Re: Work or Pay Systems
From: Tim Mensch (
Date: Mon, 28 Jul 2008 10:46:59 -0700 (PDT)
Sharon Villines wrote:
On Jul 27, 2008, at 6:01 PM, David Mandel wrote:

> 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. This has often been raised as a concern, usually as a justification for not allowing people to pay at all.
It's important to be sure that there are people in a category you're trying to protect. One community used to live at had hours of debate trying to come up with a way to support the unfortunate folks who had neither time nor money to contribute. The arguments were intense and emotional. Then someone asked: Which members are we trying to protect? When a survey was completed, we determined that there were no members in that group--we were debating on how to protect a hypothetical group that didn't in fact exist.

It wasn't the first time I'd seen that pattern in cohousing--the knee-jerk urge to protect all groups, without actually verifying that the groups you're protecting are actually represented in the community. I think it's a good philosophy, in cohousing at least, to either only be your own advocate, or only advocate for specific individuals who you know need your help (because you've talked to them). It's hard enough to make decisions based on how the result will affect you; if you're trying to decide based on how you imagine someone else, either a hypothetical or actual member, might want things to be, you're making the problem harder than it needs to be. For one thing, you can know if a compromise will address your concerns--but it's much harder to know whether it will help someone else's.

I think the opposite conclusion--NO ONE has to work, nor do they need to pay--is more humane: Spread the community maintenance costs evenly among all members, instead of trying to penalize folks for not putting in work. The costs to handle all jobs that weren't being done under the existing system in a previous community were estimated at $6-$12/month/household. I would hope that any homeowner should be able to afford an expense of that magnitude--and if there are folks who really can't, then grant exceptions based on need. In fact, for affordable (below-market, deed-restricted) units, the entire HOA dues structure could be lower, to enhance actual affordability. That's really an orthogonal (unrelated) problem that can be solved separately.

Tim Mensch

Currently at Wild Sage (Boulder, CO):

Moving out! Our unit is for sale!

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