Re: How Cohousing communities decide on new members
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Wed, 14 Apr 2021 12:12:09 -0700 (PDT)
A few comments, some of which may earn me no friends …

Fair housing law, without question, applies to the sellers and their agents.  
In the formational stage, this is almost always the community.  But once the 
unit is sold to a household … who’s the next seller for the resale?  What 
rights and powers does the community retain to interact in the resale process?

Moreover, “fair housing” is a proxy description for “anti-discrimination”.  
Anti-discrimination law defines personal or demographic attributes that cannot 
be weighed as part of the decision to sell, or not sell, a housing unit.  But 
it’s not clear that these attributes are even the most important ones for 
community identity, solidarity, and diversity.  A few examples might include …
  •  Income?  Do you worry that households stretched very thin, in their home 
purchase, may be unwilling to consent to anything other than a minimalist 
annual budget?  Should you set a minimum household income for buy-in?  Or, 
forget it, and hope for the best?
  •  Shared interests?  What if your aspirations include affinity group 
compatilities, like, people who want to play music together?  Can you reject a 
household that fails its audition, in favor of a household full of pianists and 
percussionists?  Remember, musical ability is not an attribute protected by 
“fair housing” law.  If you go for the musical household, are you more 
interested in compatibility and uniformity than in diversity?  Is this bad?
  •  Enthusiasm?  What if you have a purchaser candidate household that clearly 
“gets it”, and wants to be an active contributing member of intentional 
community?  And another candidate ready to pay more, but clueless about, and 
possibly hostile to, the cohousing lifeway?  Should you discriminate in favor 
of apparent enthusiasm?  (Not protected by law …)

None of which addresses one of our biggest conundrums:  Senior cohousing.  
Which “discriminates” against “young” people, and families with young kids. 
Familial status is verboten as an attribute of discrimination … but senior 
housing, and senior cohousing, gets a pass.  Should it?  If it does, then what 
about cohousing only for people of Central American heritage?  What’s wrong 
with that?

Nor the affordability challenge.  If you want to build affordably, make the 
units as standardized as you possibly can:  Like, just three sizes, with 
identical layouts for each unit of the same size.  But if you want diversity, 
make all the units distinctly different:  Different sizes; different layouts; 
some with stairs, some not, some studios, some 4-bedrooms; etc etc.  But a 
construction plan made entirely of unique conditions definitely increases 
construction costs.  What’s most important?

I do not pretend to have any slam-dunk answers for these questions.  But I 
think the questions of intentional community can get really hard.  Unless we’re 
ready to understand that the entire process of developing and managing 
intentional community is one of carefully calibrated compromise among 
legitimate competing values.  Fealty to “diversity" does not, on its own, solve 
the problem.

Philip Dowds
Cornerstone Village Cohousing
Cambridge, MA 02140

mobile: 617.460.4549
email:   rphilipdowds [at]

> On Apr 14, 2021, at 1:45 PM, Elizabeth Magill <pastorlizm [at]> 
> wrote:
> You are selling housing.
> The Fair Housing Act prohibits this discrimination because of race,
> color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and
> disability. Your state or town may have added other categories to
> this.
> This applies to who you sell to, and also to how you advertise.
> You can invite your friends and family who meet your criteria for
> diversity to join with you, and be part of organizations where you
> meet people who are diverse, and invite them to join your community.
> You can build in an area where diverse people want to live, and
> provide resources that diverse people want near their homes.
> But you can't decide who can buy based on race, color, national
> origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.
> Liz
> On Wed, Apr 14, 2021 at 12:24 PM Jim Bronson
> <jimbronsonashland [at]> wrote:
>> River Song Cohousing Community in Eugene, Or is passing the 3/4 point in
>> membership prior to locking in our construction loan (ground blessing
>> scheduled for May 9th).  At this point we have attracted a nice group of
>> explorers and are confident about our construction loan.  Looking forward
>> we would like to see more diversity in our community rather than choosing
>> members on a first come first serve basis.  We are contemplating possible
>> ways to modify our system so we are selecting from a pool of candidates. It
>> would help us to hear from cohousing communities about any application and
>> interview or other processes you have used to enhance diversity.  Thanks
>> for this helpful listserv.
>> Jim Bronson
>> Design Team for River Song Cohousing
>> _________________________________________________________________
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> -- 
> -Liz
> (The Rev. Dr.) Elizabeth Mae Magill
> Pastor, Ashburnham Community Church
> Minister to the Affiliates, Ecclesia Ministries
> 508-450-0431
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