Cooperative & Community Housing (Building Community Wealth in Santa Cruz, Part 3)

This is part three of a series of blog posts about building community wealth in Santa Cruz. Read the previous post here.

Imagine a world where housing was legally considered a human right. What would it be like to live in a place where housing was in the control of the community, rather than something on the speculative market? The next community wealth building strategy that we’ll explore is collectively and community owned housing initiatives.

East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative (EB PREC)

To gain insight from an existing organization that has made progress toward securing cooperatively owned housing, we connected with Ojan Mobedshahi, Finance Director of East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative (EB PREC)

EB PREC’s mission statement states: “We facilitate Black, Indigenous, People of Color and allied communities to cooperatively organize, finance, purchase, occupy, and steward properties, taking them permanently off the speculative market, creating community controlled assets, and empowering our communities to cooperatively lead a just transition from an extractive capitalist system into one where communities are ecologically, emotionally, spiritually, culturally, and economically restorative and regenerative.”

(Photo credit: EB PREC)

We asked Mobedshahi to share about the history and purpose of EB PREC. He writes:

“EB PREC started when the People Of Color Sustainable Housing Network (POCSHN, pronounced Potion) met up with the Sustainable Economies Law Center, a non-profit law firm that helps community groups build a sustainable economy for all. POCSHN wanted to learn how they could start a legal entity to cooperatively own and steward land/housing to create stability for themselves and their communities. The law center suggested piloting a new model called the Permanent Real Estate Cooperative (PREC). This set off a few years of community meetings, and in December 2018 East Bay PREC officially launched! 

“East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative (EB PREC) aligns the technical, financial, and organizational inputs necessary to support Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and allied communities to cooperatively organize, finance, purchase and steward properties in Oakland and the East Bay. We are bringing hope to the community, with a pathway to collective ownership and transformation.

“We are a multi-stakeholder cooperative corporation, and all our residents, community members, investors, and staff are all co-owners of the cooperative.”

The ways in which they do this work are outlined on this page of their website.

Mobedshahi also described some of the key lessons that the folks behind EB PREC have learned since launching in 2018. He emphasizes the importance of partnerships, discernment, and being willing to ask questions:

“Partnerships are really important. Without the Law Center, EB PREC would not have gotten this far this quickly. Partners can help incubate you, and also spread the word about your org to their networks. You can learn a lot by joining coalitions, but also be wise with your time and energy. 

“For EB PREC’s staff collective, one of our core values is Discernment. This means we make sure we vet our engagements, what projects we take on, who we meet with, and who’s money we accept. A key aspect of this discernment is learning to recognize and unpack the implicit bias of ourselves and your team so we don’t replicate the systems of oppression we’re trying to transform! It also means we don’t fly across the country just because we were invited to a conference without considering a few things like if the org that invited us is aligned with our mission, what the costs will be in terms of money, time, and environmental impact, how does it fit in with our schedule and our larger strategic plan, and will the event be life-giving, or draining.

“Finally, don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know, and ask questions. Real Estate and Finance are fields that are full of jargon and legalese specially designed to make every-day people feel disempowered. It’s okay to not know all the terminology, and recognizing what you don’t know is really important, so that you can learn. Part of our mission is to #HealPeoplePower, and sometimes that means slowing down to ask questions, admit what we don’t know, and by doing so we can actually learn and gain the tools to transform this broken economy.”

How can individuals support these efforts? Mobedshahi explains that “Right now anyone in California can Invest at! Each individual can invest $1,000 for a minimum of 5 years, and get a 1.5% annual dividend. This allows us to finance projects with community raised capital, which shifts the power dynamics away from wall street and back to community, and allows us to keep our properties permanently affordable.” You can learn more about EB PREC at their website.

Coastal Commons Land Trust (CCLT)

In Santa Cruz, another strategy related to affordable housing is just getting started. Emerging out of research findings of the No Place Like Home project based at UC Santa Cruz, a new group has formed to create the Coastal Commons Land Trust (CCLT).

Their Facebook page describes: “CCLT promotes diversity and community participation by giving people who are struggling to stay in Santa Cruz County the stability they need to put down roots. By taking housing off the speculative market and placing it in the control of residents, we safeguard quality and affordability for generations. Our board empowers low-income residents to become leaders in the community, working with their neighbors to achieve common goals.”

We reached out to the organizers to learn more about the CCLT, and they shared some insights:

“The price of housing today is nowhere near what the average person can afford, and all the new rental housing being built seems focused on luxury markets. Historically, such conditions would trigger a large investment in public housing, but due to the evaporation of traditional public housing dollars and push back from local communities against the production of large-scale housing projects, there are significant barriers to solving our affordable housing crisis using conventional methods.

“Community Land Trusts (CLTs) provide us with a very powerful tool in combating these specific barriers. A CLT is a democratically operated nonprofit that purchases land and housing and deed restricts it, ensuring it cannot be resold onto the private market. Rather than selling land and housing to an owner, the CLT now sells only the home, drastically reducing the price point.

