Re: Work or Pay Systems
From: Tim Mensch (
Date: Fri, 1 Aug 2008 10:02:26 -0700 (PDT)
Sharon Villines wrote:
I was stunned when I heard a month after move-in that my neighbor two doors down only intended to stay 2-3 years. It was a "good buy." It felt like a breech of covenant or something. My concept of cohousing was that people would only move into cohousing if they were intending to "stay forever."
Despite having been that person (metaphorically) in my current community (we moved in with the general understanding that we'd only be around for a couple years at most), I understand what you mean. When I first moved into cohousing, I felt betrayed when first one, and then another, of the families of my daughters' best friends moved away. It became, "What's the point of trying to make long term connections?"

I don't know how to address that issue, in cohousing or elsewhere. Jobs move. People get into graduate programs in a different state. A family members' health could deteriorate to the point that you want to move to be closer to them.

At present, in the short term, I don't know there's anything that can be done to fix the problem. However, over time, if a community is an attractive place to live, and is close to good jobs, I think you'll find that the community will collect people who stay for longer periods. If each member who joins your community has a 20% chance of being a long-term resident, then after 3-4 turnovers in a unit there's a good chance you'll get someone who stays. Eventually all the units will be filled with long-term folks (barring serious life changes, of course--my point is that the intention would be there to stay long term).

And I have to say that the new folks who moved in to those vacant units were all very cool, and contributed a lot to the community, so the turnover did at least have a silver lining. I credit the excellent marketing team there that keeps a list of interested parties and helps to manage cohousing tours and such.
That this isn't true means I am also beginning to have doubts about the process of building consensus with a changing group of people. What is insidious about this is now realizing that some people may have already become "temporary" in their own minds. They are making "temporary" decisions while I am still trying to make decisions that build a foundation for the future.
I feel that, ethically, people who are short-timers should recuse themselves from most major decisions--even if they take part in the discussion, they shouldn't block unless they feel such a decision has a serious negative effect on resale value. I don't mean that it would add $20 to the HOA dues and make the unit fractionally more difficult to sell, but something like adding 50% to the HOA dues (for something non-essential) could impact resale value, however.
Two units changed 1 1/2 years ago, one changed this week, and another will change in the upcoming months. I feel like saying, okay, no decisions until everyone gets in place. Then we start over again. And we use preferential voting.
At Pleasant Hill they still use consensus, but they added a very clear voting-override procedure. The previous procedure turned out to be ill-defined and hard to know how to invoke; the new procedure makes things much more straightforward if there's a clear need for the community to make a decision and there are objectors.

For urgent decisions, they also have an instant-fallback if they can't reach consensus: At an "Impurgent" meeting (Important AND Urgent), if consensus isn't reached, the decision can fall back on a simple majority vote. Sometimes you just need to make a decision and don't have the luxury of convincing everyone.

Tim Mensch

Currently at Wild Sage (Boulder, CO):

Moving out! Our unit is for sale!

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