Re: Play-or-Pay participation programs
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Thu, 25 Oct 2018 10:29:43 -0700 (PDT)
> On Oct 25, 2018, at 10:27 AM, Beverly Jones Redekop <beverly.jones.redekop 
> [at]> wrote:
> Please share! I'm at the point of giving up and suggesting that we just
> raise our monthly fees by a lot. I live the people who show up for work
> parties or do other regular jobs...but it's a tiny group.

We used to be there. At about 3-5 years I was desperate. I was still working an 
average of 20-30 hours a week straightening up the CH, drafting policies, 
researching major projects and minor purchases, doing minutes, leading working 
groups, serving on the Board and at least one other team, etc. I learned a lot 
about developing a cohousing community but at some point, I wanted to just live 
in cohousing. That was the point, right?

I talked with one woman who said she moved out of the cohousing community to an 
apartment across the street so she could write the book she had moved into 
cohousing to write. 

When I complained about how much I was working and asked others to step up, 
their response was if you are doing too much, stop. The problem with this was 
that many of the things I was doing were to make myself feel safer and creating 
an organization that I could be proud of. I was anxious about fees rising so 
much I couldn’t afford it. The place looking like "trailer park trash” (with 
all respect for wonderful trailer parks). Consensus fading away into no one 
cares and nothing happens. Voting being the only way to get things done. 
Individuals, like me, taking over and becoming condo commandos. In other words, 
a failing cohousing dream.

Instead I looked at all kinds of systems for distributing work. I designed a 
complete relational database to track tasks, people, hours required and hours 
done. It was complex and informative — and intimidating. If I could have gotten 
all the data, I could have told you anything about what needed to be done, how 
long it took, who did it — if anyone. I could even tell you which households 
contributed more time. (It has often been true that one partner was very active 
and the other not. In the end it usually balanced out.)

I joined the Facilities Team to analyze what work was necessary there and to 
find the members who were more aware of the consequences for things not being 
done. I went back through all the minutes and kept track of comments in 
membership meetings of things people wanted/needed done. I very quickly had a 
list of more than 100+ to-do items just for the Facilities Team—some were 2-3 
years old. I added a table to the database  that could send reminders and track 
and log their completion. I sent reminders at least monthly—every two weeks was 
driving people nuts.  Eventually they were all done or a decision was made they 
weren’t going to be done—it took over a year to clear them out. And everyone 
hated me. It’s very hard to be conscious of the things to be done and to be the 
person reminding people to do them and be a Cohousing Pollyanna at the same 

I studied sociocracy and its systems of self-organization and accountability. 
Looked at communities that were doing tracking and reporting hours. An 
ecovillage had an annual hours budget as well as a financial budget. New 
projects had both cost and labor budgets. If not enough people pledged the 
hours, a project couldn’t be taken on. Labor was just like money—you don’t 
spend it unless you have it. Everyone reported hours or was charged an hourly 
rate for hours not reported. Many worked more hours but that was seen as 
voluntary and based on their own interests. 

The community tried many approaches. We had at least 3 working groups at 
various times who were going to take charge. One concluded that everything that 
needed to be done was being done or we wouldn’t exist. Another never met. 
Others tried, but what to do? They wrote wonderfully kind and understanding 
documents that made them feel good and accomplished nothing.

At about year 8 (?), we had turnover of a few units with the new people being 
much more active and committed than the people they replaced. I realized I was 
beginning to relax. I felt more secure living here. It would be okay.  There 
was a solid feeling about the community. Part of it was from having more 
experience and changing my expectations, but it was also that increasingly the 
expectations of the most responsible people in the community were closer to the 
wonderful inclusive environmentally-conscious trailer park than the abandoned 
refrigerators and car tires of socially alienated trailer park trash 

I realized that what gave me that feeling was that I trusted the new and many 
of the original residents would take responsibility for things. They wouldn’t  
just ignore the flood in the CH or shrug if we were overcharged for services. I 
could trust that the person in charge of the sump pumps would actually take 
care of them. It didn’t matter how many hours it took. Taking responsibility 
was more important. For 15 years I never had to think about who was changing 
the light bulbs inside and outside on the property. Not a thought, because one 
person researched best purchase options, kept a stock of bulbs for all 
fixtures, walked the property every Saturday morning to check for outages, 
recruited ladder people to help replace the bulbs, and recycled the burned out 
bulbs. I was totally free of this worry. Even if she did insist on calling 
bulbs “lamps,” I could handle it.

Something Rob Sandelin of Sharingwood Cohousing said a million years ago kept 
coming back to me: “How do I value the hour an ethics expert spends 2-3 times a 
year with the kids teaching ethics or the 4 hours a month spent sweeping?” One 
is priceless but only an hour; the other, quantifiable but easily hired out.

In the end, it wasn’t the hours. By focusing on taking responsibility we could 
emphasize the importance of building and maintaining our security and comfort. 
No one had to argue that that job wasn’t worth 4 hours of credit. Or we need 
the hours over here, not there. This is work for the community, not just 
yourself.  Only manual labor counts. Meals are just self-serving, not community 

It has helped that we have some very organized members who make lists and focus 
on details and job requirements and organizing work days, but it’s done as 
support and direction, not measuring and monitoring.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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