Hiring Out
From: Sharon Villines (sharonsharonvillines.com)
Date: Fri, 25 Jul 2008 08:54:57 -0700 (PDT)
I think cohousing has to "grow up" and recognize that some things just have to be hired out in order for communities to be sustainable as PattyMara also eloquently stated.

Without one person in each household contributing a significant number of hours to the community, we can't expect to live like the 50s when a stay-at-home-mom in every household put in more hours in the day on parties and cleaning and calls to the electrician than the dad did at work. Without mom at home, dad wouldn't have been able to come home and have a beer while he read the newspaper or hung out with the guys on the patio. And the kids wouldn't have had ironed clothes, healthy box lunches, and homemade biscuits, pot roast, and lemon meringue pie for dinner.

Single person households have had phenomenal growth since the 50s. One person can't work twice as hard just because they choose to be single while others choose to be partnered and work half as hard on community chores. Almost half of our units are single person households (or one adult with children).

What can each community hire out and what can be done better by members? Partly we are back to skills.

In my community, we do a better job of researching options, determining what needs to be done, getting bids, and supervising workers than any of the management companies we have hired.

We have people who love to clean the commonhouse and do it reliably and well.

But when those are the same people, some of us think we should hire out the cleaning and focus on larger facilities issues that no one else can do as well as we can. Also we have discovered that professional cleaners would have known more about how to care for some of our floors than we did.

When people refuse to hire out and then complain about the time it takes to do it themselves, those who wanted it hired out won't step in and help.

I've come to a standard about what needs to be hired out and what we can do ourselves. I've yet to convince my community about this, or not enough members to get consensus, but here it is:

Can be done by members:

1. Things people just love to do, and can do well. We have many people who love to garden. They do it well and tirelessly. Hiring out would produce lower quality and would be a constant deprivation for them. And would be prohibitively expensive.

2. Tasks that fit people's skill sets and they don't mind doing. There are lots of these and they often get done invisibly. Picking up the CH, checking and replacing burned out lights in common areas, calling for elevator maintenance, ordering new remotes for the parking gate, sweeping walks, watering the plants in the CH, showing up for workdays and doing whatever needs to be done.

3. Tasks like painting or repairing a fence that require a number of people but can be done in one day, or divided into discreet sections that can be done by a different group of people on another day. Most people and pitch in for all day, for one day. More than that on a weekend, particularly successive weekends, is too much.

4. Tasks that really do produce better results and save money are satisfying in the long run. Spending hours and hours investigating the best materials and techniques, getting bids, evaluating contractors, and supervising installation may not exactly be lovable work, but the result is lovable.


1. Tasks that would take many members many days to execute and that can be done well by a professional service in a much shorter period of time.

Attempting these jobs, in my opinion, has taken far more time than we estimated because people just get tired and don't show up. From fatigue, ignorance, or lack of supervision, they also do things like leaving paint brushes to dry out or lids off cans of paint, so in the end it costs more than we estimated. The trade off between money and time is rarely so great on large tasks as we thought it would be.

Our current example of this is a decision about how to paint almost 200 feet of metal fence that is three years behind on maintenance and now needs power washing, scraping, sanding, priming, and painting. Metal paint is awful stuff to work with if you don't work fast. We don't have professional equipment for sanding. And we have differing opinions about using a primer. Professionals say you don't need a primer with the new metal paints. Some members say this is evidence that the professionals are going to do a shoddy job and we should do it ourselves -- you have to prime metal fences.

It will cost about $2000 including the cost of the paint to have it done by a contractor who has done good work for us in the past and will guarantee his work. That includes the cost of very expensive paint and brushes, etc. And it will require only one day of support/ supervision by one member of the facilities team.

Two members did a test on two section to see how long and how much work it was for us to do ourselves. It will take 2 people about 2 hours to purchase and unload supplies, 16 people two 6 hour days to paint, and 2 people two hours to purchase supplies and make lunch on two days. If I've counted correctly this will cost us 204 person hours, plus the cost of expensive paint, brushes, rollers, etc. and lunches. And the work will not be guaranteed.

We have resolved this by agreeing to post a sign up sheet and if people don't sign up we will hire out -- pronto, no begging. But we haven't reached agreement on the general principle. The next large task will require a new discussion/argument. Partly because we will probably have a couple of new members who are still idealistic and we will have to go over this ground again.

2. Tasks that can be done well by a professional service that not enough people (1) want to do or want to do (2) at the standard that other members would like.

Constant requests and reminders about needing more people to show up for CH cleaning or to sign up for clean up teams for meals are draining, as well as disheartening. They are constant reminders that people aren't stepping up. And that you don't want to step up either.

Cleaning rugs and annual deep cleaning of floors can be done by a professional at a much higher level of quality. They have the equipment, understand the new chemicals, know what floors and rugs need, and guarantee their work.

Those are all my thoughts today,
Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing,Washington DC

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