Re: HOA Dues Structures
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Tue, 1 Sep 2020 12:56:39 -0700 (PDT)
> On Sep 1, 2020, at 11:34 AM, Mac Thomson via Cohousing-L <cohousing-l [at] 
>> wrote:
> Our community (Heartwood Cohousing in rural SW Colorado), has an unusual HOA 
> dues structure. We collect 50% of our dues on a per household basis and 50% 
> on a per person basis.

First this makes a huge difference depending on what the dues cover. Lot 
development or attached dwellings with no owned ground space. Internal roads? 
Internet and antennae? Water, gas, etc.

We do 50% equal per unit and 50% variable based “sort of” on SF and Limited 
Common Elements (LCEs).

I’ve given a lot of thought to this. A lot as in over 10 years. Looking more 
closely at how out condo fees were calculated we discovered that 23 of the 43 
units didn’t follow the model we were told they did. Some people don’t pay 
extra for LCEs like backyards and others don’t pay less if they have no LCEs.

Last spring we had to replace all our sprinkler heads. The number of sprinkler 
heads in units ranges from 6 to 21. if each sprinkler head cost $20 to replace, 
that means the cost per unit ranged from $120 to $420. Since only 50% of the 
fee varies by the size of the unit, that range is not reflected in the dues 
range. That means small units are subsidizing large units.

We replaced our roof at ~$150,000. Since the large one household units are as 
tall as three stacked small units, the roof size is roughly the same. The 
replacement of the large unit’s roof costs the same amount as the roof of three 
smaller units. The cost for the smaller units should be 1/3 the cost of the 
large unit. The dues do not reflect that.

Sometimes that has seemed fine, who cares? But it hasn’t been fine for everyone 
and as we get to 20 years with major replacements costing hundreds of thousands 
of dollars it less fine for others.

Another reason I’ve been thinking about this is partly considering what is fair 
in low cost cohousing, and most important I’m reading Piketty’s latest book 
(over 1,000 pages) on the causes of inequality. Because he is an economist he 
is looking for the causes of inequality in our money flows. That is where 
inequality is clearly demonstrated and where it can be most easily stopped. 

What happens is that that wealth is hidden. No institution measures it. Tax 
rates and  revenues for any strata are opaque. Banks and other financial 
institutions make rules based on no feedback about which rules work and which 
don’t. The information is just not available to make socioeconomic systems even 
close to equal.

People with high incomes, accumulated wealth, and income from “financial 
instruments” like stocks and bonds do not pay taxes proportionate to people 
working minimum wage jobs. The effect of the high income people not carrying 
their weight, means they are taking out of the economy at a greater rate than 
they are putting back. That means the lower income people have to make up the 

And the more money you have the more power you have, the more you can 
manipulate the system in your favor — the way Trump manipulates it to favor his 
chums in big business. He is very obvious about it with no concern for equality 
or justice or truth. Certainly not transparency. 

This inequality spiked beginning in 1980 with the Reagan revolution with 
deregulation and lower taxes on the most lucrative ways to acquire and keep 

Piketty's research is especially relevant to those of us in cohousing because 
he shows how liberalism and social Democracy have failed to enforce the 
equality they have fought for. They don’t pay attention to the details of 
money. Where is it going? Where is it? Who has it? Why do we allow layers of 
shell corporations to conceal ownership? Why do we conceal the real influences 
of the owners — there is no way to trace biases and undue influence from one 

I have found that cohousing has functioned with the same blinders. We want 
everyone to be equal and to be treated equally so we think by setting an 
example, we are changing society. But the system we are in, the one that 
controls mortgages, taxes, is still allowing those with more money to reap 
greater benefits. Their units appreciate more, they occupy more space on the 
planet, they pay less proportionately. 

In no way am I criticizing those in cohousing who are still profiting from the 
system. Almost none will understand to what degree they are privileged. It’s 
just like being white — who feels privileged from being white? Life is still 
rough. The CEOs who “earn” more than a million dollars a month believe they are 
set upon in one way or another.

One thing that looking at money honestly is that it is an objective measure. 
You can measure in context objectively. Piketty explains all the ways the data 
are adjusted according to geographical location, household size, etc. (Very 
complicated.) And still they data only indicate the direction, not the extent. 
Wealth is invisible. All we know is what is reported on tax returns — and tax 
returns are not public information.

One thing this has done for me is bring back all the social change we expected 
cohousing to bring and represent. We have changed housing, condos in 
particular, and created wonderful communities for more people. But the 
financial system as Piketty says is untouched. And not just.

Sharon Villines
sustainablecohousing [at]
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