Re: Work or Pay Systems
From: melanie griffin (
Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2008 06:19:20 -0700 (PDT)
I'm thinking it would be a good idea for those of us not yet living in
cohousing to total the hours and money we spend on caring for our houses,
apartments, and grounds, including  shopping, repairs, maintenance, and
cleaning; paying, waiting for and supervising people who do paid work for
us, organizing and throwing parties, etc. Then when we move into a cohousing
community and someone suggests to us that a certain amount of time or money
be spent maintaining the community we can compare that with the time and
money we spend now.   Cohousing has by design and logic the potential to
reduce an individual's work/money load because of economies of scale, but I
can't imagine that anybody thinks maintenance of one's living space is an

We all make the money/work tradeoff, so I'm not offended by the idea that
some people would pay and others would work, but I do see problems
evaluating the worth of that work. Is a person who works with computers
worth more than someone who cleans toilets? Certainly capitalism has decided
that question one way, but do we need to agree?  I think we go down a
dangerous road if we adopt our larger economy's decisions without thinking
about it, considering the salient populations who have traditionally done
unpaid work (people of color and women).


On Wed, Jul 30, 2008 at 2:55 PM, Tim Mensch <tim-coho-l [at]> wrote:

> Kay Argyle wrote:
> > It seems to me that increasing assessments across the board to hire out
> > community work creates a worse class division than the work-or-pay option
> > does.  Instead of having no choice but to work off the assessment,
> > low-income residents have no choice but - not to be residents. Or be
> overtly
> > subsidized, if the community wants to.
> >
> If the community values diversity, then yes, low-income residents would
> be subsidized, as I explained. Handle the money problem in the money
> domain, rather than adding layer upon layer of additional work (a
> work-or-pay system needs to be managed, after all) and conflict to a
> system that isn't getting enough volunteer labor and is already facing
> member burn-out because of conflict. Does it really make sense to add an
> entire layer of bureaucracy that everyone has to deal with to prevent
> people from having to ask for a reduced fee?
> As an aside: Diversity in income means that some people do have more
> money than others. If you value that diversity, isn't it important to
> keep those with the higher incomes happy as well? Aren't there fewer of
> them, which would imply that it's even more important to keep them happy
> to make sure they stick around to help subsidize the folks with less
> disposable income? I would posit that it's a lot easier to find
> community members who have lower incomes to move into affordable units
> than it is to find folks with higher incomes to buy the units which have
> been marked up to subsidize the others. So, thinking strategically,
> shouldn't the community be designed to attract the money? And how many
> people with lots of money also have lots of free that they want to spend
> cleaning toilets?
> > > 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.
> > > Tim Mensch
> >
> > If I understand this correctly, far from, "No one has to ... pay," it
> means
> > everybody pays.
> >
> Everybody pays means the burden is shared more equitably; it's the same
> reason that everyone pays for social security: If only the people who
> would likely need social security paid for it, it would cost much more.
> With proper planning, you can get economies of scale that reduce the
> overall cost, as opposed to trying to hire folks to do work piecemeal on
> an "as-needed" basis.
> > Why is it "more humane" to require a set, highly regressive, payment of
> > money, while allowing each resident to decide for themselves how much
> time,
> > if any, they will offer to the community?  I've never understood this -
> > however "American" it is (a country with no national service
> requirement).
> >
> First, I specifically suggested income-based progressive HOA dues,
> possibly not charging low-income members the abovementioned fee at all.
> Second, while I'm not proud of everything American at the moment,
> bashing America doesn't contribute to the discussion. Are you saying
> that it should be more important for me to use my time cleaning toilets
> than, say, volunteering to provide expert computer assistance to a
> non-profit? (Something I've done more than once) Or should I need to buy
> out work hours for the privilege of donating my expert skills? If I want
> to have enough time to get a reasonable amount of exercise in a week,
> should that cost me money? As someone who likes to save money, it
> bothers me to "waste" money (i.e., pay buyout dollars) instead of
> getting work done, and so I'm stuck either being annoyed by spending the
> money or using up my free time doing something that I hate.
