Concrete Co-Living Processes
Co-living spaces are major convening points for most creative thinkers and doers I know. And as society gets more and more atomized, these spaces become increasingly critical community infrastructure. Yet they are often disorganized or dysfunctional. Most of the time, co-living spaces are not created by people with any special logistical skills, or previous experience, or who even know they could learn about how to create a great co-living space from others who have done it before.
This is a problem, because seemingly small logistical decisions made at the birth of a co-living space — What’s the process for interpersonal decisions? What’s the financial infrastructure? Is there a good sprinkler system? — can have huge effects down the line, when the community has to answer questions like: Can we evict someone if it seems necessary? Did we remember to pay our property taxes? What if the house catches fire?
In my twenties, I was lucky enough to live in a Chicago co-living space with an incredibly well-thought-out, fully democratic internal system of governance. That space was owned and operated by a nonprofit called North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO, with a website at nasco.coop). I recommend NASCO’s site if you’d like to see multiple decades’ worth of documentation on how to run a co-living space; they also run a yearly conference called NASCO Institute.
I’ve also seen well-run co-living spaces that don’t have an institutional partner like NASCO, but they usually don’t have much institutional memory, which means their lessons are easily lost.
Here at The New Modality, we plan to cover interesting systems and innovative methods that emerge from the co-living movement. Our goal is to increase community resilience and to help more co-living spaces to survive and thrive.
For Issue One, the NewMo core team wrote an article about the well-thought-out financing process behind one co-living space, but we unfortunately had to kill the article right before we went to print due to privacy concerns. So we’re taking this moment to ask you to send us your best ideas for really concrete, helpful articles about co-living. From governance systems to financial planning, what do you want to see us publish — and would you like to write anything yourself? Submissions and ideas are welcome through our form at: bit.ly/HelpTheNewModality
Meanwhile, I leave you with this: A list of best practices from one of my favorite articles about co-living spaces. The article in question is called “Why Co-ops Die,” and it was written in 2002 by James R. Jones, who has served as executive director of NASCO and other community organizations.
The best way to lower risk of death [for a co-living community] is to have:
(1) co-op ownership of the property, or separate incorporation if it is in university-owned property;
(2) a large enough scale to hire at least one full-time staff person;
(3) multiple locations, with decentralized management, so that members can feel a sense of ownership and control and sub-groups will be on different cycles;
(4) a majority of the Board of Directors elected from the membership, preferably on a representational basis;
(5) some members of the Board of Directors drawn from the community, and preferably alumni;
(6) a strong educational program, including annual board training, new member orientation, an alumni program to stress continuity, education on the co-operative movement, easy access to information on the co-op and its services, etc.;
(7) a strong community building program, ideally developed around shared meals and member labor;
(8) numerous opportunities for member involvement, through committees, officer positions in sub-units, etc. (a goal should be for at least 20% the membership to be involved to a greater extent than is required);
(9) member involvement in planning the co-operative, so that the very act of creation is a mutual effort.
The full article is a fascinating, detailed exploration of the weak points that can kill intentional communities, and I’ve seen the document forwarded around co-op circles for over a decade. If you’d like to read the whole thing, there’s a PDF in Google Drive here: bit.ly/WhyCoopsDie
Jones also recently completed a book called Hasten Slowly, and You Will Soon Arrive, which is a history of group equity co-ops. I haven’t read it, because it hasn’t been published yet; it’s available for pre-order on the NASCO website.
This was written by Lydia Laurenson, editor in chief of The New Modality. (Learn more about Lydia at her NewMo profile.) It was lightly fact-checked by our editorial team. There's more about our transparency process at our page about truth and transparency at The New Modality.