Re: Issues in Cohousing [was Play/toy weapons
From: Gerald Manata (
Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2016 12:20:40 -0700 (PDT)
An excellent letter Sharon. It should be published somewhere where members of 
every potential cohousing complex should 
On Thu, 7/21/16, Sharon Villines <sharon [at]> wrote:

 Subject: [C-L]_ Issues in Cohousing [was Play/toy weapons
 To: "Cohousing-L Cohousing-L" <cohousing-l [at]>
 Date: Thursday, July 21, 2016, 10:41 AM
 > On Jul 21, 2016, at 11:27 AM, David
 Heimann <heimann [at]>
 > P.S. --
 During our development, someone referred to the four P's
 as potentially contentious issues: "Pistols",
 "Pets", "Progeny", and
 "Paying".  Guns and swords are on that list!
 Another version of this is
 Parents, Pesticides, Pets.
 I thought the question earlier about what are
 the issues is an interesting one. I’ll list the ones that
 have been issues here — some small, some big. Some private
 and individual and some with everyone on one side or the
 Residential or
 commercial dishwasher in kitchen. 
 Payment of condo fees is not an issue but
 payment for other things has been. Should people pay to use
 the clothes washer and dryer? Guest rooms? When doors were
 painted people were charged individually because each of us
 has one. But our condo fees are graduated so larger units
 actually pay less per SF than small units. Should everything
 else be graduated too?
 Problems with children are generally considered
 to be parent problems and the problem of the parents to
 correct. Parents sometimes ask for help — if you see Jimmy
 in the TV room please ask him to leave. My children are
 vegan — please don’t feed them meat. But a problem is
 parents allowing 5-6 year olds outside with no supervision,
 arguing that if they lived in a single family home, they
 would. But others argue that it isn’t a single family home
 and there may be 8 children of all ages outside who don’t
 have their own yards to play in. Doesn’t the 5 year old
 who likes to swing bats need parental supervision? Unless it
 has been specifically arranged, should other parents be
 expected to supervise that child? 
 Are parents responsible for cleaning up the
 kids room even if the parent didn’t know their kids were
 there, the kids say they weren’t, and several people say
 they were? Parents are generally expected to know where
 their children are and what they are doing, particularly
 under 10-12. Knowing where your children are is not
 “common sense” to some single fathers.
 Do children have a right to
 treat the dining room like a gymnasium with yelling and loud
 toys even during meals? Should they be able to scream
 outside at all hours of the day and late in the evening. Are
 children exempt from teh noise policy because it is their
 nature to yell and scream and run around as if the world is
 a soccer game? A soccer game with no rules.
 Discipline — can a member
 discipline a child of someone else. Tell them not to jump on
 furniture? Or walk on window sills? (We have no policy on
 walking on window sills.) Or put them in time out or send
 them home for attacking other children. Or throwing balls
 where they can hit adults in the head who are eating lunch
 in the piazza. Tell them they can’t leave the playroom
 until they clean up.
 much do teams have to inform the community about changes?
 Does the facilities team have to inform others of what kind
 of HVAC system is being installed or just get permission for
 an amount to pay for it? Deciding that disposable paper
 products will no longer be stocked in the pantry and that
 plastic plates (which still have to be washed) had been
 purchased instead.
 Do we
 need child safety locks on every drawer and cupboard in the
 CH or only ones with knives, matches for birthday candles,
 and cleaning products (even if they are all green and not
 Can the
 community decide to put a tree up in front of a member’s
 north kitchen window, effectively blocking all light.
 Because we use consensus, no. But some people were very
 upset because this tree somehow was needed to balance the
 landscape design. Which takes precedence?
 Can we plant only native
 plants? Or what percentage of native and non-native? What is
 “native”? If we don’t use Round-up, who weeds. What is
 a weed? Can a resident plant “weed” in their own
 Do we really need 6
 inches of rubber mulch under a raised fort for older
 children? I used to jump off roofs when I was 8 and climb 3
 story high trees. Why can’t ours?
 Does it really take a village to raise a child?
 Shouldn’t we have discussions about manners and reasonable
 behavior in the common spaces? Can only parents make rules
 about children’s “needs” and behaviors. Shouldn’t
 all members make the decision that we need childcare during
 meetings? People without children can’t tune them out as
 easily as parents. Should only parents decide if we need to
 store carseats in the front hall? Even if there are 8? And
 Should dogs be
 allowed to run without leashes? Cats be outdoor cats? Only
 if residents are allergic or to also protect guests and
 future residents? Or because some members panic at the sight
 of a dog running loose?
