re:the politics of co-housing
From: andre (a.n.) vellino (
Date: Tue, 15 Mar 1994 13:26:00 +0000 [/PRMD=BNR/ADMD=TELECOM.CANADA/C=CA/;bcars735.b.714:]
In message "the politics of co-housing", Wm writes

>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 true.  In Terra Firma (Ottawa) there seems to be
social/political ecological and spiritual "likeness-of-mind" too.  I
think this can be very helpful.

>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?

I don't think like-mindedness in values and the consensus process are
in conflict at all.  I think it's the *same* mindset that makes people
want to live in an isolated condo that also makes them think that
polluting the third world or clear-cutting rain forests is OK because
it's not in our back yard.

>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.

I think you're assuming that all "values" are relative. Do you think
that the principles of the US constitution, for example, justifiably
enforce certain freedoms and obligations for citizens or should it be
a document that changes willy-nilly with the whims of each generation?

>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 don't see that at all.  Starting something is hard, granted.
But keeping it going can be just as difficult, I'm sure.

>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.

Great! That sounds like New Age Suburbs! When can I move in? :-).

>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.

I think values, connection with the land and human community, the
desire to be part of something greater than yourself, the desire for
your life to have a beneficial impact on the environment and others;
I think all these things are part of what Cohousing means to me.
That's what attracted me to Terra Firma in the first place (not to
mention the delicious vegetarian meals we had at the recruitment
meetings :)).

I take it, Wm, that you're the same Wm Leler of CLP/Bertrand fame?
What's you're e-mail address?

Andre' Vellino,   vellino [at],   (613)763-7513,  fax (613)763-4222
Bell-Northern Research, Box 3511,  Station C,  Ottawa, CANADA K1Y 4H7

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