Re: While we're on the subject of accounting . . .
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Mon, 7 Aug 2017 06:56:43 -0700 (PDT)
> On Aug 7, 2017, at 8:18 AM, Dick Margulis <dick [at]> wrote:
> As construction approaches (two more bureaucrats to get past before that 
> happens) and we look toward eventually moving in to Rocky Corner 


> To the extent owners agree to take on tasks (in the spirit of cohousing 
> communities being managed and maintained by members), the budget doesn't have 
> to cover paid outside services. If no one is willing to get up at five in the 
> morning to plow snow, then the monthly fees will be higher.

In our community this Yankee-do attitude has faded away. As a generalization at 
5 years and again at 10 years, we gave up and hired tasks out. We still do the 
sidewalk shoveling but a service plows the lot. We hire a service to do twice 
yearly treatment of the Marmoleum in the kitchen, laundry room, and hallways. 
We have maintenance contracts instead of calling when problems occur. We get 
bids for far fewer services. We only get bids, for the trash collection for 
example, when we have problems with service instead of annually. We use more 
vendors recommended by the management company instead of getting bids. (We 
finally have an excellent management company.)

Some people also get tired of expecting neighbors to do everything — to find 
out why their internet is slow, asking the facilities team to fix leaky 
windows, unclogging a drain, etc. Some members are conscientious and put 
everything aside for community needs. Others are “busy” and get to it 
eventually. Easier to have a designated plumber who charges negotiated rates 
and call them. Decide later if the resident is responsible for a clogged pipe 
or the community association is.

> 2. The condominium association can, as part of the budget process, decide to 
> fund the construction of accessory buildings and other improvements, as time 
> goes on. For example, initial construction does not include carports, but we 
> have sufficient skills within the community to design them, get them 
> permitted, and construct them, with the only outlay being for materials and 
> permits. Everybody gets a carport space, eventually, even if we don't get 
> them all built at once, so this cost can be shared equally.

Maintain a Capital Improvements fund for this. Capital Reserves can't be used 
for capital improvements. Capital improvements are very difficult to get 
funded, so figure out how you will fund them. We have funded ours from 
donations people have given when they sold their units. In recent years a 
resale team has overseeing the sales process and pressing for these donations. 
It is wonderful to have a balance in that account.

> 3.Groups of individuals can organize informally to propose improvements that 
> they will fund themselves and have exclusive use of (a storage shed shared by 
> a few neighbors or a fee paid to the group that funded it in the first place.

I can’t remember just now the name of the community but the one Kraus and Fitch 
live in has an office building used this way. 

> 4. The cohousing community (essentially a social club, unincorporated) can 
> organize community events of various sorts. These activities could be funded 
> a couple of different ways: Some might involve a price per ticket (community 
> meals, concerts, dances); others might be funded out of an annual activity 
> fee, separate from the condo fees, that would be collected per person rather 
> than per home, and that would be voluntary (hey, if you don't want to take 
> part, no one is going to force you).

> 5. Everyone has the right to full access of the common facilities (by law), 
> but activity fees can be collected for making use of common facilities. 
> Examples: an hourly fee for using the workshop; a fee for hosting a private 
> party; an hourly fee for using the kitchen for canning or other production 
> (i.e., not for a community meal); a fee for the use of your allotment in the 
> community garden (there's space for everyone to have an allotment, but only 
> the people making use of it would share in the costs associated with 
> maintaining it). These would seem to be something the condominium association 
> could collect and account for, but maybe that would have tax consequences and 
> they would be better collected by the unincorporated club instead.

Be careful. Defining the CH as a social club means in effect you are defining 
the community as a social club. The community needs to be more than a social 
club —as if it was a country club. The division of expenses becomes “essential” 
and “non-essential.” So social becomes “non-essential” and participation 
becomes “non-essential.”  Fees are paywalls. It’s important to encourage people 
to participate in as many events as they wish to attend in order to build 
relationships and shared memories. You want people to drop in informally and to 
attend things they might not otherwise pay for. A community is composed of 
many, many things — it’s one ball of wax that in cohousing is dependent on 
participation and mutual sharing of facilities.

Collecting all these numerous small fees is incredibly time consuming and you 
get into many questions about how to account expenses. How much does a meal pay 
for the use of the CH? They take a toll on the kitchen so why not pay for 
appliances and not just the food? Can I use a tool from the workshop if I’m not 
a “member”. It also puts residents in the position of enforcing payments — did 
you pay for that? And if there are many fees, doing it everyday. If there is no 
oversight, people become resentful. And the resentment isn’t expressed.

I was a proponent of these fees when we first moved in and everyone was 
recovering from purchase and moving expenses. I’ve totally changed my mind. 
Different facilities are important to different people but the people to whom 
they are important at all, they are very important. And the community benefits 
from their interests. Our workshop is totally underused, in my opinion, but the 
fact that some people use it means those facilities are also to residents who 
may only use it once a year (or less). And they are available for people to 
build a toybox for the children’s room or install new molding, fix CH 
furniture, store thingies to fix windows, etc. I don’t watch football games and 
prefer watching movies alone (weird I know) but I like living with people who 
do. The yelling during football games is immensely entertaining.

The only area that I have problems with is when things are not used properly 
and we all end up paying for negligence. The clothes washers are the major 
problem. People use too much detergent, they get gunky and stop working, and we 
have to have someone come clean them out. I suspect some stuff too many things 
into front loaders and wear out the spinning mechanism. Or put things in that 
shouldn’t be automatically washed or dried. Like purses with chain handles or 
large metal studs that scratch surfaces (and make a lot of noise). We started 
out with machines that took quarters but didn’t activate them. Over time 
replacements were installed without coin slots because they were less 
expensive. So for us it would be an honor system which is usually hit and miss 
and builds resentments.

Another long message. Sorry.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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