 Where can dogs poop and pee? Who decides? The
 landscaping point person who doesn’t want them to poop or
 pee anywhere? Who is responsible for cats using the sand box
 or flower planters on balconies for kitty litter?
 Can people schedule private
 time to use the exercise room?
 Can people do exercise videos in the newly
 refurbished living room instead of the exercise room? How
 does it affect the expensive new rug?
 Where can bicycles be parked? How many spaces
 per unit should be have? We now have at least 61 bikes.
 Where can we put them. Doesn’t everyone deserve equally
 nice storage — all indoor or all outdoor? All on the first
 floor or all on the third floor?
 How long can a member remain on the members
 list after they move out? If they have been a member for 18
 years and want to stay on for a few months until the get
 attached to their new community? If they are leaving after
 having caused trouble? Does everything have to be
 Have a TV in
 the common house? Who pays for cable? In and unlocked
 When there is a
 central mail delivery room and anyone can sign for packages,
 can each unit decide where they want their packages
 delivered and who can sign for them? Who keeps track of
 individual preferences?
 Growing vegetables in the decorative gardens
 along the green? Should we exhibit our values or have nice
 gardens? Vegetables tend to die before August and are not
 removed or replanted. They don’t fit in with the design.
 Not everyone wants to plant them so the design can’t be
 changed, or not to make everyone happy.
 Can privately owned things be stored in common
 space that is unused otherwise — put flat decks on it. Put
 storage boxes of tools in it. Leave strollers and tricycles
 on them.
 Can we have a
 Christmas Tree? If so can we put angels or a creche on it?
 Can a lighted Santa Claus figure be put up on the sign in
 front of the common house? Can religious/cultural holiday of
 any member be celebrated in the common house?
 Should the workshop be locked?
 Who can borrow tools and under what circumstances? Are the
 paints and other supplies open source or reserved for
 community use?
 cleaning products can be used in the kitchen? Steel wool on
 pans or bleach  on the dishcloths?
 Guns? Guns in common areas? Dangerous pets like
 pythons? Uncontrolled loud speakers in the common house for
 Is committee work
 like researching and righting policies workshare or only
 physical maintenance tasks?
 Drying diapers on portable racks on the green?
 In a neighborhood where the predominantly black neighbors
 consider hanging clothes outside to signal ghetto or
 These may seem overwhelming or trivial but they
 all cause conflict. You can’t address all of these before
 you move in or start membership meetings with a list of
 these issues. Take them up as they come along. We didn’t
 deal with any issues related to children until we had a
 bunch of them a few years in. Pets may be important to
 discuss with prospective members because people may not want
 to get rid of pets. (When we finally wrote a pets policy we
 also grandfathered in existing outdoor cats, for
 The worst kind of
 conflicts, in my opinion, are the small ones that people
 grouse about are never resolved. They are often dismissed by
 others as trivial. Feeling several of these can cause
 unhappiness that is hard to resolve because because it comes
 from multiple places that have all been trivialized. It
 begins to affect ones personality.
 Passing off things as personal issues to be
 resolved between neighbors is  usually a problem too.
 People are members of a community— not individual home
 owners. They are accountable to the community and shared
 vaues and expectations. Without community clarification of
 expectations, many members think they don’t have a right
 to even raise an issue. They think they can’t object
 because there is no policy prohibiting someone from storing
 a boat beside someone else’s garden and blocking their
 sun. When neighbors disagree, it is often because the
 community has not recognized or discussed the issue. The
 same problem causes hard feelings over and over.
 When communities say this
 isn’t our problem, discuss it with so-and-so, they are
 shooting themselves in the foot. If the person could have
 talked to the other person, they would have. For whatever
 reason, they couldn’t and are asking for help.
 A policy isn’t always
 necessary, just a discussion and a recorded sense of the
 group in the minutes. People often change their behavior
 after a discussion and no further action is necessary.
 Getting the right wording of a policy can take years and
 thens seem like a bureaucratic non-necessity when it finally
 gets written. We had a discussion on pets during which
 neighbors expressed their objections to a neighbor’s
 outdoor cats even though they only went on their common
 outside corridor. But they left hair everywhere on tables,
 etc. She had no idea there was a problem and she had had the
 cats for almost 10 years. After that she only took them out
 on a leash and took them out on the green.
 So just talk about it first,
 as a community. A community is only as strong as its fully
 committed members.
 Sharon Villines
 Takoma Village
 Cohousing, Washington DC
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