Handling disputes in cohousing
From: Fred H Olson (fholsoncohousing.org)
Date: Thu, 31 Jan 2002 08:11:01 -0700 (MST)
George Krasle <GSKrasle [at] hotmail.com> is the author of the message below. 
It was posted by Fred the Cohousing-L list manager <fholson [at] cohousing.org> 
because the message included HTML ;      PLEASE do not post HTML, see
   http://csf.colorado.edu/cohousing/2001/msg01672.html
--------------------  FORWARDED MESSAGE FOLLOWS --------------------

A Quote from Rob Sandelin in this list:

"You may be the only one with your set  of values  in the group, and
in the worse case, you can become marginalized and mistreated until you
leave. More than a few people have left community over values differences. I
hope this is not the case and encourage you to seek mediation should you
find evidence of actions of marginalization."

My question is what to do if the marginalization is immediate upon
joining, and mediation is refused? At Songaia (www.songaia.com), I and my
wife joined with explicit conditions, agreed to, in writing, that we would
be allowed to move in our greenhouse and collection of orchids and other
plants (many of them endangered species), but this was denied, without
vote after we made the real-estate transaction. Over six months, I tried
everything I could think of to encourage fulfillment of the "covenant"
that was made before joining, or to obtain mediation, but was refused.
Many of the decisions were recorded "unanimously" over my objections, and
I was told in several cases that "Junior Members" like me would not be
permitted to enter proposals or opt for certain options during
construction (like electrical outlets in the basement [for lights, as an
alternative to the denied greenhouse]) that were reserved for "Seniors."
After over thirty years of avid large-scale gardening and horticulture,
even giving classes at Tilth (http://www.seattletilth.org/), I was denied
any opportunity to even plant a row of potatoes on the garden. My seed
spuds (which I had brought from our house of twelve years) were taken from
me and turned-over to a more Senior member for planting. I have to say
that the garden and landscaping that resulted from their decisions is
pretty pathetic! My friends in the horticulture field laugh sadly at the
wasted potential.

Rob has made it clear that his position is that I was not sufficiently
humble in approaching the leaders, that having presented these "demands"
at the beginning was presumptuous, and contract notwithstanding, the
leaders had the right to deny them after we joined. In response to my
request for mediation, he was called-in to present a workshop, and to deal
with the "disaffected member."

What could I have done? The promotional materials did not mention an
hierarchical authority structure, or anything implying that agreements
could be abrogated after buy-in. I thought that getting the agreements,
promises, up-front was enough, and that the bylaws, anyway, required
consensus, or at least majority vote. Now I have to tell the folks at
Woodland Park Zoo (http://www.zoo.org/conserve/cons_ed/cons_ed.html) and
the U.W. Botany Department (http://depts.washington.edu/botweb/) that my
teaching and distribution collections have been destroyed, thirty years of
work. I will someday have to rely on their reciprocation of my generosity
to rebuild, once I live somewhere I CAN have a greenhouse and garden.

As you can guess, my experience with co-housing has been very negative,
but I could have avoided it if I had known up-front more about what I was
getting into. Maybe this is not POSSIBLE, for I expect most folks would
avoid joining if they were warned, so no warnings can be issued, lest (as
would have happened here), the construction schedule be delayed. Our
joining brought SG up to "full membership," which allowed the financial
tranactions to proceed and construction to begin. I guess they agreed to
allow the greenhouse out of desperation to complete the roster, and once
our money was committed, our good-will was no longer required.

Please, I would appreciate comments.

George S. Krasle

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