Re: Cohousing's Diversity Problem - CityLab
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Fri, 11 Aug 2017 08:38:27 -0700 (PDT)
> On Aug 11, 2017, at 10:00 AM, R Philip Dowds <rpdowds [at]> wrote:
> I don’t want to bog down in a Stats War, but it’s worth keeping in mind that 
> homeowners and homebuyers are not a particularly well-diversified group to 
> begin with.  For owners/buyers generally, household income and wealth, 
> educational attainment and whiteness are all well above the national 
> averages.  Cohousing looks to run a little higher than the averages for 
> owner/buyers, but its not fair to conclude that cohousing is a recidivist 
> bastion of elitism within a nation that has otherwise solved its diversity 
> problem.

I totally agree. There are also other measures of diversity that are more 
important than skin color, which is what is being measured. And skin color 
doesn’t ensure diversity at all. Our darker skinned residents are not more 
diverse than the rest of us.

Takoma Village, for example, has successfully mixed socio-economic diversity, 
partly by mixing small 1 bedroom units with large 4 bedroom units. Some 
residents are independently wealthy and others live just getting by and are 
often unemployed or partially employed. Some have chosen low income in order to 
do peace work, for example. Others take a month long tour of Europe every 
summer. We have had members of the military (now retired) which shocks some 
people. We have people who grew up very poor and others who had very privileged 
lives. A mix of introverts and extroverts—extremes on both ends. We have a wide 
range of ages though it shifts as babies grow into toddlers, teenagers, and 
college bound. And others become subject to chronic conditions and die.

It is definitely true that we are college educated and politically liberal, and 
in our case, like to live in cities. Many love the theater. Others watch 
motorcycle races and boxing matches. (I’m using the plural out of habit to 
avoid pinpointing an individual. We’ve only had one person who watched boxing 
and was stunned that he couldn’t find others to watch the “match of the 
century” with him.

There is a concern that cohousing is veering old as communities age. But this 
is true in almost all neighborhoods. Everyone ages and dies, and young people 
move in. Or artists move in, make the neighborhood exciting, and are edged out 
by high end development — like Soho in lower Manhattan where moguls, movie 
stars, designer clothing stores, Apple stores, Trump hotels, and alternative 
museums replace the artists.

What the article didn’t say about those who don’t identify Democrat is what the 
others identify as independent, not Republican. (Did anyone identify that lone 
Republican out there?)

I spent my teen years in the neighborhood my mother grew up in. It was no more 
diverse with several houses lived in by the same families she grew up with. 
They all attended the same high school and at 70 still remember who was a year 
behind me or two years ahead. Some religious and others not but they thought 
they should be.

Cohousing needs to be measured by normal, not unique. It’s the normal we lost 
in our transient 20th century lives that cohousing returns. Even the functions 
of the CH were present in my childhood neighborhoods in the form of churches, 
schools, and parks. Church basements looked very much like CH dining rooms. 
Catholics even danced and drank in theirs — Protestants normally don’t.

> So I think article’s title, “Cohousing’s Diversity Problem”, is misleading.  
> Nor would I conclude that cheapening construction will ever successfully 
> compensate for the problems created by an economy that sustains and promotes 
> extreme inequality.

I agree. Cheaper construction will lead to the same kind of diversity that we 
have. People who can afford less expensive houses will live in them. People 
want to live with “people like me.” The skin color thing, i think, is only to 
make diversity look like diversity. Other kinds of diversity don’t show.

I watched a group in DC that began as targeted at low wage government workers 
who wanted out of projects and homes large enough to have children, change as 
middle class members joined. The middle class assured the low-wage workers that 
they were more than welcome and they would be protected. There would still be 
affordable units.

That’s now what they wanted. They didn’t want to live with money, with people 
who in their eyes were rich. Or have their children raised with those 
expectations. They didn’t want to be welcome. They wanted theirs. First the low 
income people dropped out, and then the group fell apart. Largely because 
liberal white middle class members wanted to “solve racial issues.” The 
relatively large number of black households just wanted to get away from 
resolving or even discussing it. Particularly not at home.

I think the diversity problem is that we don’t have a meaningful definition of 
diversity. Or a realistic understanding of why a neighborhood is a neighborhood.

I was struck by the buildings in a neighborhood in Maryland on the Eastern 
Shore. Probably built in the 19th century, the houses alternated by street with 
large houses on one street and smaller houses on the next — significantly 
smaller. The large houses housed white people and formed white neighborhoods, 
and the small houses housed black people and formed the black neighborhoods. 
Both societies probably mixed more than our rich and poor do, but they also 
mixed with a power and privilege always foremost. Was that one diverse 
neighborhood? Or was it two neighborhoods-- literally side by side and 
intertwined--in which people lived and felt like equals?

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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