|Re: Rentals in Cohousing--decisionmaking||<– Date –> <– Thread –>|
|From: Richard Lynch (ralynchcasbah.acns.nwu.edu)|
|Date: Wed, 17 Nov 93 12:45 CST|
Hello netters, Jim Ratliff (jratliff [at] bpa.Arizona.edu) writes: > . . . I raise governance concerns because mixing renters and owners would be > mixing two groups in a consensus decision process where those two groups > have very distinct incentives: > > Owners necessarily have an infinite time horizon in their concern for the > value of the community. (Either they will live there till they die, or they > will eventually sell, in which case they need to worry about resale value, > which involves potential buyers' assessment of the long-term prospects for > the community.) > > Renters on the other hand can take a much shorter-term perspective when > they make decisions that affect the group. > > So how to mix the two? Perhaps have decisions grouped into two classes: (1) > decisions concerning investments in the site, etc. and (2) decisions > concerning currenting operating policies, etc. Then only owners could block > consensus in type-1 decisions and both renters and owners could block > consensus for type-2 decisions. > The problem raised here, how to assure that renters do not make a cohousing group act against its long-term interests, relies on a couple of assumptions which we might want to question. Namely, that cohousing members will act and vote only according to their own self-interest, rather than according to whatever they perceive to be the community's interest. In Jim's scenario, renters voting in their (soon to be departing) interests could contribute to decisions that were to the detriment of the community. Now this does seem to be a legetimate worry for any community that will mix owners and renters, but I suspect that it shouldn't be a large one, and I am concerned that the formalistic solution that Jim suggested marginalizes renters (in what could in fact encourage that kind of self-interest voting). 1. Why it needn't be a large issue. (Again, this is a legitimate concern, I'm just trying to put it in perspective.) In my experience living in student housing cooperatives, I've found that socialization of new members goes a long way in instilling the co-op's values in these members--even those who had never had much experience with a community before and had moved in simply because it was "a cheap place close to campus." So, although ALL MEMBERs were renters, and many stayed for just a year (and as students, we all knew we were staying for a finite time), we all were willing to understand thta some things had to be done if the co-op would continue operating over a long-run: everything from turning down the heat or buying your favorite cereal (instead of the house buying it) to changing the way that we accepted new members to better fill vacancies. The point is, RENTERS were willing to act and vote in the co-ops interest, even if that was explicitly counter to their own interest. If the cohousing group does provide a real community, and renters are not excluded from that community (either formally or de facto, because all the owners already know and are friends with one another before a renter moves in) then in I think the vast majority of cases, the renters will pick up the norms of the community, including the norm of voting in the community's interest over one's own when its important. The point: we don't need to spend a lot of time worrying about this possibility. 2. Some concerns about issue-type formalism. I have two concersn about the investment-type v. operations type formal solution tht Jim suggests, one specific and one general. Jim assumes a consensus-process. With this distinction between types of issues, owners would be able to block consensus on all issues, but renters would be able to block consensus only on operations issues. My specific concern is that this means renters have no voice in investment decisions. If these decisions involve community land or funds, and the renters are (albeit temporary) members of the community, they should have some decisionmaking voice. Two alternatives that would allow some renter participation while preserving owner dominance could be 1) have a certain number of renter-delegates who can block consensus on invetment issues, or 2) any 1 owner can block consensus but it takes 2 renters to do so. Of course, if wht I said earlier about renters sharing the long-term vision is persuasive, we could say that all members (owner or renter) participate in all decisions and if the rare event that a renter, acting in her own interest to block a consensus on a long-term, investment type decision actually happens then we deal with the specific case, reasoning with her to show her why she acts in her own interest rather than the community's and convince her to change her mind just as we would with any owner who blocked consensus similarly. (Sorry about the long sentence, I study philosophy.:-) I think that this case-by-case approach is in fact the best. We can turn to the general concen by elaborating on something I said above, that with Jim's formalism "renters have no voice in investment decisions." Of course, we can presume that renters would be perfectly welcome to participate in the debate and discussion before the actual decisionmaking vote, so that statement seems too strong. But (if I may draw on cooperative experience again) I've noticed two trends in meeting/decisionmaking dynamics. First, people who can't participate in decisionmaking virtually never attend the meeting -- and thus, no matter how formally open discussion may be in theory, they do not participate in it. And second, even if/when they do attend and speak up, those who are voting often know that so-and-so who has this strong objection cannot vote, and therefore do not take her concerns seriously (especially if she is a lone voice dissenting to something the others basically agree upon). So, though renters would be open to participate in discussion but not voting on investments issues in Jim's proposal; in practice, either through self-exclusion (not going to the meeting) or through others ignoring her, the renter could in fact end up with virtually no voice. My general concern: this kind of issue base-distinction between renters and owners, though initially simply a decisionmaking insurance device, can suprisingly easily be transformed into a class-divider. Knowing that they can't participate in voting, a renter doesn't attend a particular meeting. Not attending the meeting, others view her as non-cooperative and she feels left out of the group's activities. This continues, and pretty soon the renter is marginalized, a second-class member of the community, and bad feelings run amuck on all sides. Not good. Now granted, this is VERY hypothetical. Many things could be done to prevent it, as we could even develop a formal plan to avoid renter marginalization. But the point is, I think this is a MORE IMPORTANT worry than the one Jim initially set out to solve, about renters voting in their own self-interest. Besides, if we're worried about the renters, isn't it just as likely that an owner would act in their own self interest, trying to artificially raise or lower values so as to make a killing? Historically speaking, it is the property-owning class that does these things. (I also would like to convey a little bit of skepticism toward a priori formalism. It seems to me that dealing with things case by case can be the easiest, simplest, and FAIRest way to do things sometimes--this being such a case.) 3. My agenda. Well, I have an agenda (beyond truth and justice) in pointing this out. As a graduate student who 1) used to live in cooperatives and would like to live in a similar community again, 2) knows that I won't be in the same city for more than 5 yrs until "tenure" comes along, and 3) has very little capital with which to invest in a cohousing project, renting seems like the only feasible way for me to participate in cohousing in the foreseeable future. So I don't want to see these legitimate issues blown up into worries which motivate us not to accept renters. BTW to Jim: no offense or personal animosity intended, please don't take any :-) ! Cooperatively, Richard
Rentals in Cohousing communities? Jim Ratliff, November 15 1993
- Re: Rentals in Cohousing--decisionmaking Richard Lynch, November 17 1993
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