For a hot minute, there was no waiting list at Twin Oaks. And it looked for a while like it might persist. In the visitor group before the last one, 75% of the people who applied were not accepted and it seemed like the community had moved into a place of being structurally more picky. When we are at our population capacity (oft called “pop cap” for short) we do tend to become more selective in our membership process.
But the last visitor of 2013 was nearly a perfect storm as far as the growth is concerned. The group was large for a winter group at 9 people. All of them were interested in membership and applied, most of them wanted to come back immediately or very soon. AND we accepted 8 of the 9. Bang! The waiting list is on again in a big way. The three empty slots we had are filled, several people are waiting to join, but most important from a waiting list growth perspective, there are only two people who are known or rumored to be leaving in the next few months. This means more visitor groups will come, more people will apply, more will be accepted and there will continue to be no space for them and a growing waiting list.
So what happens when we are at our population capacity? Well, there are fewer empty rooms to place guests in. It is somewhat easier to get all the work shifts covered. And when we go recruiting at college campuses or sustainability events, we shift our focus from Twin Oaks and Acorn to the communities movement as a whole. Even though we don’t need to be recruiting for ourselves, as some of the better off and better known communities, we have an obligation (i believe) to the communities movement in general to continue to spread the word and try to encourage people to look at other places which are not yet full.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
Since November 2008, Twin Oaks has been filled to capacity with members. This situation created a waiting list of people who had been accepted for membership, wanted to join, but there was not space. Over the last 5 years we have occasionally cleared the waiting list for short periods of time, only to have it pop back up almost immediately.
The community has the following formula for determining the maximum number of members we can have, which are referred to as pop cap. Here is the formula:
Total number of rooms available for use as bedrooms for either members or children:
The number of rooms reserved as “Child Rooms” as determined by the Child Board and Child Board Policy:
The number of “Flex Spaces” desired by the community, as determined by the planners:
Any adjustments by the planners:
Available member rooms = 92 our current pop cap.
At the core of population cap is having a room crunch. In the next couple of months we will drop below pop cap and we will clear out the waiting list. Since only one person applied in the last visitor group, only one is applying in the current relatively small visitor group, and there is no visitor group scheduled for December, it looks like we will not have an active wait list for at least some months. This will be the first extended time without one in 5 years. This is actually a good thing.
Shal and i have discussed this many times, and he believes that the ideal population size for the community is just under pop cap. His thinking is that when we are at our population cap, people stress out about waiting lists. This i can validate, since i am often counseling people around this situation and there is often stress, even though it is often unreasonable.
If we are just shy pop cap there are empty rooms for guests or for slack when members need some extra days to move between rooms (at pop cap these moves are often annoyingly pushed forward). If we don’t have a waiting list and some wonderful person shows up, we are much more likely to say to them “why don’t you be a long-term guest”. If we are at pop cap, we are more hesitant, perhaps unnecessarily cautious, some lovely folks leave before we wish they would. When we are at pop cap members who are thinking about taking time off sometimes put it off, because they are unsure they can get back in when they want to return. [Members on leave go to the top of the waiting list, but someone has to leave for you to get a spot and this can take months.]
And as is often the case when Shal and i disagree about community policy, in the end i come around to Shal’s thinking.
For reasons which are slightly mysterious to me, the number of people applying for membership in the most recent visitor groups is down slightly. We have been more selective about accepting new members; we have put an extra step in for people over the age of 54 who are applying. This might be discouraging people from applying or joining the visitor group. But why has membership interest dropped off in recent months? Perhaps just a statistical glitch.
If you have ever been here and are curious about how these rooms are spread across the different living groups (one or two living groups to a building) here is the breakdown.
Sunrise = 10 Rooms (1 kid room)
M* = 17 Rooms (3 kid rooms)
Tupelo = 18 Rooms (5 kid rooms)
Beechside = 11 Rooms (4 kid rooms)
Nashoba = 10 Rooms
TaChi = 12 Rooms
Downstairs Oneida (womens residence) = 8 Rooms
Upstairs Oneida = 9 Rooms
Harmony = 10 Rooms
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
i am a general manager and the marketing manager for a business which might gross a million dollars this year and has seen a 25% growth in sales since i took over. If we were a real business, this would be indisputably good news. But we are not a real business and it might not be good news.
The community businesses are all booming. Tofu sales are up, hammocks sales are up, Indexers are working flat out, wholesale seeds business is way up. But here is the rub, our population can’t increase to provide more workers to all these areas, and usually we cant get that much help from people outside the community for lots of reasons.
As i have written, we have been at our population capacity for the last three years, which is about 93 adults. A number which is determined by the number of adult rooms we have in our residences, which is a difficult number to increase, given it takes a year of process before we can break ground on a new residence.
So how to deal with this windfall of work in these otherwise poor economic times? Well, the tofu business is following the model of our sister community East Wind and automating production. The hammocks business has employed some local ex-members and a neighboring Catholic Worker community Little Flower to become satellite hammock production facilities for us. Wholesale seeds is just getting better organized. And i dont know much about what is happening with Indexing, but i see Ezra in his pajamas a lot which usually means he is working on it.
One of the huge differences between us an regular businesses is we are a worker run collective, so the title “General Manager” is deceiving. I cant really fire anyone, at least not without a lot of process and gross negligence on their part. I cant hire anyone, except to ask people to do tasks which they get the same credit for as the things they are already doing. And what i really cant do is pretend that my decision making is more important than the area managers who are working “below” me. If i want to get a new machine, because i think the one we have is fully depreciated or even dangerous, if i cant convince the area manager, then nothing changes. If i want to bring in outside workers to boost production and the area manager disagrees, it is not happening.
And all the managers work in the business. And by this i mean on our production lines doing manual repetitive work. These days during our busy production season for hammocks, i spend far more time making hammocks than i do selling them. And if i am not selling them, no one here is. And this part i never think about changing. [I occasionally fantasize about being a “real” general manager who can just do things by fiat. Mostly this passes, though sometimes i get grumpy about not being able to just rush forward with my oh-so clever ideas.] There is a whole legitimacy managers gain by working in the areas they manage. You are much less likely to make exploitative choices if you are going to take the hit as well. And there is an identity and affinity piece as well, you don’t put yourself “above” the workers on the shop floor, because you are one. And you are much more inclined to listen to others, which is not something classical capitalists have much interest in.
When it is all said and done, i am glad we are not a real business.