Re: [C-L] Diversity in Cohousing
From: Howard Landman (howardpolyamory.org)
Date: Fri, 28 Jun 2002 23:21:02 -0600 (MDT)
> I wonder if any cohousing community has experienced any of the problems
> described in this thread.

Yes, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered jumping in.

> I would suggest that people relate
> actual experiences in building a diverse cohousing community rather than
> these very imaginative hypothetical cases.

OK.  (Some of the things below I have mentioned before.  I apologize in
advance for the repitition, but apparently it's necessary.)

Experience 1:
When I first started looking into cohousing, I was in a family of 3 adults
and 3 children.  There was no unit planned at Riverrock that could have
contained us.  Why not?  I believe all of the following had some effect:

- "Involuntary simplicity".  Many people in cohousing are proponents of
  voluntary simplicity, and design towards the theoretical ideal of
  people who have few possessions and need little space.  At River Rock,
  this showed up in many ways, including garages that were one full foot
  narrower than standard (as if cars could be wished smaller!), a rather
  lean amount of built-in storage, etc.  But the actual people who move
  in may not fit that theoretical model.

- Bias against large families.  Some people in cohousing believe that
  people should not have large families.  Therefore they seem to design
  out such people, effectively making it impossible for them to live
  in coho.  At River Rock, one family of 2 adults + 2 kids + 1 very
  large dog dropped out because they felt there was nothing to fit them.
  And I think they were right -  there wasn't.

- Desire to keep the number of different unit types small to avoid
  extra architect's fees.  Since most developments typically sell more
  of the smaller units, the fees are harder to amortize on larger units,
  meaning they either are less profitable or must be made relatively
  more expensive.

- "Enforced egalitarianism".  Making the variation in unit size narrow
  is perceived as a way of enforcing that "we're all equal here", even
  though it doesn't really do that.
  
Anyway, I had to put deposits on 2 units in order to have enough space.
The only thing that prevented us from actually buying the second unit
was a timely (?!) divorce that reduced us to 2 adults and 3 part-time
children.

Experience 2:
Our common house basement is not finished.  We would like to finish it
but it will cost about $75,000 dollars.  One way of handling this
would be to simply assess each of the 34 households $2206 (or more likely
assess larger households more and smaller households less), but we
can't do this because some people simply "can't afford it".  Note that
this isn't an expense but a capital investment - the community will be
worth that much more, so presumably the value of each unit will increase
by roughly the amount invested.  For myself, I therefore wouldn't see
too much difference between having $2000 in a bank account and having
it invested in the common house.  But others see it differently.

Anyway, it would not be completely unfair to say that progress on
this issue is being blocked by those who are unwilling or unable to
make that kind of an investment in their community.  (It would be
slightly unfair - our discussions on this issue are more complex
than I can really explain here, and various options such as trading
work for monetary contributions have been left out.)  We have a
consensed community value that we want to "finish off" River Rock
within 5 years, but the expenditure levels needed to do that
appear impossible to achieve.  We, collectively, say we want something
but are unwilling to pay for it.  That's a pretty juvenile attitude,
if you ask me.  I'd like to find a way to move beyond it.

I believe that any cohousing group which includes low-income persons
is likely to run into this problem.  My advice to you would be: make
sure EVERYTHING is completed before move-in, or you could be waiting
for years to do any major capital improvements.

        Howard A. Landman
        who is expressing his own opinion and not that of anyone else at
        River Rock Commons
        Fort Collins CO
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