notes: Haight Street Commons Guidebook

The first thing I read as I started this community housing reading adventure was the How to start a commune guidebook, a guide from Haight Street Commons ("a network of not-for-profit co-ops and intentional communities in the heart of San Francisco").

It discusses a variety of topics, mostly at a high level, including

🌱🔌 foundational teams, motivation, and power structures

Prepare a core team of founding residents who are excited to drive on making sure that things a) don’t fall apart and also b) that beyond that, help the community and culture THRIVE! It can help to decide on an expiration date for this hierarchy.

I've seen situations where founding members feel a greater responsibility towards the house, even if they don't actually want to be the one investing the most in the house. I can see how a founding member might feel more ownership and responsibility over house culture, and I've felt this myself in clubs I co-founded where I was more likely to put in initiative and others would mostly just do things if we asked.

This quote from the guide talks about having an expiration date on explicit hierarchy, but just because it's not explicit anymore doesn't necessarily dissolve the sense that some people are more responsible for the group's community and culture. I bet there are ways to set up process for finding and onboarding members of the community such that most people in the house feel pretty invested in helping, but this seems like a tricky thing to work out. Lots of things can get in the way of people's motivation to contribute to a house (including just surprise stuff coming up in their own lives) -- though I also want to note that "contributing to a house" can look like a lot of different things, and different ways of contributing probably work better for different people and their own motivation and bandwidth.

Q: how do community houses manage different people's level of motivation to contribute to the house?

Q: what implicit structure of power or hierarchy might exist within house dynamics (people who've lived in the house longer, who know more people in the house, who have more money, who are more vocal about their opinions, who are of a marginalized race/class/gender/etc) and how do communities address these to help house dynamics feel healthy?

In thinking about the dynamic of "someone moves in and feels weird around everyone else who already knows each other" -- this feels like a good reason (among many) for holding lots of events in the house for people who don't live there, out of hopes that open rooms can be filled by people already connected to the community


Leave the space better than you found it, or how you wish you had found it!

Eh idk, this kind of rule doesn't feel good enough - there are lots of situations where people feel unable to clean a space in the moment (they're in a rush, they're depressed, etc) and lots of situations where different people have vastly different standards of cleanliness, and things can super spiral from there.

I've heard that one way to help community homes be more sustainable long-term is to give people more complete private living spaces (e.g. their own kitchen), to reduce conflict around cleaning. This has some tradeoffs, because the easier it is to never leave your private space, the less likely it is that people casually run into each other in the house (which is a big perk of community living). I feel like the chore system at Bitches that Byte (the house I lived in SF pre-covid, also known as BTB) had a pretty good system for chores where each week we rotated what we were each responsible for cleaning -- this allowed me to clean each of those things to my own standard of cleanliness every 4 weeks, and also meant I knew who to talk to if a particular thing was getting too dirty. I also recently came across a post making a case a different system which reminded me of the system I used at Waterloo once where we just noted on a sheet (colour coded) when each of us did chores, without having any quota any of us had to fill. I feel like chore systems are just super fascinating.

Another approach I've heard about is to hire someone to clean and maintain shared supplies. With the cost split up over 10 people, it is very much cost-effective, in exchange for having fewer conflicts over mixed standards of cleanliness and mixed ability to clean.

💬chat systems

They talk about using Slack as their main chat system, and I'd be pretty interested in talking more to folks about community chat apps and features they like and don't like.

I really appreciate Zulip's "topic" system where you can easily start new stand alone conversation threads, sort of like a forum. Though I also find Zulip's UI too annoying and feature-incomplete to actually recommend it for a community. (Context: this is an app I use to talk to people at the Recurse Center and at work (because our founders founded Zulip lol), but nowhere else.) I like that Discord allows you to group channels, so you could e.g. mute all of the meme channels.

It feels important to have channels that are low-noise where important things go, and other channels where you can goof around, but I've seen that easily set up on all Slack/Discord/Zulip instances I've seen. I like that these community houses use emoji reactions to show they've seen an important post. (emoji are so good!!) Having bots set up for reminders on chores and events also seems pretty nice. I imagine different groups would benefit from different kinds of setups, but I'm super interested to think more about how to set up community chat instances to feel fun and easy to hang out in. I've been in so many different work slacks and know there are definitely some clear anti-patterns and often-fun-patterns.

I also wonder if you could use apps like Discord more like Zulip (i.e. one channel per conversation thread), and just aggressively archive and unarchive channels - but that's probably too annoying to implement.

🏠house size

The houses discussed in this guide are often really big! Like, 30 people or something. I generally have thought about wanting to live with maybe max 8 other people. I can't imagine trusting 30 people to keep the house going smoothly. My friend and I were talking about how when you have a really big group, there will naturally be social subgroups, and maybe this allows folks some space to distance themself from certain people or groups when experiencing conflict, and maybe this helps keep some harmony.

It seems like a house this big would have been people coming in and out of it a lot, especially in SF where people are moving all the time. Is that true? How stable are the populations of these houses? How does the culture survive or shift over time? What kinds of things influence how often people are moving in and out, and how much the culture shifts?