Unto the Second Generation

Posted on September 7, 2011 by

Author: Judith Bernstein
Published in Communities Magazine Issue #152

When the first residents moved into our sparkling new cohousing complex, Oak Creek Commons in Paso Robles, California, it was spring of 2004 and spirits were high. Compared to some projects, our planning process was not too drawn out. Over the planning period, some families and individuals dropped out for both practical and personal reasons, and now it seemed as if we had arrived at move-in with a group of people who were, as a 95-year-old friend of mine puts it, “hot to trot.” These were the people who were meant to be here. And this was the honeymoon period.

Over the next few years, there were some storm clouds and even a few hurricanes. For example, there were disagreements over the location and construction of a children’s playground, over the concept of private gardens, about the way one mother was supervising her children, about putting a cat tower on a front porch area, and about the way one individual interacted with children. Sometimes those who were disappointed with the way the community handled conflict dropped out of cohousing life and other times the people involved moved out.

Over time, move-outs occurred for other reasons. People aged and moved into assisted living. Several people tired of our consensus decision making process that to them seemed drawn out and cumbersome. A very active founding member moved to another area for a career opportunity. And then, complicating matters, along with other indicators of the recession, the housing market collapsed, and people lost 30 percent or more of the value of their home. As a result, three households who wanted to move let their homes be foreclosed on rather than taking a large sale loss.

Since the move-outs were spread out over a few years, for a while there was no real discussion as to whether the community as a whole needed to take a proactive approach to marketing, such as a policy of the Board paying for advertisement of the units on the Cohousing Association website. Some sellers tried for a while to look for people with an interest in cohousing but ultimately listed with local realtors and property managers. Because fair housing laws prohibit discrimination against buyers or renters, there is no legal way of ensuring that cohousing units are sold or rented to people who are committed to the community’s values.

When the sales or rentals resulted in new residents with an interest in cohousing, we were thrilled. But this wasn’t always the case. Some new residents simply liked our attractive design and amenities such as 10 acres of woods, a large common house (one realtor referred to it as a “clubhouse”!), and a swimming pool. The newcomers had an active social life in the town and unlike many of us, who were retired or worked part-time, they often had full-time jobs and several young children. But most important, they hadn’t moved to Oak Creek Commons to be part of a cohousing community as was the case with the original 36 households in 2004. What does this mean for the future of our cohousing community?

In the last two years, the changing composition of the community has resulted in fewer households participating in the social, governance, and work life of the community. By my estimation, a subjective process to be sure, about 60 percent of our 36 households are somewhat or very involved in the community, and the other 40 percent is infrequently or never involved. In all fairness, I have to add that those who don’t participate very often include a number of households who were among the original members. But the combination of participation attrition—to be expected no doubt—and a turnover in residents makes me wonder whether our community and others experiencing turnover can survive unto the second generation.

This concern leads me to question the whole concept of “participation” or involvement in community life: what exactly do we mean by that? And even if we could agree on a meaning, does a decline in participation necessarily point to a decline in community spirit or a decline in our ability to carry out expected functions including the upkeep of our physical “plant”? Is cohousing, by definition, a place where the residents participate in the life of the community? “Duh,” “no brainer,” the reader is probably saying, but I still think it’s worth raising the issue.

Oak Creek Commons’ definition of “participation,” I should note, has morphed every few years. People often think of it as participation in the work, so I’ll start with that. During our first four years, residents got credit for cooking and cleaning at meals, for serving on committees, and even for coming to a Saturday morning bagel breakfast (a way of enticing newcomers). Households were required to give eight hours of work to the community per month or to pay $2 per hour for work not performed. When this system didn’t generate enough money to hire people to complete the work not done, we switched to a two or three hour per month requirement and charged $20 per hour for those opting out. Only the most essential tasks counted toward this work credit; coming to social events, cooking/cleaning, committee work, and other tasks no longer counted toward our “work program.”

Surprise, surprise! Participation in the work program increased. Even people who were rarely seen at community events put in their two hours, possibly for economic reasons. Others liked the exercise of landscaping tasks or the challenge of fixing things, though I can’t say that anyone thought that toilet cleaning would improve either figure or psyche!

The areas in which we have fewer households participating, however, are to me the most vital and essential ones to keep our cohousing community from becoming just a friendly condo complex. These are:

Meals: cooking and cleaning is required to attend more than two meals per month; only 15 out of 36 households are active participants.
Governance: in this category I include serving on a committee such as facilities, landscaping, design; common house maintenance; kitchen; and community life; about one-third of the adults serve on a committee.
Community Decision Making: decisions and discussions happen at monthly business meetings that last two-three hours and at “discussion circles” when there is a special issue or complex decision to be made; I estimate that about 50 percent of households are involved in community decision making on a fairly regular basis, allowing of course for vacations, illness, etc.
Social Life: this includes special occasions such as weddings, our annual Solstice Dinner; films shown once per month in the common house; the weekly free bagel breakfast (the best attended event); approximately 60 percent of households come to social events more than occasionally.