> Rob's community seems to have a reasonable compromise: You can get an
> HOA discount if you jump through the right hoops to document and submit
> your work hours.  I know it's functionally equivalent, but
> psychologically it makes a world of difference to me--in part because of
> the framing, where instead of having to pay what feels like a "penalty"
> for not working enough (and what frequently seems to be set at punitive
> levels rather than at actual costs), you need to seek out a discount if
> you need the extra money.
> > The amount of discretionary money a person has is their income minus
> their
> > fixed expenses. Incomes vary widely. The amount of discretionary time a
> > person has is their total time minus their obligations. Yet everybody has
> > the same 24 hours in the day.
> >
> On the face of it, yes. But with long commutes, longer work hours, and
> family commitments, where exactly is the time supposed to come from? If
> you enjoy work parties, then it can come from your recreational
> time--but I don't, so if I want to have any time to spend doing
> something fun, I have to pay extra for it? Why would I want to live
> under those conditions? Answer: I don't. I moved out of one community
> already as a result.
> > However, we've already given people the choice not to work. Asking
> someone
> > to pay for the privilege at least gives those who are willing to work the
> > possibility of hiring out some of it, instead of doing their jobs and the
> > other people's too.
> >
> Your community culture includes an expectation that people do work. It's
> common--it's almost a tenet of cohousing. With that expectation--and
> that framing--you can make statements like "...doing their jobs and the
> other people's too."  But if there's no built-in expectation that people
> need to work, then the resentment you're expressing doesn't exist. There
> IS NO OTHER PEOPLE'S WORK. There's only work you want to do, or you
> don't. And the folks who can afford it contribute to what needs to be
> done. The folks who can't, don't. Much, much simpler. I've never met
> someone in a traditional condo who complained that other members weren't
> doing enough gardening, even if they liked to garden themselves.
> > > 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 ...
> >
> > That had to have been an extremely high-functioning community.
> >
> Not to hear them describe it at the time. :)
> > We estimated this spring that it would take a special assessment of $25
> per
> > month (or preferably a lump sum of $300) per household to hire sufficient
> > labor...
> >
> > ... If we'd had the full assessment, maybe we
> > wouldn't be coming back to square one.
> Not that this will help much to hear, nor will it help in your
> community, but if from square one the expectation was that the work
> would be hired out, then the $25/month would simply be a fact-of-life
> extra expense in your community, and folks would have needed to decide
> whether or not to move in based on whether they could afford HOA dues of
> that level--or if you ended up with a sliding scale, then low income
> folks would pay less or none of that amount, and higher-income folks
> would pay more.
> In an existing community, it's almost impossible to change the
> expectations, however--because in part of built-up resentment from folks
> who don't want to pay so "someone else doesn't have to work," and
> because of the "We Want To Do Our Own Work!" attitude common in
> cohousing. The best "retrofit" you might be able to adopt is a
> pay-or-play system. But I would argue that just adding that $25/month
> permanently to your dues (with or without a progressive scale based on
> income) is not only the right thing to do, but far, far less hassle than
> the alternative. One way or the other, that work needs to be done, or
> the community could face a lawsuit based on the fact that the HOA isn't
> performing its required duties, and thereby hurting property values.
> Note that a "work requirement" of 5 hours/month/unit with a buyout of
> $5/hour would get you your $25/month--though as I mentioned, flipping it
> around, adding $25 to dues, and allowing people to do extra work to get
> a $25 discount, might be much easier to swallow.
> A good investment might be to hire a facilitator like Tree Bressen to
> come and help your group determine how best it can climb out of the hole
> it's dug itself into. Tree in particular was able to help Pleasant Hill
> adopt a pay-or-play style system (over my and others' reasoned
> objections, but then again, they are getting more work done now, and
> have money to pay for even more work). And having a system that
> generates money and/or gets the work done, one way or another, is more
> important than what the system is. I just won't be buying one of those
> vacant units if pay-or-play is the result. :P
> Good luck, in any case,
> Tim
> --
> Tim Mensch
> Currently at Wild Sage (Boulder, CO):
> Moving out! Our unit is for sale!
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