Re: Searching for a cohousing community that is satisfied
From: Evan and David (
Date: Sat, 19 Jan 2013 06:08:13 -0800 (PST)
I am writing from Westwood Cohousing in Asheville NC. 

Our work system functions similarly - we have monthly work days that include a 
meal. We have experimented the past year with assigning different teams to some 
of the scheduled work days so they can get the benefit of all hands on deck for 
some larger projects. Some work days are open for a hodge podge of work. It is 
our teams that build the list of work day tasks and what counts towards 
community service credit. We have a work day coordinator to whom everyone sends 
their task lists and who reminds folks, encourages participation, engages cooks 
for the meal, helps get folks who show up connected to work, etc. teams take on 
role of getting ready for the actual work.  At our meal we go around and share 
what was accomplished. 

Our community service agreement is simple: each member is required to 
contribute a minimum of 48 hours per year, either in direct work service or $10 
for each hour not worked. We expect each other to settle up any balances that 
reach 240 (6 mos equivalent) - settling could be paying OR working a bunch of 
hours.  We are all required to track our hours. And teams determine what counts 
as work. 

We have a team who works with individuals to work out the circumstances related 
to work or pay and settling up balances privately. The nice part about naming 
the point at which we want folks to settle up is that it allows for flexibility 
and personal choice to manage life and community commitments AND having all 
agreed to a specific stop date supports a healthy boundary such that we don't 
get resentment building up about some folks seeming not to work. And we have 
agreed that compliance = work or pay. All that is publicly known is if some one 
is in compliance, not whether they worked or paid - again this healthy boundary 
helps prevent resentment from building up.  We have a tracking log that is 
posted for all to see so anyone can see what their neighbors are doing - it 
keeps us honest AND gives folks concrete info when any of the feelings about 
equity and fair share arise. It also helps folks track - it is a reminder to 
record your hours.  And, all we see are numbers of hours - they could have been 
worked or paid - this is not specified.  We track by general category of work 
so we can have information re: how much of our community service hours go 
towards administrative, landscape, maintenance work, etc.  It is one person's 
community service to manage the spreadsheet - it is an excel document that is 
printed off each month and displayed in the common house. The log manager 
reminds folks to record their hours, enters what is recorded into the 
spreadsheet and posts a new one. If any of us has forgotten to record hours we 
contact the log manager and s/he adds them in - we operate on an honor system. 

In terms of work list that teams develop, some tasks are ongoing/recurring 
(trash and recycling from common house, sweeping common decks, etc) and others 
are episodic. Folks can earn  community service hours by taking on a recurring 
task (a sign up sheet is posted in the common house and is developed by 
community service team with input from any community wide team who has a task 
to be done).  Folks can also earn community service by attending work day or 
performing one of the tasks on the work day list at another time. This is 
coordinated fairly loosely - monthly work day list is posted with info re what 
was accomplished on work day and what still needs to be done - individuals 
connect up with named focalizer of a particular task to connect up with doing 
the work. 

We do not count any of the work related to our meal system as community 
service. Meal rotations are voluntary and work related to it is shared among 
folks who sign up. We do have a robust meal system so this approach of not 
linking it to community service seems to work well for us. 

We do count some administrative work - board service, comptroller work, 
newsletter production, facilitating and recording minutes for community 
meetings. However, teams typically don't grant community service credit for 
team level administrative work. Research and work related to projects does 

One of the key reasons we have a work or pay policy is because we have named 
one goal of our work system to help us keep our monthly assessments low - we do 
the work ourselves rather than pay someone to  do it.  This work or pay policy 
gives folks choice about how to manage their life. We have folks who are living 
on limited incomes who like being able to work and even accrue a balance of 
hours that they know will prevent them from having to pay. And we have some 
folks whose life circumstances are such that they may choose to pay one month 
or even more.  And the money that is accrued for community service is kept in a 
designated fund - our board approves requests for use if this money and it can 
only be used to cover costs of labor to do work that would otherwise count as 
community service. This specified way of using the funds ensures that the $ 
paid in gets used to help keep our assessments low. We have found it useful to 
have. Our community is going through an aging period and we don't have as many 
bodies capable of doing heavy labor like we have had in the past. It is 
supportive to be able to still get work done that we want to do.  

And, in terms of tracking, hours are recorded and tracked by individual and 
then balanced out by household - so adults living together can choose to share 
the load how ever they want to. And, if an adult living alone has some kind of 
work trade developed with a neighbor or hires someone to do a specific task on 
behalf of the community, that is their business - all the community needs to 
know is were the hours worked, not who specifically worked them.  While we 
don't link it to $, we do ask our kids to accomplish 1 hour of community 
service hours a month. They appear on the tracking log at the bottom so as not 
to confuse this system with the household system. 

We are in the process of considering formally establishing our community 
service commitment as an assessment, which gives the opportunity to engage 
individuals who don't comply in a graduated series of steps we have all agreed 
to as a pathway for broken agreements and enforcement. The ultimate steps for 
non-payment of assessments include withholding privileges, fining, and even 
being able  to file a lien. We have never had to take any such action around 
payment of assessments in our history, however do seem from time to time to 
have individuals who refuse to participate in community service. When this 
happens, it is an energetic drain for the community.  The thinking is that 
having a more effective boundary around our community service commitment - 
given it is linked to $ and keeping out assessments low - will prevent these 
extreme dynamics from occurring. Or, if they do occur, the community has some 
clear and effective steps towards resolution. At this point the community has 
ended up sinking a ton of personal hours into resolution in order to keep 
resentment at a low (which has potential to burn some folks out) and even this 
isn't always effective (which is very frustrating and creates a break in our 
connectedness). The idea is to unlink the portion of our community service 
requirement that is about keeping assessments low from the parts of our whole 
system that are about participation and community building. As a community we 
will always need and want to attend to how to promote, encourage, nurture 
participation. And, as a community we will always have some folks who struggle 
with connection and feeling like participating (we can address some even a lot 
of this with compassion, intention and effective communication and other 
"systems" AND we cannot control what people experience - there are likely to be 
circumstances for which there are not easy fixes. In these cases it is actually 
helpful to not have the $ portion of our community service agreement held 
hostage such that community emotions and feelings get stressed or strained - it 
is in these times when the going gets tough that we need a healthy, strong, 
connected container.)

There is not currently consensus among us to take the step of linking community 
service agreement to assessments. Some of us have concerns about even the 
potential of bringing in legal weight to resolving what are essentially 
relationship issues.  This takes away and undermines our community connection 
and the very premises upon which we are established.  They are holding up an 
important concern out of deep love and connection with this great experiment 
called "community". 

To be transparent, I support separating the $ part from the participation part. 
And I do respect the concern that has been raised. So, this will explain why I 
can offer more detail re: the why's to have a formalized labor assessment. I 
want to be clear that this is my thinking (and is definitely shared by some of 
my neighbors) and is not how Westwood currently thinks about it.  We are 
currently exploring how we do want to "think" or "see" this as a community. And 
the process, independent of the specific outcome, shall be fruitful I am sure.  

Hope my level of specificity and detail about how we do community service here 
at Westwood is helpful. 


Evan Richardson

Email from Evan Richardson.  This account shared jointly with David Clements. 

On Jan 19, 2013, at 6:16 AM, cohousing-l-request [at] wrote:

> Re: Searching for a cohousing community that is satisfied

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