Re: Rentals in Cohousing--decisionmaking
From: Gordon (
Date: Wed, 17 Nov 93 16:36 CST

Richard L writes:

> 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

I would like to corroborate Richard's comments in favor of renters.  I live in a
cooperative household that was established in 1970 that has always consisted 
entirely of "renters", in the sense that noone acrues any equity.  We are 
owners, in the sense that we make decisions on the property and the community, 
and noone else does.  It's a commune, plain and simple, and the only one I know 
of in the Twin Cities that survived the 70's.  We survived precisely because we 
did away with individual ownership and thus avoided the violent disruptions to a
small community when an owner leaves.  Turnover is relatively high, about 30% a 
year.  But during our 23 year history we have somehow maintained a culture that 
cultivated individual responsibility and long-term investment.  At times that 
has been the work of influential senior members, at times it has resulted from 
some very intentional cultivation facilitated by hiring outside professionals.  
In general, however, we have relied on acculturation to help us develop the 
communication and communal feelings necessary to make the place work.  

I agree with Richard in particular that giving renters real power is essential 
to keeping them active, interested, and responsible in the community.  What is 
required is careful screening of renters for maturity, social skills, and 
genuine interest in community.  After a renter has been selected they should be 
welcomed and nurtured into the community culture.  In our case, new members of 
our household are welcomed from the start and their voice is normally given as 
much attention as any established member.  However, new members are only given 
an actual vote after they have attended 6 monthly meetings.  We operate on a 
consensus model, so every vote must be used responsibly.  By the time a new 
member has gained an actual vote they have usually become fully aware of the 
responsibilities of their influence and use the power of their assent in 
cooperative ways.  We screen members heavily, and have screened out several even
after they have moved in.  New members are generally screened out because they 
are not participating in the community, usually by not making meetings or just 
not being around.

To be honest, I am not sure how well this model will work in an environment when
there is a mix of renters and owners.  I am skeptical of owner's ability to 
treat renters as equals.  It's a leap of genuine faith required of at least a 
majority of owners in order for renters to feel empowered to participate.

- Gordon

Gordon Weil                                Phone:     (612) 626-8851
Dungeon of Epidemiology                      Fax:     (612) 624-0315
University of Minnesota                 Internet:     WEIL [at] 

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