Re: Work or Pay Systems
From: David Mandel (
Date: Sun, 27 Jul 2008 15:01:05 -0700 (PDT)
    Nearly all the comments on this topic have correctly recognized that 
residents have different physical abilities and time availabilities when it 
comes to performing community work. True enough, and important to accept.
    But what's touted as an OK solution to the collective limitations -- just 
hire someone to do the work -- utterly ignores the fact that residents also 
have different levels of disposable income that they can afford for such 
purposes. This is especially relevant when, rarely, a  cohousing community 
adopts a real commitment to creating (as we did) and sustaining (as we haven't, 
to my great disappointment) equal opportunity of membership for at least some 
truly low-income households. 
    In my view, it becomes particularly insidious when the discussion leads to 
a policy of "work or pay" as an individual "choice," as if everyone truly has 
the same degree of choice. The result in an economically diverse community can 
easily devolve into a microcosmic class divide: Those who can easily pay a bit 
more instead of contributing fully to community work, freely deciding that 
other parts of their lives are just more important; vs. others who simply don't 
have the cash and therefore must devote more hours to community work. Talk 
about a formula for breeding resentment -- try overlaying this on that which 
may already occur with differential work involvement among economic equals.
    I've been a bit out of the national cohousing loop, but my impression is 
still that few communities really achieve much in the way of economic diversity 
or affordability for low-income members, despite a lot of verbal support for 
the idea. I realize it is truly difficult in our society where housing is a 
commodity and affordable housing development is generally segregated, to the 
extent it still exists.
     But perhaps this discussion can serve as a reminder also that if 
affordability is achieved to some degree in creation of a community, it doesn't 
stop being an issue. Our monthly fee is substantial, just to cover common 
utilities, insurance, reserves and other necessary items. Making it larger to 
pay for work that could be done by members may impose a much more significant 
burden on some than on others, magnified many times when it's presented as an 
individual choice.
David Mandel
Southside Park Cohousing, Sacramento

Joanie Connors <jvcphd [at]> wrote: 
Some comments on the sustainability issue for the work involved in 
cohousing -

1. It is natural to experience a lack of energy for tasks when the community 
is out of balance in power (lack of listening or respect), support (meeting 
needs) or change dynamics (stuck in a rut). The same is true in work 
settings and families - people don't want to work when they don't care and 
they don't care when they feel they don't matter.

As Rachel and others have said, when you feel good, you want to contribute. 
It feels invigorating to contribute when you are building something 
important together, and seems less like work.

2. I keep hearing this assumption that cohousing should cut your workload 
and make life easier. Where did that come from? Perhaps this is part of the 
US individualist mindset (everything is here to meet my needs), or a 
response to the insane level of busy-ness of our lives.

If individualism is the problem, then perhaps we need to value our 
communities and their structures more. Think of the dearth of parental 
involvement in schools and voter apathy. A matter of priorities.

I think it's important that children and teens contribute too, so they can 
learn these values.

If busy-ness is the problem, then it's time to sit down and look at what you 
can afford to cut out. I've found, like Rob, that cutting my load doesn't 
seem to stop the world from turning. Many things get done without my 
involvement (or wait till I have time), and I've become more balanced 
between the work I do for my own needs and for community needs.

Of course the points about keeping the community workload moderate and 
hiring out onerous tasks are extremely helpful. 

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