Let’s say I’m right and that participation in these four key aspects of cohousing life does decline if the second generation doesn’t have a particular interest in or commitment to cohousing. (Note that the question of how much participation is enough will never have a cut and dried numerical answer). The question is at what point does the community cease to function as and feel like cohousing?

My own view is that balance is the key to an active, thriving community. If there are too many members of the “second generation” who for whatever reason are only infrequently or never involved in several areas of community life, the cohousing aspect of community will decline. It is hopeful to believe that over time, their attitude will change and they will catch the cohousing spirit. That may happen, and Oak Creek Commons has taken action to welcome and include newcomers. In a few cases, this has been gratifyingly successful. However, I think it over-optimistic to rely on that process making up for the loss of the “gung-ho” first generation.

There may be a “tipping point” where there are two few people doing too much. Should they decide to cut back, the community is in trouble. If the second generation has too many of what I call “cohousers by happenstance” rather than the first generation who were “cohousers by intent,” I would worry about the future of that community

As cohousing communities are starting on their second decade, the issues of turnover, integration of new residents, renters versus owners, and the meaning of participation are probably being talked about or should be.

I can’t offer answers about the best ways to approach these challenges, but would like to start a discussion among the communities—as Oak Creek Commons recently did at a potluck held at the nearby community of Tierra Nueva—that will help us to share our best thinking.

And I hope that future conferences and issues of Communities can foster a lively debate as to the best ways to bring about a committed and engaged “second generation” of cohousers.

12 Replies to “Unto the Second Generation”


If you want to have a better communication and reach success then NLP will help you. You can visit http://www.nlpcoaching.com/ for more information.


part #10 😉

After getting answers from deep inside, the next step is learn how to communicate my needs to others. What will I give and what do I need? The field will between us will grow when everybody is sponsoring humanity, when they are able to.

Waiting for the others guessing my needs, is another unnecessary game, people often play with each other.
When we detect all this elements who creating the disharmony in the cohousing community, and make the fundamental work from inside out, every single member of your community, it will grow by it self.

Judith, you will se, hear and feel the change after short time. A real change, must come from the inside of every member, not from a credit system or rules, or a decision-making group outside us.

And please remember this: A belief can never be changed by discussions – but must be replaced by a new and better belief, instantly! Otherwise the persons system will collapse.

Keep up the good spirit
Ecoportal Norway


part #9

It will be a good idea to know all about this mechanism inside us and how to build a community from inside out. The old stick or carrot game – the old fashion stimuli and response game from behaviorism has given you this outcome. It’s perhaps time to turn the flashlight around to your inside and start from there. And ask questions:

What will keep me on this place?

What must be true for me to participate voluntary and with a good feeling? (Without carrot or stick).

What will happen, when I adjust everybody represented inside my head – to the size they actually have – not bigger, not shorter than me – at eye level?

And what will give me the feeling of being seen, heart, respected and loved as I am?

These are important questions for the first and second generation equal and for every single human.


part #8

Underneath the surface are buried the values of every single member, the own will, the impulses, the habits and behavior and a unique family culture learned in childhood. The strong needs of being seen, being heard, being accepted and loved – no matter how odd or strange the behavior may looks like. Some may play a role to obtain being seen in the community and are angry with, nobody is able to look behind the mask and is seeing the person behind. So much roleplay, games and false pride, so much unnecessary suffering, so much being outside the center of our soul – in the heads of all the others. So much using of a hammer to make others understand our point of view – so much frustration, so many misunderstandings…. decline in participation. So much moving around to find happiness. Why? It was and are still a wonderful way to live and work together. What happen with our dream? Why will our dream not work in everyday life? Honest questions needing honest answers…


part #7

The more business oriented part of NLP in other parts of US we do not recommend. After our 25 years of experience, Gestalt Therapy, many other therapies before that, or traditional Psychology do only give poor answers or solutions to us in the co-housing communities and most of the time create just more problems.

This I tell you honestly from the bottom of my heart Judith.
I did write all of this because I know, when I buy a old, dilapidated house, it is not enough to paint just the surface of the structure. The best strategy is to start from inside out. It’s like we call it in Nordic language: “Pissing in the pants in the wintertime – it will give you warm for a very short period of time – afterwards you will really feel the cold….”

