Re: Looking for input and suggestions on unresolved conflict
From: Elizabeth Magill (
Date: Wed, 17 Jun 2009 09:49:20 -0700 (PDT)
Is it possible to tell us more about what you are asking?
Is this group-wide, or between two or three individuals?
Is it open and unresolved, or are people pretending that all is fine?
Who is motivated to to change the situation, someone involved or someone not involved?
Are you living near each other or still in the development phase?
Do you generally have social interactions or just business ones?

(The Rev.) Elizabeth M. Magill
PastorLiz [at]
Worcester Fellowship
PO Box 3510 Worcester MA 01613

On Jun 16, 2009, at 2:52 PM, dmcfe [at] wrote:

-----Original Message-----

From: carriefe [at]

To: dmcfe [at]

Sent: Mon, Jun 15, 2009 8:55 am

Subject: looking for input and suggestions on unresolved conflict

We are members of Tierra Nueva Cohousing in California.

Do other consensus cohousing communities have forms of "extra" membership, and if so, how have you handled conflict when it occurs?

What forms of agreement for rights and responsibilities are out there for special memberships that are not residential?

About 15 years ago, we joined the existing group before land was secured and plans for construction were made, and attended meetings as prospective members, listened to and learned the consensus process until we decided that this is what we wanted for ourselves and for the children we were planning to have.? Once we began to pay into the monthly "pot" for expenses for the project, we were given our "thumbs" and invited to participate fully in the consensus process of the group.? We knew that until we had a developer on board and land secured, we were taking a risk in paying into the monthly contribution, but we became committed to the cohousing concept and the concept of consensus, as a group process to make our hoped for communitie's decisions.

We had our two boys, helped to build the project, accepting all responsibilities needed for completion of the project, and moved in when completed.

A few years down the road, a house next-door came up for sale, and was purchased by a couple who had friends in Tierra Nueva, and who decided to buy the single family home on a large lot adjacent to Tierra Nueva.

This couple's children were young adults and no longer living at home.? This couple was attracted to the many amenities offered by Tierra Nueva (TN), but chose not to buy a home in the community. They asked the community for an "associate membership" so they could enjoy the amenities of the commons in Tierra Nueva for an "In Kind Contribution" valuing $600 a year.? At the time the "membership" was being discussed in plenary at TN's consensus circle to be brought for a test for consensus, we had a lawyer living in TN, who counseled the group that a "membership" would be illegal because this couple had no capital investment in Tierra Nueva, no ownership of a home or in the commons (and in fact required that any TN member using their property as a "walk through" to other parts in the neighborhood sign a waiver), and could not be part of the TN Homeowner's association.? Their property remained their own private property, of course, and their resources remained their own private
 resources, of course.

At the time, no serious conflict with these neighbors had yet occurred, and the group came to a consensus decision to give them an "Invitational Membership", ( with a wink and a nod, keeping the decision out of the minutes we submitted to our hired professionals who manage our Home Owners Association and the HOA dues we pay).? On the understanding from group discussion that this couple support the values of cohousing and our consensus process, they were given access to our commons, an invitation to our Business Meetings, committee meetings, meals, celebrations, etc, everything a bought- in residential cohousing member was entitled to excepting? the ability to "block" a consensus decision, choose HOA Board members, or "vote" on our HOA budget.? Please keep in mind that these neighbors have not? cosidered "buying" a cohousing home. They do not share their property resources with the TN community.

Now, five or six years down the line, there have been problems in openly advocating against consensus, not supporting consensus process in plenary meetings through behavior, and selectively discrediting Tierra Nueva values and past agreements, by these Invitational Members. Behavior of intimidation by yelling and threatening behaviors in meetings and on the commons has occurred and been the subject of mediation, peer, and professional, without positive results.

Some TN members and residents have asked to have a plenary discussion to take stock of the arrangement , review and possibly recreate? the Invitational Membership's one paragraph "proclamation" that was thumbed, (an actual agreement was never constructed--no written agreement exists because it would be illegal), to be clear about what the rights and responsibilities of the Invitational Members are.? This has been met with resistance, to say the least, and after three years of requests, (and a $6000 professional mediation recommendation to do so, that failed to come to pass),? to bring the discussion to a meeting by several member families.? We are losing long-term residents and the participation of other long-term residents, as a result of unaddressed conflict.? Attempts to talk one-on-one, (a community value),? or mediate with these neighbors has been met with uncooperative responses ranging from unresponsiveness to hostile personal reprimands, with no change in behavior or willingness to work, in good faith, to resolve the issues. The advocation of majority decision making is now the position of the Invitational Members for not addressing the terms of their membership.? Distressing behaviors continue to play out in the commons, and now, even though the couple is in the process of divorcing, they will not come to the table to talk about their changing relationship with the community, (they are separated now and living in different homes on their property and plan to continue their TN arrangement as is).

During this time of failure from the consensus process the community has relied on from it's creation, there has been no help from our HOA Board whose members include personal friends of the Invitational Members; one of the Invitational Members is part of our facilitation team, so going through the facilitators has proved to be futile as well--we can't get the discussion on the Business agenda.?

My question is, what other communities offer memberships of this kind and how have these communities protected their values, agreements and consensus process, as well as their residents when these agreements are broken (or in case they are broken)?? And what happens when there is an active attempt at silencing the discussion or keeping it from coming to the group?? What can be done at this point?? The dilemma of selling or even renting to others interested in cohousing is unsettling because what does one say, how does one explain that these neighbors are allowed to participate in every aspect of the community even though they don't support the past decisions, values, agreements and actively advocate against consensus process?

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