Play or Pay (Workshare)
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Fri, 25 Jul 2008 07:08:45 -0700 (PDT)
I agree that everyone should do what they love to do and it all balances out, and if they are doing too much they should just do less, etc., etc., as Eris and Rob so eloquently stated.

But I also think this can mean sinking to the lowest common denominator. It's the ages old problem of the tragedy of the commons, which research has shown is true. I haven't seen any evidence that it is less true in cohousing.

There are other factors that make it hard to compare different kinds of cohousing communities:

1. Size of community -- larger communities produce more ability to avoid knowing about work that needs to be done and increases he ability to believe that someone else can do it more easily or better. Ironically, I think this works against the idea that in a larger community you have more people to contribute a wider range of work they like to do. Some people just have not a clue about the work needed to maintain an "apartment complex," arrange social activities, AND obtain consensus between 65 adults before you can do it.

2. Lot development -- In lot development models there is less community work because there are fewer common elements. When the Facilities include a common roof, basements, large grounds, kids play areas, combined heating systems, elevator pits that fill with water, etc., there is more work that is in some sense less visible than the work one does on one's own house. Some people just forget about it. If you remind them, you are harping.

3. Length of time since move in -- the sustainability factor. Rob often mentions that his community has no problems with workshare. I think there are developmental factors related this:

(1) Acceptance of a norm: With time, members grow together toward a norm, and those who don't move out.

(2) The tipping point. Three years ago, some measure of workshare hours was still anathema to the majority in my community. Two years later, there was only one objector. This was a big turn around from year 5 to year 7. There were some changes in the plan but not that many.

(3) Stability or not. With changes in members and, especially an increased number of members as we have had, a 25% increase plus 9 (?) turn overs, there is more difficulty making decisions. The creaks in the governance system begin showing. Full group consensus on all issues is harder. New people take a long time to absorb.

4. Community skills -- Doing what you love is a good standard but there are also "cohousing" standards people try to live up to, like meals and parties. What if you don't have the people who want to organize the kitchen or a meal program? Or people who really like to organize parties? The concept of what cohousing is has to be different for those communities but the same standards are applied -- no meal program, you're not cohousing! Or you aren't doing it right.

Every time someone moves in I want to hold out for someone who wants to take on parties or organize the kitchen. Someone like my former office receptionist who loved decorating for holidays and making lovely tables for potlucks. Instead of having a bunch of bowls with wonderful food on a bare table, we had a lovely, well-arranged table with wonderful food. And she never forgot to be sure there were enough paper plates, cups, and napkins. And spoons if it was a chili cook off. And she watched over the table, helping people who dropped a biscuit in the macaroni and cheese or needed a serving spoon. And was sure that everyone had someone to talk to. A person who loves to do that and welcomes the idea of another Fourth of July would be worth their weight in gold.

Or my grandmother who had a garden and set out menus and always served a fabulous Sunday dinner for the whole family -- on top of going to church the same day. And pulled homemade ice cream out from somewhere. And organized everyone to help.

We have other things that are the result of special skills people have, but some core cohousing expectations won't be met until we have those.

Counting workshare hours is bringing more skills out. People who are good facilitators, for example, but who would not formerly make a regular commitment are now willing, partly because it is more visible. Others who were fairly inactive are looking for places their skills can be displayed. Maybe after a few years of being more conscious, or of encouraging self-organization, we will be able to drop the measurements and sail along happily but I'm not sure in a community this size with as little as absolutely possible hired out.

Since our system is voluntary and we don't restrict what can be defined as a workshare job, it does encourage people to find their own way with contributing something they love.

(Another message on hiring out.)

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing,Washington DC

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