“But the secret sauce of sustainable permanent affordability is actually in the implementation of a ‘shared equity program,’ which redirects an owner’s down payment and monthly payments into several different investment funds (equity for occupant, CLT reinvestment funds, repair funds, etc). If an owner wants to sell their home, they are not allowed to raise the price beyond a certain threshold. This helps provide a balance between an owner’s ability to accumulate some wealth and the goals of permanently affordable housing.

“There are several aspects of CLTs that make them immune to commonly heard concerns by opponents of other housing solutions.

• CLTs tend to focus on the purchasing of existing housing stock, not building new housing. This reduces opposition by neighborhood groups who fear ‘change of character’ or the environmental cost of construction.

• CLTs encourage stewardship through ownership. CLT housing is not like traditional forms of public housing in that people often need to pay a down payment for their home. This simple act of commitment can result in better outcomes for long term care of housing and property.

• CLTs are often governed using a democratic tripartite system including members of the nonprofit, residents, and neighbors. This extra element of self-determination in the CLT structure can help build community by creating a venue with which to discuss collaboration on projects that they would like to see CLT funds invested in, like community gardens, block parties, solar panel installations, etc.”

To stay connected with this new initiative, you can follow them on Facebook or email Faisal Fazilat (Faz) to join their email list.

Davis Housing Cooperatives

Both of the examples we’ve shared so far are relatively new initiatives. To understand how cooperatively owned housing can shape community culture decades later, we interviewed Ben Pearl, Project Management & Development Consultant with Solar Community Housing Association and UC Davis Sustainable Living Learning Communities Coordinator.

We asked Pearl to explain the history of cooperative housing in Davis, as well as what this looks like today. He writes:

“There’s an impressive community of cooperatives in Davis, that started in the mid-sixties (the beginning of what’s referred to as the ‘2nd Wave’ of co-ops in the U.S.) with the Davis Student Co-op, founded by UC Davis students who wanted to create permanently-affordable housing on campus. 

“By the early seventies, DSC had expanded to two neighboring houses (Pierce + Agrarian Effort co-ops), into what is now the “UC Davis Tri Cooperative,” housing ~36 students. 1972 saw the founding of ‘The Domes‘ at UC Davis (the U.S. first student-built co-housing community) and the Davis Food Cooperative, which has expanded over the intervening decades into a large-format (20k sq ft) grocery store. 

“The Domes” at UC Davis (Photo credit: UC Davis)

“In 1979, graduates of UC Davis decided to expand cooperative housing by founding the Solar Community Housing Association, a CA non-profit, which now owns an additional 3 houses off permanently-affordable, cooperative housing campus (the first of which was Sunwise Co-op, in Davis’ innovative Village Homes neighborhood. 

“The 80’s and 90’s saw the evolution of N Street Co-housing, now comprising the better part of a city block, and several formal co-housing developments, including Dos Pinos Co-housing and Muir Commons co-housing. 

“The 00’s saw several failed for-profit attempts to build co-ops, but also the successful design/development of Glacier Circle Senior Community by a group of local seniors, the U.S.’s ‘first cooperative housing development for senior citizens.’ SCHA most recent, new co-op (Cornucopia Co-op) opened in 2010. It’s exciting to think about what co-ops could be next in Davis!”

The culture of the community of Davis has been significantly affected by this strong history of cooperatives and cooperative housing in Davis. Pearl writes:

“Co-ops have had a huge impact on the culture in Davis, housing now hundreds of cooperators (ranging from kids to college students to seniors) who take an active role in their community. The Food Co-op grew out of the housing co-ops, and more recently the Davis Bike Collective (a non-profit, DIY bike shop, patterned after the SC Bike Church). There are many other associated, grassroots organizations that help form a strong foundation of community in Davis.”

Pearl also identified some exciting projects in Santa Cruz related to supporting cooperatives in the region. He writes:

“I’m excited by the effort underway with the Santa Cruz City Council to recognize Co-op Month in October, and an increasing awareness I see on the UC Santa Cruz campus at the potential for housing co-ops and land trusts to help solve problems of student housing and food insecurity. 

“Cooperatives are great in that they are self-sustaining organizations, so a little push – particularly from a local government or a large anchor institution – can go a long way. Santa Cruz has several informal housing co-ops and a strong history of worker co-ops. We need look no further than flourishing local businesses like Community Printers and PedX.  It’s been great to see the recent formation of orgs like the Little Giant artists collective, and like-minded community organizations such as the Coastal Commons Land Trust. 

“As we transition to a more resilient local economy and we further recognize the need for permanently-affordable, community-owned housing, I think we’re likely to see a similar flourishing of co-op housing in Santa Cruz.”

As we’ve seen, there are many exciting opportunities in the area to build community wealth through cooperatives and other creative strategies.

This is part three of a series of blog posts about building community wealth in Santa Cruz. Read the next post here.

Series Outline:

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