Re: Diversity in Cohousing
From: Howard Landman (
Date: Wed, 3 Jul 2002 13:09:06 -0600 (MDT)
> Or have a system, as we do, in which funds for capital improvements are paid
> every month by all households but on a sliding scale, heavily weighted by
> ability to pay.

"from each according to their ability, to each according to their need"
is the central idea of communism.  This principle works fine at the
scale of a family.  It fails hideously at the scale of a nation-state.
Whether it works at the level of a commune or not depends on many factors,
among which are whether the total "needs" exceed the total "abilities",
whether the people with abilities being taxed feel the system is
fair or giving them what they want, and whether the commune has enough
shared group values (especially religion).  See (e.g.) J.H. Noyes, "A
History of American Socialisms" for many more details of what worked
and what didn't.  (In the 1800's, pre-Marx/Engels, the words "socialism"
and "communism" both meant something close to the modern "commune" - you
could live in "a socialism".)

Cohousing is not a commune.  It is not legally structured as a commune,
nor does it bill itself as being a commune.  It's somewhere in between
a condo and a commune, and exactly where depends on the people involved.
It's not fair to assume that everyone in cohousing is a communist (in the
pre-Marx sense) or shares communist ideals to the extent that you do.

> This enables the community as a whole to determine
> priorities on spending a known amount of money for capital improvements
> without each decision running up against the fact that some have far more
> means than others.

Yes it does.  But it also creates a system in which some people are being
allowed to not carry their fair share of the load, and others are being
forced to carry it for them.  This may not strike *you* as unfair, but it
would seem that way to others.

> allowing some members to work more and others to pay more. We have for the
> most part successfully resisted this idea so far

You mean, like it's a terrible idea?  :-)

> it's fraught with dangerous implications for community solidarity
> when some HAVE to work more because they can't afford to pay more --
> and yes, these might be people who are already working long hours
> at low wages outside.

One of the low-income people in our community works part-time, intentionally,
because he likes having a lot of free time.  How do you evaluate his
"ability" to pay?  Based on his (voluntarily reduced) income?  What
about a retired couple with lots of money in the bank but no income
except for interest, versus a student with the same income but no assets
to speak of?  How about a divorced executive with high income but (due
to future support obligations) a negative net worth?  What can *they*

I've been working 60 to 80 hours a week for years.  My partner also has
a full-time job.  Your concept that low-income people are working longer
hours than wealthier people is full of holes.  It may even be the other
way around, except for the handful of stereotypical "idle rich".  One
of my big challenges this year is to figure out how to spend more time
at home, without giving up too much in income.

> If being able to include some lower-means folks doesn't matter to you

I resent the implication that not wanting to be required to financially
support my neighbors is the same as not wanting lower-income people
near me.  I believe strongly that everyone, rich or poor, should try
to "live within their means".  This is the most fundamental dignity
any human being can have - without it, you are admitting that you are
a helpless baby that hasn't grown up and can't take care of itself.
In fact, that legal fiction "the prudent man" would probably want to
live within 90% of his means, and save or invest the other 10%.  This
is *the* basic technique for climbing out of poverty.

If someone barely can afford their mortgage and HOA dues, and that
doesn't include paying for needed (and consensed-on) improvements, and
they want other people to pay for those improvements for them while they
pay nothing and enjoy the benefits, then they're living beyond their
means and expecting others to pay for it.  It's irresponsible.  It's
imprudent.  I *might* pay extra, under some circumstances, but I sure
as hell resent being *expected* to.  Someone else's irresponsibility
does not automatically become my obligation to bail them out.

> by all means, develop your gated cohousing community with sprawling houses,
> bigger garages, an Olympic pool and banquet facilities, music studios, etc.

Oh, get off your high horse.  I'm talking about finishing our common house
basement, within 5 years, as we consensed on in a values discussion.

        Howard A. Landman
        River Rock Commons
        Fort Collins, CO
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