The Role of Work in Cohousing was: Support for Forming Groups
From: Ann Zabaldo (
Date: Wed, 12 Nov 2003 18:17:16 -0700 (MST)
Hello Tom and all --

Apologies in advance for this long response to your email -- I got on a

Believe me, I sympathize with you concerning the amount of time it takes to
build a cohousing community.

I also thank you for identifying the list of tasks in your email because it
gives me (and I hope everyone else) an opportunity to explore the role of
"work" in building and maintaining a cohousing community.

In the last dozen years I've been involved in cohousing, as a volunteer and
as a professional, I've come to realize there are two major "sleepers" in
cohousing.  One is consensus and the other is "work."

The role of work in cohousing -- what kind and how much of it -- is one
about which cohousing professionals who have worked with multiple coho
groups in all parts of the US and Canada have varying ideas. Usually it's
framed in terms of "input" as in "input in the design process."  In my
understanding, that's "work."

In the development model we use in Eco Housing which built Takoma Village
and is currently building Eastern Village in MD, the developer brings
financing, experience and expertise to the table. The developer handles all
the development and construction activities.  The developer also provides a
consultant with cohousing experience to guide the group in its work -- in
this case, that's moi.  The members handle all the marketing, outreach and
group development work.  With the exception of site acquisition, our
development model requires the members to perform ALL of the tasks in your
list and many, many, many more.  We consider these to be very basic tasks
for a developing group to handle.

It's my experience that collaborative, appropriate, meaningful
and yes, difficult, work is *essential* to the group as a whole and its
members in developing skills of collaboration, flexibility, accountability,
responsibility, reliability, support, caring, budgeting, management,
leadership, initiative, etc. so needed and so vital when living in a
cohousing community.  Again, the issue is what work will provide this skill
building and how much of it is essential to the process of "growing" a

The role of work is so important in forging strong community bonds, that I
regard the two year development time line as a training ground for the
future cohousing members to learn these skills.  It's the time to fail, fail
spectacularly and learn from failures while not legally or entirely
financially responsible for managing a multi-million dollar complex.  It's
the time to sort out roles and responsibilities and to explore expectations
about living together.  It's the time to acquire skills and to hone skills
you have. It's the opportunity to learn to know and be known by your future
neighbors.  Meaningful, shared work makes this possible.  I don't know how
all this can be accomplished otherwise.  I would hate to be in a group that
waits until it moves into its new community to have these experiences and to
be learning these skills.

While individuals may possess many of the skills mentioned, until you get a
chance to exercise them in a collaborative, non hierarchical group structure
you don't know what you're missing! :-)  It's what gives rise to Zev Paiss's
oft quoted definition of cohousing as the "longest most expensive group
therapy session you'll ever have." (Hope I got that right!)

The more I explore the role of work in cohousing, the more convinced I am
that mutual, meaningful work is the key ingredient that makes cohousing
different from the condominium down the street.

I also believe in not reinventing the wheel. Resources ARE available. There
is much we can share w/ each other.  CohoUS has a "starter" kit which
contains sample flyers, brochures, press releases, cohousing books, etc.
It's not expensive.  There are people in the movement who are willing to
talk with you and share their experiences.  But you have to initiate the
Conversation -- as you are doing here on coho-L.

The Mid-Atlantic Chapter (MAC) of CohoUS routinely sponsors workshops and
conferences, cohousing tours twice a year (which you participated in this
past Sept. Tom) and is currently sponsoring a two year intensive
facilitation mentoring program w/ Laird Schaub.  We'll have another
conference in 2004 as well as two more tours.  I urge the groups in PA, DE
and NJ to join and participate in MAC until you are able to sustain a
regional group yourselves.

One other thing...if you are finding the forming process to be a time sink I
urge you to think in advance about the time that will be required of you
once you have the ongoing, continuing responsibilities of maintaining a
built community -- both its bricks and mortar AND it's social fabric.  Yes,
I know it's easier to get to meetings once you're living together. That's
both a plus and a minus.

I find that living in cohousing is not "easy."  But it's, oh, so very much
richer!  I wouldn't live any other way.

Before I sign off here, let me admit up front that I could be COMPLETELY
wrong about any or all of this.  I'm sure others w/ differing experiences
will chime in -- this is what I love about this list and about cohousing
in general. There's no ONE way or RIGHT way to do cohousing.  We each and
all "have a piece of the truth."

Again, apologies for this long email.

Ann Zabaldo
Takoma Village
Washington DC

On 11/11/03 6:32 PM, "Tom Hammer" <thammer302 [at]> wrote:

> One of the things we lack the most is time.  The
> volunteers could help do the myriads of things we
> don't get around to, at least as much as we would
> like:
> --identify key local forums for presentations about
> cohousing;
> --schedule and give the presentations;
> --figure out what are best media in our area for
> marketing;
> --design a new brochure;
> --improve the groups' websites;
> --if the group is still looking for land, talk to
> several realtors; pre-screen some land;
> --approach potential sources of loans/donations;
> --if they are skilled at facilitating, train some of
> our members in facilitation
> --network as much as possible--identify the key people
> in the community we haven't thought of who might be
> interested in supporting us;
> and all the things I haven't thought of yet.
> It would depend on their skills, too.
> Tom
> Tom -- after the initial self-education part for the
> "peace corp" or interns
> what else do you see them doing for your communties?
> Ann Zabaldo
> Takoma Village

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