Life after 24 roommates

Until last month, Helen Harlan lived in a five-bedroom house in Highland Park with 24 roommates.

She called it the commune. KCRW paid a visit last summer to find out what it was like to live there.

Fast forward to February: Helen Harlan has moved out of the house.

“This was supposed to be a pitstop, and it was just a very long pitstop, but I always had the intention of moving on when the opportunity was right,” she says.

Helen Harlan moved out of her crowded house after she got the writing job she was holding out for. Photo by Amy Ta.

Harlan moved there in September 2018. She said she was trying to be a writer and actor, but also worked as a bartender and personal assistant to pay the bills.

She moved out because she finally got the writing gig she was waiting for. She’ll be working on a pilot for a show she can’t disclose yet.

But she says that wasn’t the only reason she wanted to leave the commune.

Close quarters can mean butting heads. Harlan confronted a roommate who snored loudly. The roommate got mad, disrupted her sleep, gave her the silent treatment. Harlan says complaining to management didn’t help either.

“Whenever I saw a conflict, I shot an email or a text off and nothing changed, so I just stopped complaining. … When this deal came through, it was like, ‘Why would you possibly want to stay here?’ ”

As for the other 24 people she lived with, she says maybe two-thirds have left, and their beds have been replaced two or three times over. They’ve found new living situations or moved back home with their parents. Four of them went in on an apartment together.

But Harlan hasn’t heard many updates since she left: “For me it’s kind of like working in a restaurant. It’s like you’re all very tight for a decent amount of time. ... There were certain people in that house that I probably knew better than anyone else in my life from the last year and a half, and knew me better for the last year and a half. But now we’re not in each other’s sightline.”

The house itself is mostly the same. The rent is still $580, it still includes utilities, WiFi, two bathrooms and a back patio. One of the two kitchens is gone after city inspectors toured the house and said it wasn’t allowed. There is still a constant pile of dirty dishes in the sink.

But Harlan’s perspective on the living situation has changed. Originally she enjoyed the company. She said it was crowded, but it worked. But watching so many people come through, she says it didn’t work for everybody. Many she says, got lost in the culture there.

She says that last group burned out or ran out of money the same way many do their freshman year of college: “Those folks eventually had to leave before they were going to get evicted because they couldn’t pay rent, and you do see that you’re out back smoking weed and you’re not at work.”

She said she succeeded by keeping her head down, staying out of the house during the day, and keeping her eye on the prize.

Harlan is glad for her time in the commune, but hasn’t looked back since she left. She’s spending the month living with two friends and their baby -- and providing a bit of free childcare. No housing plans after that, but her new job leaves her with more options.