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Two Coops Focused on Community-Owned Housing and Solar Take Root

Locavesting Staff | December 7, 2018

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A pair of cooperatives aiming to put affordable housing and renewable energy in community hands made their official debut on Wednesday in Oakland, Calif.

The groups, the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative and People Power Solar Cooperative, were incubated out of the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), a nonprofit that has nurtured many of the innovative ideas and initiatives around community ownership and governance.

At a celebration at the Impact Hub Oakland, the cooperatives also kicked of membership fundraising drives that are open to all residents of California. Members become co-owners in the cooperatives and help guide their decisions. The groups are aided by a recent California law that allows coops to raise up to $1,000 per individual through the sale of memberships, without triggering securities registration. SELC was a key force in getting the law, the California Cooperative Corporation Statute, passed.

The notion of community ownership and control of assets is gaining momentum across the country. But nowhere is the movement as deep, thoughtful—and urgent—as in California’s East Bay, where long time residents, primarily people of color, are being displaced by rapid scale development that is exacerbating inequality, homeless, and economic stability.

According to the Urban Displacement Project, 93 percent of low-income neighborhoods in Oakland are at risk of or are already undergoing gentrification, and 75 percent of low-income neighborhoods in nearby Berkeley.

Empowering Residents

The two new housing and energy cooperatives illustrate the kind of holistic, grassroots approach that is taking root in the East Bay to address these systemic issues.

The East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative (EB PREC), for example, is a multi-stakeholder consumer and housing cooperative operated as a democratic collective. It plans to buy and preserve real estate to keep it in the community. The coop will crowd-finance its projects through the sale of membership shares to the community.

The model, according to the group, “empowers existing residents to build equity and assert control over neighborhood change, while mobilizing the resources of newer residents that want to live in inclusive and equitable communities.” Its motto: #LandWithoutLandlords.

Potential real estate acquisitions will be identified by local residents and tenants. Once purchased, the buildings are placed into a community land trust, permanently removing them from the speculative market and creating permanent affordability. The goal, says the group, is to build community sovereignty and collective wealth among underserved and historically disenfranchised communities of color. In addition to SELC, the People of Color Sustainable Housing Network (POCSHN) is a founding partner.

Activating People From the Ground Up

Residents have organized similar takeovers in the area, most notably the ‘Liberate 23rd Avenue’ project, where tenants bought a building from their landlord and placed it into a Community Land Trust. But they have been one-offs. The EB PREC envisions its role as a facilitator, providing technical assistance and expertise as well as capital aggregation in support of such community-led projects.

In practice, that looks a lot like the deliberate and painstaking work of community organizing. “We look at the land development model as a community development model,” Noni Session, a third-generation West Oaklander and executive director of the EB PREC, said in a recent interview. “We activate people from the ground up.”

Related: In Oakland, Community-Owned Real Estate is Bucking Gentrification Trend

Buy The Block Empowers Black Communities to Invest in Themselves

A Sharing Solution to California’s Housing Crisis

People Power Solar Cooperative takes a similar approach to developing grassroots, community-owned solar. The group aims to eliminate the substantial technical, financial, and legal barriers to community-owned solar and build the skills and leadership necessary so that people can come together to create their own.

Like EB PREC, People Power plays a supporting role by handling the technical, legal, and administrative aspects of solar development for communities. It will rely on partnership to help organize, identify sites, and raise capital.

As People Power grows and accumulates more solar projects under its umbrella, the coop hopes to create aggregated buying power, economies of scale, social capital, connected communities, good local jobs, and a strong voice for just transition, according to the group.

Its first project is a 6 kw solar installation on a residential home in the East Bay planned for 2019. The homeowner will save on monthly energy bills, which will be paid to the coop.

The EB PREC has also identified its first project, a mixed use property in West Oakland occupied by a democracy group. California residents interested in investing can find out more here.

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