Re: non-participating households
From: Howard Landman (
Date: Thu, 3 Aug 2000 11:32:58 -0600 (MDT)
> I guess I'm one of the "vocal minority" Liz referred to (though we never
> took a vote or other count) who opposed the system by which people who
> work less pay more. There were lots of reasons, but the central one
> (hey, it's late) was that we don't like setting up a situation in which
> the "choice" between working more and paying more is a real choice for
> those who can afford to pay more but not for those who can't. We didn't
> want to encourage creation of a two-tier society where some pay more to
> have others work more. Ours is a particularly mixed-income community,
> but I think the principle applies generally.

This issue seems to generate a lot of heat (but not much light :-) in
many communities.  It was the subject of highly emotional debates when
River Rock was forming.

Cohousing isn't supposed to be just a bunch of condos.  It's more communal
than that.  On the other hand, it isn't a commune where everyone shares
all their assets and income.  It's less communal than that.

I think perhaps the reason the pay-vs-work issue is so highly charged
is that it forces people to directly confront where on that spectrum
they want to live.  Also, it brings up deep-seated political biases
of all sorts.  We have some people who see nothing wrong with a free
market or may even have a quasi-religious Libertarian belief in it as
a fundamental principle of a free society, and other people who believe
that if any two people have different amounts of wealth then the richer
person must be a thief.  In either case, there's an entrenched belief
system at stake.

(As an aside, though, I wonder why the people who want us all to have
the same wealth are opposed to a wealthier person paying money to a
poorer person.  Huh, what?  They dislike the inequality but don't want
to allow reducing it?)

Surprisingly, this whole issue tends to much easier to deal with in
practice than in theory.  For example, in our landscaping we planted
some "dryland turf" seed.  It's sprouting now and needs to be kept wet
constantly for a couple of weeks until it gets established - after that
it's low maintenance.  Basically the initial watering is a full-time
task in that it needs someone on-site running around turning sprinklers
on and off for a whole day.  But that person isn't busy full-time and can
do other things as well, as long as they can do them at home.  We decided
as a community that each household had to be responsible for one day.

A couple of our members who stay at home all the time anyway (moms,
retired persons) offered to do this, for $50/day, for people who had
trouble taking a whole day off work.  This is a clear win-win situation
- the waterer gets paid while still being able to stay at home, which
helps ease the "stretch" of being in cohousing for people who may have
had trouble affording it, and the payer presumably thinks their day at
the office is worth more than $50 too.  Each party benefits.

So, perhaps surprisingly, none of the people who complained vociferously
about the *idea* of some people paying others to do community work are
now raising their voices against the *actuality* of it.  I don't know
why this is.  Maybe now, a year later, we just trust each other more.
A lot of the talk before move-in tends to be fear-based because people
have a lot of uncertainties, especially if they've never done coho before.
They want to be assured that eveything will be the way they want it.
But later it seems to me this subsides.  After a bunch of community
meals and activities and committees, it's clearer how things are going
to go and there's less need to worry about it.

I think talk about creating a "two-tier" society is not useful because
it ignores the fact that there's a continuum, not a bifurcation.
It encourages "us vs them" thinking instead of looking for ways to
cooperate.  Often in coho some major work needs both money and time.
To require everyone to put in exactly the same amount means that you
can't do anything at all unless the poorest member of the community
can afford the cost and the busiest member can afford the time.
This is fundamentally silly unless you're trying to turn your coho
group into a full-blown commune where "there are no untouchables here"
(Gandhi), i.e. unless some ideal of perfect equality is an explicit
religious/spiritual goal of the community itself.  For everyone else,
it's suboptimal.

Another reason I don't like the oversimplified view is that it tends
to ignore that various tasks have different properties.  Gardening
and getting the community networked are very different and tend to
draw different people, but both are worthwhile.  So even without
involving money, there can still be issues of trading one task for
another.  We hope, in the long run, that it all balances out and
that everything needful gets done.

The philosopher Durkheim distinguished two kinds of association, one
based on sameness (e.g. a chess club, internet news group, or religion)
and one based on difference and organic interdependence (e.g. an economy
or marriage).  Coho has elements of both.  We are similar in that we
want to live with more intimacy and community, but we are different in
our skills, resources, and ideals.  Making coho work is a balancing act
between these similarities and differences, and it doesn't help to be
overly dogmatic in emphasizing one over the other.

But anyway, has anyone else noticed other things that were hard and
full of dispute "in theory" but resolved into non-issues "in practice",
or vice versa?

        Howard Landman
        River Rock Cohousing

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