Re: Membership definitions
From: Jeff Hobson (
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 1999 16:23:40 -0500
Hey Cohousing-l mavens:

Thanks for the great advice last week about membership definitions. I
summarized it for my group. Here's the relevant part of what I wrote for them:

There was some great advice, and I think I can summarize the suggestions as

"Membership" affects several things, which can be divided into 3
categories, each of which should be done differently:
- Decision-making - by consensus, where individuals have blocking power but
the "fallback" voting, if any, may be by "owners"
- Allocation of Capital Costs - by unit/household
- Allocation of Operating Costs - there was no firm recommendation from
list-members; some say by individual, some say by household. I suggest by

The following are the arguments for these points (including some quotes
from people's emails). 

Many people pointed out that if the group makes decisions by consensus,
then the "individual" must have power to block consensus.  The most
eloquent statement to that end came from Liz Stevenson of Southside Park
Cohousing (Sacramento, CA):
        "Having half a vote if you're part of a couple is like going back in 
to when there was no women's suffrage! Houses don't make decisions that
people need to live with, people do."

There are some dissensions to this point of view. Stephanie Fassnacht of
Village Cohousing (Madison, WI) says that they only allow "unit-owners" to
participate in voting and/or block consensus. Short of blocking or voting,
any resident or waiting-list member can participate in discussions,
activities, and decision-making. Lynn Nadeau from Rosewind says they count
households for quorum, but that individuals participate in decision-making.

Many cohousing groups also have "fallback" processes in case consensus
fails (Lynn says they have never used it in 10 years of decision-making).
These are often something like 2/3, 3/4, or consensus minus 2, or something
like that.  Rob Sandelin, cohousing guru from the Seattle area, points out
        "If you fall back to a voting scenario, odds are high the group will be
conflicted, and your legal membership definition as defined in your
cooperative or condo docs will determine the voting process. This should be
pretty clear or you may end up in a world of courts and lawyers, the worst
case scenario, but not without precedent."
        Rob also says that for legal documents, "If you go Co-op you can have
every individual be a member, if you go condo, then each condo will get one
membership to be divided amoung co-owners."

However, lest we put too much stock in the legal documents, Rob reminds us
that while we need some legal definition somewhere, "you can create your
own membership and group process outside of these documents, almost all
groups do. Just be sure the banks don't see this if you document it." 

Also, Rob points out that especially in the early stages of a group, we
need good definitions of how someone becomes a member: "You might want to
clearly define who has control of your process, especially in a group that
is just forming. If you let random people wander in have a controlling
voice, you may find yourself led around by the nose by someone who will
never become part of your group anyway. Common membership definitions are
time and money, to be a member you have to attend x meetings and contribute
$x amount in a non-refundable fee."

Tom Pendleton from Washington, DC (I don't know if he's in a cohousing
group) points out that we should not forget youth in the decision-making

My conclusion: For decision-making, our process should be a consensus of
individuals. For who can become a member, I agree in general with Carol's
proposal. If we develop a fallback voting plan, I think it should be guided
by which ownership structure (limited equity co-op or condo) we follow, so
that's a future decision.

Everyone says allocation of capital costs (building the place) should be
done by UNIT, or perhaps "household." Rob Sandelin also points out that the
ownership structure is also the legal structure that the banks & others
will insist on seeing. 

My conclusion: I agree with everyone else. Allocate capital costs by unit. 

There is no clear point of view from the cohousing-l list. A couple people
said they allocate "condo unit" costs by unit, some said they allocate
costs of running the community by individual. At N Street I know we did our
"operating budget" by individual (with kids assessed at a lower, sliding
scale, rate). 

My conclusion: I continue to feel that we should allocate operating costs
by individual. A 4-person family in a large unit has a lot more impact, and
gets more benefit from the community, than a 1-person family in a small
studio. Same with the comparison between a group of 4 single adults living
together versus a 2-person family. This will be true for food costs, pieces
of equipment, maintenance, etc.
Right now we are trying to decide how to define membership for
decision-making and perhaps allocation of operating costs - this is the
informal decision-making body the banks don't have to know about. We are
not yet at the stage of allocating capital costs; when we are, we will have
to be guided by legal documents we will have to draw up at that time. 

Jeff Hobson
Bay Area Transportation Choices Forum
1915 Essex Street
Berkeley, CA 94703
phone:  510-540-7280
fax:    510-540-7229
email:  jhobson [at]

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.