Re: Handling disputes in cohousing
From: Elizabeth Stevenson (
Date: Thu, 31 Jan 2002 09:24:01 -0700 (MST)
This is truly one of those posts that humble my attempts to reply. I don't
think anything I would write would be adequate. However, there are some
thoughts that occur to me.

I've never heard of this "junior member" idea after a person has bought in
to the group. Often, groups have levels of membership according to whether
or not the member has invested in the group, but once the member has bought
in, they are full members. The only exception to this is the process of
choosing units. Many times this process alone is based on seniority, for
fainess' sake. Having a hierarchy for decision making is antithetical to
consensus. The idea that you would not be able to make upgrades to your own
home (while others can) is outrageous. This must be illegal. Anyone?

However, there are some red flags that come up for me. I have been
communicating with Rob over email for several years now, and while we
sometimes disagree, I would trust him to mediate for me. Maybe you are not
telling us everything, in the hope that we will be supportive. I would want
to hear Rob's take on this.

Also, groups have to decide what is best for the group. Sometimes that means
that there are people who shouldn't join cohousing, because their housing
needs are too specific for the group. Your needs seem like one of those
instances. I think you are right in thinking that you were accepted out of
desperation. That is very unfortunate for you and the group, and a
temptation that many groups succumb to.

I cringe at the loss of your collection. But I still have to wonder why your
expectations were so far different from the reality. I don't feel like I
have the whole story. My apologies for the limitations of this medium. I
would talk to you in person to get more information to really be able to

Liz Stevenson
Southside Park Cohousing
Sacramento California
tamgoddess [at]

> My question is what to do if the marginalization is immediate upon
> joining, and mediation is refused? At Songaia (, 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 (, 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 ( and
> the U.W. Botany Department ( 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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