notes: cohousing

This set of notes are from things I read about two different co-housing groups. Co-housing is different from most of what I've been reading about recently in that the homes are generally privately owned. Essentially, you have your own private house for you and whoever you live with, but you live within a wider community of several homes. There's often a communal eating area where folks share a few meals a week, and the community can also share gardens, childcare, carpooling, etc.

I'm mostly interested in living with friends in a communal house, but I've also considered things like living in apartments on the same floor of an apartment building (with an extra apartment that's just common space), so it was interesting to read about bigger versions of this sort of idea.

Boulder Housing Coalition

I looked through the resources page of their website, which described some co-housing concepts in general, as well as how they specifically go about it.

On one of their pages, they describe a SEVEN step process for how they do consensus. It was very involved, and I can see why a lot of the things I've read so far prefer do-ocracy over consensus for most decisions. (Though I do still think consensus and do-ocracy are different tools that can both be useful in different situations)

On their page about anti-oppression, they discuss how they use consensus as one of the ways to "create a space for all voices to have power". As I was reading this, I was wondering how much consensus ensures marginalized voices are heard. In what ways could consensus conversations end up being mostly privileged voices talking? Are there ways that do-ocracy-esque things can help marginalized people do the things they want to do more easily? I'd be curious to hear about people's experiences with power dynamics in either of these systems.

I also thought it was neat that they have policies specifically around mediation. The escalation of conflict seems like something that tears many communities apart, so it seems useful to have tools in place to help mediate conflict. I also liked their focus on restorative and not retributive solutions. (I don't have a good specific resource to link to for learning about Restorative Justice and Transformative Justice, but it's an interesting thing to explore and think about! I don't think this is always the best way to address conflict, but I wish this model was used more in the world than it currently is.)

🅽 N St Cohousing

Fun fact - this cohousing community is located in Davis, which is where someone close to me grew up! It was fun reading about a community they had visited in their childhood.

When I was reading about their communal meals, I was fascinated to see just how cheap eating communally could be:

we usually have 20-40 diners at each meal, so 2 or 3 people at a time do the cooking. Cooks make enough servings for everyone who signed up ahead of time, and they divide the cost of ingredients by the number of sign-ups. It's usually around $3 per plate, and rarely more than $5 (how great is that?!)

I also found this answer to "Do any Republicans or conservatives live at N Street Cohousing?" on their FAQ kind of funny:

N Street Cohousing does not have an official political affiliation and we welcome people with diverse points of view. That being said, our community typically has attracted people with liberal viewpoints.

I feel like it's less useful to hard-pass on party affiliation, and better to just talk about the values of the community and the values of the people applying. I think their "guiding principles" and "eleven guiding goals of N Street" pages actually do a pretty good job of this kind of thing (though I'm confused what the difference between the goals of those two pages is :P)

There was a general theme in their guiding principles of being flexible around a person's needs and ability to contribute to the community, which I appreciated:

We support and benefit from the cooperative use of our backyards, our common house and the sharing of our resources. We recognize each household and individual’s right to make their own choices as to what to share or when to be cooperative.

We are fair and flexible regarding members’ responsibilities to the community. We encourage members to help meet our collective needs and vision by contributing time and energy to community related work and projects. In general, the more one puts into the community, the more one benefits from it.

These quotes both encourage and celebrate contributions to the community, while not forcing people to participate more than they're interested or able to.

Lastly, this group also had a page on their (also very complicated) consensus process. I found it interesting how it seemed like they only put something up for discussion once 75% of members expressed interest in it. In their model of consensus, small groups opposing a new idea can stop it from passing, but small groups opposing what currently exists (i.e. asking to change something) wouldn't necessarily be listened to. This seems bad, but I also get that it can be tedious to regularly have the group reach agreement in just maintaining the status quo.

I did like how they broke out discussions between people who disagreed on issues into separate meetings with only those people. Not everyone cares about every issue and needs to be present for debate around it.