Social Change [was Cohousing's Diversity Problem - CityLab
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Wed, 16 Aug 2017 18:58:04 -0700 (PDT)
On Aug 14, 2017, at 10:22 PM, Tom Smyth <tom [at]> wrote:

> I guess my contention is that diversity along any axis of oppression is
> important because living amongst people from traditionally oppressed groups
> (or perhaps more importantly *getting ourselves to the place where they
> might want to live amongst us*) makes us, as privileged people, less likely
> to oppress them.

I think this is where the rubber hits the road. Thank you, Tom, for continuing 
to sort things out. I think others feel the same  way and that’s the source of 
the heat in the diversity conversation.

The real issue is wanting to take action to change society for the better, To 
actively do good.

In cohousing, the desire for diversity has been a commitment to market in as 
many kinds of neighborhoods as possible, make an effort to attract under 
represented ethnic groups, and accept anyone is interested in cohousing.

Support for the oppressed, those who have been subjected to "prolonged cruel or 
unjust treatment,” would require forms of direct support to address the results 
of their oppression.

Both are social change but diversity feels to some as social change lite.

The feelings of failure of diversity is the failure to address oppression.

> I'm less interested in diversity along axes that don’t equate with 
> oppression. [snip] Certainly you
> get lots of cultural bonuses if you achieve racial, age, income, etc.
> diversity, but those are not the main driver for me.

All the groups you mention above are discriminated against in the housing 
market. None of their members can be assured that if they look for an 
apartment, they will be considered equally. Or that their application will be 
considered at all. Accepting them is to address discrimination and create more 
diverse neighborhoods.

The difficulty with cohousing addressing the oppressed is the financial 
restriction. Cohousers have traditionally been people who were scraping 
together just enough to afford to live in cohousing themselves. Households have 
been put at serious risk when groups have failed and units have not sold. Tens 
of thousands of dollars have been lost by people who could ill afford it. (This 
may be changing with the second and third seating of residents after there is 
no longer a financial risk.)

Cohousing is a residential, real-estate-based  community. Using cohousing to 
address oppression would require money and/or the time to acquire it from 
donors, investors, or housing agencies to supply housing to those who would 
otherwise not have housing of equal quality.

Many cohousing residents tutor in the schools, demonstrate in the streets, work 
with children with special needs, work for the ACLU, etc. Diversity goes both 
ways — we can’t ensure that residents will commit to social change.

Cohousing oppression relief might be to organize people living in cohousing to 
work for better housing opportunities for oppressed groups.

1. To bring cohousing models to public housing. 
2. To design models for low cost housing that HUD and the FHA will approve for 
3. To organize cohousers to invest in a fund to build low cost housing. 
4. Develop a financial model for cohousing communities to buy back a unit to 
rent or sell to a member of an oppressed group.

The NYTimes had an interesting article a few months ago in the Sunday Magazine 
on a program in Canada for refugees. People took responsibility for households 
for one year. They provided financial support, transportation, etc. 

When cohousing talks about diversity, what it can guarantee is that everyone 
will be accepted as they are, as equals. Outreach is necessary for both 
diversity _and_ for selling units. It isn’t that there are so many of one group 
that another group doesn’t have a chance.

But it is unlikely that people will make commitments to a unified social change 
objective than cohousing. I suspect all communities have many of these when 
they form. Then they hit the wall of selling units, moving in, managing 
themselves and the plumbing, etc. The reality is very physical. I used to think 
we would "get back to that” but social change isn’t any easier inside cohousing 
than outside. And cohousing brings it’s own energy and time consumption.

Sharon Villines, Washington DC
"Reality is something you rise above." Liza Minnelli

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