Great Oak Cohousing in Ann Arbor: Their Work Program

Iowa City Cohousing, aka Prairie Hill, is a sponsor of the National Cohousing Conference. Learn more here: Join Iowa's first cohousing community--Prairie Hill, in Iowa City

The members and prospective members of Prairie Hill Cohousing have been curious about how other cohousing communities get their work done. We're all assuming that we will cooperate in many ways to make our community run well. And we're also assuming that there will be some things that we just hire out.

How this will all develop is a bit beyond our imaginations right now, since we are not yet living at Prairie Hill (though some of us go to watch the construction so often that we might almost be residents!). So when I interviewed Sarah Ross last month about Great Oak Community (Ann Arbor, Michigan), the work program was one of my biggest interests. Here's what Sarah told me:

At Great Oak, members are expected to put in 5-10 hours of community work a month. Rather than closely tracking whether this in fact happens, they have an honor system, trusting that members will pitch in to help as much as they can. If someone is sick or under stress, for example, the work from that person may drop down for awhile. And others fill in.

It is interesting that on our recent field trip to Arboretum Cohousing in Madison, we found that they had a similar system. They recommend that members do at least 4 hours of community work per month, but they don't monitor this. As it turns out, some people end up doing relatively little and others do a lot. This may not be ideal, but they have decided that it works OK and is less stressful than trying to enforce hour commitments. It's like life in general. There are always differences is what people can do at a certain time. And if the community is healthy, with good communication and a caring atmosphere, members can trust each other to do what they can manage.

At Great Oak, interests and skills are taken into account when assigning jobs. Members take a computer survey to identify these. Then this survey is used to set up the community-wide work schedule. In the beginning, there was some tension around accountability and fairness, but over time that dropped away. New job assignments are done every 4 months. Some jobs are seasonal and others are year-round. Here are some examples of tasks assigned to members at Great Oak:

* bookkeeping
* check writing and depositing
* billing of common meals to members
* reimbursement to cooks
* childcare during community meeting
* taking minutes at community meeting
* facilitating community meeting
* snow removal
* landscaping

When we Prairie Hill folks talk about what kinds of things will be on our own list, we assume that cooking and clean-up will be among those tasks, as well as taking care of the two guest rooms, group work days on outdoor landscaping tasks, or indoor cleaning. And once we begin to live at Prairie Hill, undoubtedly we'll discover other tasks that need to be included. All in all, though, many cohousers say that they end up spending less on these household tasks in cohousing than they did in a private home. So we're not worried, and actually are looking forward to working together on things we once did on our own.

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