Re: Some membership questions
From: Lynn Nadeau (
Date: Tue, 23 Jun 1998 15:55:12 -0500
Whether or not "approving someone into the community" is an issue is, 
first off, a matter of whether your legal structure even allows that. 

RoseWind Cohousing, in Port Townsend WA, is neither coop nor condo, but a 
non-profit ("miscellaneous mutual benefit") corporation with a 
Homeowners' Association. When we sell a lot, we are bound by 
non-discrimination laws to exclude no one who wishes to buy and is 
financially able to do so. Also, as with real estate advertising in 
general, we are constrained from too obviously looking for one kind of 
buyer at the implicit expense of other sorts of buyers (at least this is 
our understanding, which means, we think, that we can't advertise 
"Wanted, families with young children..." although we do).

Our Covenants, Bylaws etc are part of the deed to each lot, and so any 
owner automatically has the rights and responsibilities of membership in 
the community. We have already had two homes change hands due to the 
death of elderly members. When someone dies, their estate is the 
cohousing member. 

In one case, the heirs found (to their surprise) that mom had been onto a 
good thing. While here caring for mom in her final illness, and then 
staying on to settle the estate, the heirs decided they liked the land 
and the people, bought out the siblings, and went back across the country 
to pack up and move in here.

In the other case, the family was very estranged from the mom and wanted 
nothing to do with us. They changed the locks, left the house empty for 
months, and then suddenly it had been sold by a real estate agent to a 
person who was simply looking for a small house in a certain price range. 
The agent knew only that there was some sort of annual assessment, and 
some sort of homeowners' association. We lucked out, and the new resident 
has adjusted well to her unexpected community.

Other buyers have come to us in their search for community, and with 
those anyway, we can at least assist them in understanding what we are 
about, although we cannot require any familiarization or orientation. I 
know Winslow Cohousing has (had, anyway) a "Clearness Committee" whose 
job was to be sure the buyers knew what they were getting into, and had 
their questions answered. That seemed a useful idea.

Obviously, whatever written materials a community has provide one method 
of assisting in buyers self selecting. Attendance at social functions and 
meetings also gives an impression, and may raise questions in the buyer's 

In our case, leaving the group is entirely the decision of the lot owner 
or home owner, and can come about for reasons related or unrelated to the 
community itself. We have had one household who decided after a few years 
of meetings, while still living some distance away, that this wasn't what 
they wanted. They sold their lot to a new family. 

One thing that would be a plus would be a sort of buddy system for new 
members. Given the chance, this could be pre-purchase as well, but could 
always be post-purchase. At RoseWind, this has sometimes fallen de facto 
to the secretary, as communicator of information about the community, or 
to some family who is or becomes friends with the newcomers. But some 
households can fall through the cracks this way. A more formal 
arrangement would be more certain of covering the bases.

If, unlike us, you DO have a legal option of "selecting" from applicants, 
examine your motives and criteria. As a consensus-based community, with 
an avowed interest in diversity, on what basis can or should you exclude 
someone? Provided that the buyer has the information about the rights and 
responsibilities of group membership, and any definable common values the 
group holds, what would it mean to exclude someone? In our group, any 
time the group thought about some sort of selection or screening process, 
even in theory, we've shrugged and laughed and noted that nobody screened 
US, and WE are all wonderful (or alternately that, if a screening process 
had been in place, maybe NONE of us would have made it in!).

I'll be interested to read what this thread comes up with.          Lynn 
Nadeau at RoseWind

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