Friday, January 29, 2016

Community Living Boot Camp

I had a conversation this week with a guy on the West Coast who is interested in putting together a loan program for first-time homeowners who want to live as a group. He thinks he can get mortgage rates at least as good as those available to nuclear families, and it can be set up in a way that if anyone leaves or joins the group before the mortgage is paid off, that refinancing can be avoided. 

In general, intentional communities solve this be forming a separate legal entity (probably a limited liability corporation) in whose name the property is held. That way, changes in the group composition can be handled as an internal matter and don't affect the mortgage. The downside of this is that LLCs will typically be viewed as a commercial loan and will therefore encounter higher interest rates. 

Under this new concept, small groups (say, 10 and under) may be able to get much better interest rates, which is especially attractive in urban areas where the housing market is heating back up to pre-2008 levels.

Assuming all this is doable on the financial end, the creator of this program is (rightfully) concerned with making loans to groups that are likely to succeed, which is where FIC and I come into play. His idea is to require that groups applying for loans under this program attend a condensed training in group living, and come through with a "passing grade," whatever that is.

He realizes that this is not his area of expertise and he wondered if FIC would be interested in developing the curriculum, overseeing the teaching, and making the assessments. He guessed that the training might be accomplished in 1-2 days and FIC could earn fees for running them.

When I responded that I thought it might take closer to 5-7 days to provide a decent overview of what it takes to create a successful group, he was shocked. (How could it be that hard—did I mention already that he's fairly new to the complex world of intentional community living?) Because the financial program is so promising, we are both willing to look another level deeper, to see if there's a way to thread the needle. I gave him leads for starting community workshops in the US, from which he'll gather curricula ideas. Simultaneously I agreed to draft an outline of what I think needs to be covered, and we'll see how creative we can get in delivering it economically.

So here's my first pass at the curriculum, in no particular order:

Cultural Context
o  How Cooperative Culture Differs from Mainstream Culture
o  Common values 
o  What interest do you have in modeling for others what you've created?
o  What qualities do you want in those filling leadership roles?
o  Navigating the transition from start-up to established

Process Agreements
o  Decision-making & governance
o  How will you handle conflict?
o  Record of agreements
o  Will you keep minutes of meetings?
o  Will meetings be facilitated?
o  How to handle non-compliance
o  When to get help 
o  Under what circumstances might a member suffer an involuntary loss of rights & by what process will that be examined?

Social Skills
o  How well can you articulate clearly what you think?
o  How well can you articulate clearly what you feel?
o  How accurately do you hear what others say (and are able to communicate that to the speaker such that they feel heard)?
o  How well can you hear critical feedback without walling up or getting defensive?
o  Can you function reasonably well in the presence of non-trivial distress in others?   
o  How well can you shift perspectives to see an issue through another person's lens?  
o  How well can you see potential bridges between two people who are at odds with each other?  
o  Can you see the good intent underneath strident statements?  
o  Can you distinguish clearly between a person's behavior being out of line and that person being "bad"? o  Can you own your own stuff?  
o  Can you reach out to others before you have been reached out to yourself?  
o  Are you sensitive to the ways in which you are privileged?

Membership Agreements
o  Member intake process (including Fair Housing Laws)
o  Member exit process
o  Rights and responsibilities 
o  Can sweat equity substitute for dollars? If so, with what limits?
o  Subletting and guests

Defining Level of Engagement
o  How much do you intend living together to mean intertwined lives?
o  Common meals
o  Joint childcare 
o  Limit setting by adults who are not the child's parents
o  Getting the work done
o  The boundaries between public and private
o  What expenses will be shared?
o  What things will be jointly owned? 
o  Acceptable noise levels in common areas
o  Cleanliness standards in common areas
o  Dietary flexibility
o  Pets

Obviously some of these topics won't apply in all cases (for example, when there are no children or pets), but the vast majority are in play. What's more, these are only the headlines. There are subtopics underneath them all and choices to explain. It's hard to imagine covering all of the above in less than five days—especially if we're also to assess how far along the group is in grokking each aspect.

It will be interesting to see where this will lead—whether we're able to cover all (or enough) of the basics to make an appreciable difference in screening out the starry-eyed and the ill-prepared, without making it prohibitively expensive.


Susan said...

This is very exciting Laird. I would love for Jubilee tp have the training, even without t

vera said...

An excellent idea. Hope it goes forward. I would add "power dynamics."