That means in your case: credit for cooking and cleaning at meals, for serving on committees, and for coming to a Saturday morning bagel breakfast are perhaps just painting the surface structure or pee in his pants for warmth.


part #6

Learning the fundamental and advanced human communication skills – about the individual structures of you mind and so much more to understand each other, will change and transform fundamental the problems you are writing about. You are able to do this in San Francisco: – http://www.nlpca.com
two fantastic and lovely people with lot and lots of knowledge about this issue.

Or basic NLP on a UC summer camp in Santa Cruz:


Robert Dilts and Judie DeLozier, the warmest and most congruent people on Earth will also give you all the knowledge and answers you have in this article. And will give you a lot of tools to help your self and help others. This kind of psychology does fit perfect into the spirit of Cohousing, Ecovillages, alternative living and the desire to create a better world, where people like to be part of.


part #5

We have all this levels in our mind and non are better then the other levels. But the higher levels have huge impact on lover levels – not the other way around. And meeting each other on the same level verbal and mental is essential in your process.

Dear Judith. In your part of the world started a new kind of humanistic psychology exactly at the same time as the Cohousing /Ecovillage movement did start here in Scandinavia in the early 70s. Now in 2011 you have Cohousing projects in California and we teach NLP from California University in our countries. Think about this a moment….


part #4

The top-level is the spiritual level. Believing in something bigger than my self. This level is keeping together tribes and religions and nations in thousands of years. Belief in something we share, all of us… A flag, a symbol, a dialect, a country, a religion, god, the universe or our cohousing community – but all this on the spiritual level.

If we are aware of this and the fact we are on different levels in our mind and can’t often not reach each other – not in a consensus decision making process – not in the daily life – you will solve the most of the obstacles in your community in the most elegant way.

When you go south and cross the border to Latin American countries, you will realize, changing language to Spanish will solve a lot of communication problems, miss understandings and frustrations. The same is happen in a community. Changing level and meet people where they are is the secret of all human interaction.


part #3

Ability, skills and strategies are on the next level. A new driver license may change some fundamental habits. If you start a higher education, there will come changes in behavior and often your environment. Buying new furniture, new house, a new experience of time, or new strategies to get a more reasonable outcome.

The next level in human mind is the values, beliefs and convictions, every single person is holding inside. They are responsible for all the levels below. If we will change anything, we have to work for a common value – and belief system.

The next level above is the identity level. Who are you – not a job description, no title, not the age – who are you? Being fully conscious about this, every single person – will help the community to rejuvenate. See me! Accept me as a human being! Hear me and love me as I am! – Unconditionally!

These are the mainkeys for every relationship, every family and every community.


part #2

Values are the key of every relationship. What is your core value, compared to the others? Did you find out the 10 common values in your community?
They are the lighthouse, everybody is seeing clearly on horizon and is sailing toward on a conscious – and more important on subconscious level. When we put our own top values into the field – between us – every single person will have the feeling s/he is a important member of the community and never will look for another opportunity outside. This is existential for families and for communities as well.

We are also constant on different levels in mind. Some of us are most on the low level of our surrounding and time. Focusing on the stuff around us and whether a job is done in time or they are often in the future or in the past. Changing environment, buying new stuff, will not solve the core issues within the people. The environment around a person is just the result of the inner processes of this person.


This article does clearly point out the core issue of human relationship. Whilst reading, I detect some sparkles of frustration in the language patterns. This sparkles combined in a community – on a subconscious level – it will always lead to the outcome you are writing about.

The consensus decision-making process is perhaps part of the problem. Why? The intention was good many years ago. Consensus was a democratic way of making decisions. The result over time is in modern psychology mentioned as a disaster for the humanity and the single mind within. A consensus decision making process can give the single mind the feeling of living in a constant compromise. The people will search unconsciously different opportunities to live more in alignment with their own values.


This is a very important discussion, and I will make sure we include it in the 2012 National Cohousing Conference to be held in Oakland CA June 15-17. Look for more info to come on the conference at http://www.cohousing.org.

Judith only briefly mentions the option of the community taking a stronger role in ongoing marketing for resales. I think this is a place the communities have often dropped the ball, leaving it to those that are moving out to find their buyers on their own. When new communities ask about later buyers’ commitment to cohousing, I respond that it is not about legal restrictions but rather about the community staying involved in ongoing marketing and outreach so you can maintain a wait list of buyers who are specifically interested because of what cohousing can provide.

Katie McCamant
Nevada City Cohousing
CoHousing Partners and McCamant & Durrett Architects

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