the politics of co-housing
From: Wm Leler (wmithaca.com)
Date: Mon, 14 Mar 94 16:44:30 PST
I'm curious about something.  Most of the cohousing groups
(at least the ones posting to this list) seem to share a
few other things besides just being in a co-housing group.

1) There is a strong belief in consensus.

2) There is a strong desire to pass on the founding beliefs
of the community.

This is interesting.  Most housing is not done this way, of
course.  Either you are building or buying a single detached
house, so you do not need a group decision-making process
(like consensus) to make decisions on things like whether
to build fences or how many windows to put in, or you are
buying a condo (or moving into an apartment) where some
builder made up some rules (about fences, windows, pets,
etc.) and then sold the units to people who agreed with this
particular set of rules.

I have no experience with cohousing, but the way the communities
that are discussed on the net seem to operate is they *do* have
an implicit set of values, which of course will always be in conflict
with the consensus process.  After all, who is the keeper of
these values?  If the group changes over time and the consensus
evolves away from the founding values, is this good or bad?
(By analogy, in America who gets to decide whether gay families
strengthen or destroy "traditional american family values")?

The attempt to lock these values into the community (in at least
one case forever, by setting up some legal mechanism so that
some common land could never be sold) also seems against the
consensus process.  It reminds me of the long legal battles
that Rice University went through to reverse the founder's
stipulation that blacks not be allowed to attend.

The conflict between consensus and founding beliefs also seems to
(perhaps not intentionally) distinguish between people who help
found the community and those that join it later.  This may be
fair, since founding members "paid their dues" by attending
so many meetings :-) but it also means that there will be some
conflict here.

I've seen alot of traffic about how hard it is for a group
of people to set up a co-housing community -- the volume of
meetings being just one problem.  At the risk of being
called anti-PC, has anyone considered setting up a cohousing
community without this initial consensus process?  For
example, some developer (a dreaded word, but I'm assuming a
a particularly far sighted one) would buy some land, build
a co-housing style community, set up some initial rules for
it, and then sell units (another dreaded word) to people who
want to live in that kind of community.

In a way, there is still an aspect of consensus to this, since
people will vote for or against the values of the community
by whether they buy into it or not.  This is no different from
what I would face if I want to join an existing co-housing
community.

I guess what I'm trying to ask is whether co-housing is
a housing concept where a bunch of people share some 
common space, common resources and perhaps a few meals, or
if there is a political element to it which involves
consensus and the establishment of values.

--wm

p.s. incidentally, I grew up in a "community" that might
have had something in common with co-housing.  It was a
cul-de-sac in Palo Alto called Lawrence Lane, which was
kept 1/3 white, 1/3 black, and 1/3 oriental (until that
became illegal).  The houses were all traditional single
family dwellings, but there was common land at the end
of the block (with a ball field, etc.).  There were maybe
a dozen houses total, and monthly meetings.  The group
was cohesive enough that 5 families had babies within
a few months of each other so that the children could
play together (this included my little sister).  I still
remember when I realized that my best friend was black.

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