pulls some greens out of the freezer and begins to cook chicken for a Sunday evening dinner. Seven-year-old Daria hovers nearby. Upstairs in the family's two-floor town house, Mr. Jeffers stetches out on his bed and watches a ballgame. Across the hall, Dominick, a high school junior, naps in his room. It's like Sunday afternoon in any suburb.
But this isn't an ordinary suburb, and the Jefferses are living in a home that is different from most homes. It's not the building itself - it's the form of ownership.
The Jefferses, even with two working parents, could not scrape together enough money to buy a home. And they couldn't afford much more than the $404 a month they paid for their crowded two-bedroom apartment in a complex that was dirty and crime infested. In that home, when Dominick needed some privacy from his sisters he slept on the living room couch.
Now the Jefferses live in mutual housing, a form of cooperative housing patterned after similar projects in Europe. Paying a flat fee of $2,500, the family joined the Mutual Housing Association, a nonprofit organization, and now pays a monthly maintenance fee of $380 for the three-bedroom town house in Baltimore with yard and a back patio. A comparable rental would normally cost as much as $675 a month, says Mrs. Jeffers. Built for a mix of families - 60 percent below the area's median income and the rest not more than 120 percent of that median - mutual housing provides the conveniences of home ownership without the hassles. The Jefferses can live in the house as long as they want, and even pass it on to their children. If they decide to leave, they get their original investment of $2,500 back, plus interest.
The children are much happier in the new home. Dominick, a high school junior, has a room of his own for the first time.
Mrs. Jeffers says her two older children don't go out as much, in part because they have more privacy now.
``It's different than the other place because it's beautiful,'' says Daria.
There are downsides. Cars sometimes hot rod through the quiet streets. There has been some crime so tenants recently banded together to get protective - if decorative - window grills.
But Mrs. Jeffers is happy to be raising her family here.``I'm proud of this home,'' she says.