Re: Cohousing's Diversity Problem - CityLab
From: contact [at] (
Date: Mon, 14 Aug 2017 11:13:59 -0700 (PDT)
> On Aug 13, 2017, at 1:39 PM, Tom Smyth <tom [at]> wrote:

I think the questions you are asking are exactly the right ones. We beat 
ourselves up for not having something we think is desirable but that we haven’t 
> One of the ideals of cohousing is welcoming diversity. The questions we
> haven’t answered are: What is it?

Exactly. The only thing that many of us identify as diversity is skin color. I 
have a friend who was born in England whose family is from Jamaica. Any slavery 
accents in her family were generations ago. Her skin color is dark, darker than 
the majority of African-Americans who live in the US.

She said 17 years ago when she had only been in the US a year or so, “It’s 
strange here, because I don’t sound like or think like the people who look like 

> How about racial diversity for starters? Yes race is socially constructed
> but it's still meaningful. How about a cohousing community with
> approximately the same racial makeup as the US or as the state in which
> it's located?

I think skin color means something went it is accompanied by ethnic diversity. 
But to assume that skin color does represent ethnic diversity is making 
assumptions close to the one that all African Americans are poor.

In addition to thinking about local diversity —10% immigrants,or whatever— we 
have to add the statistic of how many people in the general population want to 
live in cohousing. If 10% of the local population are traditional Catholic 
Italian Americans, how many want to live in cohousing? How many want to live 
with non-Catholics, non-Italian descent Americans?

I’m not sure that we have those figures but there may be figures on what % of 
the general population actually wants to live in cohousing and go from there. 
If 20% of a local population

> How do we get it, and keep it?

For a community to form or sustain itself, it has 

1. find people who want to live in cohousing, and
2. who will enthusiastically and independently assume workshare tasks, and
3. can afford to buy a new house, and
4. want to move, and
5. want to move to the location of your land, and
6. cope with the issues of figuring out how to manage a multi unit residential 

To ensure that those people also represent ethnic diversity is a big order, 
even if we knew how to do it. It’s also a two way street. People have to be 

After 17 years, I feel secure that we have accomplished or are accomplishing 
the first 5 and still figuring out 6, which seems to be cyclical. Every year 
there seems to be a new issue.

We are now in the midst of a turnover that has lasted 3-4 years so about half 
of our units are occupied by the founders. We are concerned about age and 
gender diversity since the people who fill criteria 1-6 are all older white 
women who have previously owned houses and are downsizing. 

> Hard work. Hard conversations. Sacrifice. Racial sensitivity and allyship
> training.

And this is conducted in personal space—not the office or a community center or 
a school. We take this home to bed along with unemployment, chronic illness, 
neighbors in strife, teenagers going off the rails, declining health, a partner 
losing their memory, etc.

> Reducing financial barriers to entry. Lots of other great ideas
> that we need to come up with.

Financial barriers, I think, a lot of new communities have dealt with as well 
as could be expected. For a community like ours — 17 years in and owners 
wanting/needing full price out of their homes in order to enter a retirement 
community or buy a house in another city, there aren’t many options.

> How do we know when we’ve got it?
> A basic spreadsheet should do it :)

Very funny. Then we have to figure out what to put on it.

In my community a well meaning working group put together demographic 
statistics listing the percentage of non-white, single parents, parents, single 
people, gay, coupled people, children, etc.

Their desire was to show diversity but seeing my community members with these 
labels on them I found depersonalizing and offensive. In addition to having 
each person defined as “what” they were, the categorizations were not 
self-chosen. While some people might self-identify as gay, others don’t want 
to. One of our members by skin color points out that she is black but is 
ethnically Hispanic. How would she identify herself?

It isn’t the hard work, it's the definition of what we are trying to 

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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