Our Vision: Elders deserve to live with housing security, in a community of their choosing, and retain self-determination for as long as possible. The Sustainable Economies Law Center supports resident-controlled housing options for all, and is further committed to support cooperative, resident-controlled housing for seniors.
By the year 2030, one in every five Americans will be over the age of 65. As thousands of Baby Boomers retire each year, and continue to live longer and vibrant lives, alternative housing models that meet our aging population’s needs must be explored.
For most older Americans, high-quality supportive housing and services is prohibitively expensive. Reasonably priced nursing home facilities are commonly associated with boredom, depression, and abuse. Many seniors try to live unassisted in their homes for as long as possible, but encounter financial hardships - a third of adults 50 and older already spend more than 30% of their income on housing. For seniors who own their own homes and opt to age in place, many experience isolation and depression due to lack of community.
Within this context, some seniors are taking a proactive approach to create long-term, affordable, and communal housing solutions. A group in the East Bay, who call themselves Hibiscus Commons, have banded together to collectively look for property to call home. They are working with the Bay Area Community Land Trust (BACLT) to form their housing cooperative.
Hibiscus Commons first began to organize because its members acknowledged the difficulty of finding affordable housing. They found the available models of senior housing alienating, disempowering and institutional, and took the matter into their own hands.
While each member of Hibiscus Commons will have their own apartment unit within their envisioned co-op, members will share communal space such as a community garden and dining area, and decide collectively the policies and decisions, such as what staff will be hired (if any), when and how much to raise the monthly assessments, as well as decisions about building maintenance. The residents will screen and select new residents when units become vacant.
Current Hibiscus Commons members are considering leaving one apartment unit vacant for a live-in aide, as their health needs increase, to provide help with house cleaning and personal care.
Democratic control of the cooperative will be protected through cooperative bylaws and oversight by the BACLT. A Board elected from among the cooperative members will have direct responsibility for overseeing management of the co-op and implementation of the bylaws and membership agreement.
International Models of Elder Housing Cooperatives
There are several successful models of senior housing co-ops created by older women, that could provide an example for newly forming ones like Hibiscus Commons. Maria Brenton helped create a housing co-op called New Ground in North London, in response to her discontent with traditional forms of assisted living. “Most of the older population do not wish to have everything done for them," she says. New Ground is comprised of 26 women aged in their 50s to 87; the oldest member is still working.
When a New Ground resident falls ill, members provide for one another, working with the member’s family and social services to get the support they need. "The group rallied when one of their members got ill, and for at least a week someone would bring her a hot meal every day and look after her," says Brenton.
The women in London struggled to buy land and get financing, but eventually prevailed. The Hibiscus Commons group is still looking for a realtor and deciding on a neighborhood to concentrate their property search.
In such expensive and rapidly-gentrifying areas such as the Bay Area, Hibiscus Commons’ collaboration with the BACLT might help them to obtain below market-rate property, especially if some of its members are 80% below the Area Median Income, qualifying the co-op for certain tax breaks and subsidies.
Still, the process of elder co-op formation can be long, and serves as a reminder of the time commitment inherent in forming a housing cooperative: searching for like-minded members, a suitable property, and collectively engaging in the components of decision-making. The process for New Ground took approximately 20 years.
There are several housing options available - it is important to take the time to choose the model that is right for you.
1. Join Existing Housing Communities
For seniors who are interested in becoming a member of Hibiscus Commons, or learning more about seniors-only housing co-ops, they can contact organizers through the BACLT website. There are also other intergenerational models to consider.
2. Get Legal Help For Your Existing or Emerging Housing Coop
Sustainable Economies Law Center offers free legal services for newly forming housing co-ops, at their Resilient Communities Legal Cafes. RSVP for an upcoming legal clinic today!
3. Get The Help You Need and Build Community While Aging in Place
For seniors interested in Aging in Place, read about the village model, as a way to stay in your homes with the support of the community, and become a member of an existing village in the East Bay: Ashby Village, or North Oakland Village, to help you run errands and perform household chores. Becoming a member of a village also gives you access to a thriving community with a wide variety of classes and events.
4. Share Housing with a Senior Roommate
For seniors who want to rent a room out in their house, or who seek to live in another’s home with similarly-situated roommates, become a member of the East Bay organization TTN HOME.
5. Help Expand the Housing Options Available by Joining the Senior Policy and Programming Brigade
Sustainable Economies Law Center supports changing policy and introducing supportive programs that benefit older Americans.
Some states, like New York, have rent subsidy programs that freeze eligible seniors’ rents so that they are not as vulnerable to eviction. Some universities match students with seniors in the community who have a spare bedroom in their houses. National Shared Housing Resource Center matches seniors with potential roommates of all ages.
In other models, students receive discounted rent in exchange for helping seniors run errands or perform household chores.
If you are interested in getting involved to change local policy and bring more supportive programs to the Bay Area, contact Borchard Fellow for Law & Aging, Julie Gilgoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the weekend the Governor signed another bill that Sustainable Economies Law Center helped create! This bill, AB 569, will facilitate cooperative housing development in California, especially the creation of Limited Equity Housing Cooperatives (LEHCs). LEHCs provide residents with a unique form of equity stake in their home that restricts the resale value of shares to keep the prices low when regular market forces would otherwise drive them up.Read more
Over the weekend the Governor signed another bill that SELC helped create! This bill, AB 569, will facilitate cooperative housing development in California, especially the creation of Limited Equity Housing Cooperatives (LEHCs). LEHCs provide residents with a unique form of equity stake in their home that restricts the resale value of shares to keep the prices low when regular market forces would otherwise drive them up.Read more
Housing and Land Policy
Policy Brief on Short-Term Rentals: Coming soon!
Housing and Land Advocacy
AB 569: A bill to facilitate the development of cooperative housing in California
UPDATE September 29, 2014
Over the weekend the Governor signed another bill that Sustainable Economies Law Center helped create! This bill, AB 569, will facilitate cooperative housing development in California, especially the creation of Limited Equity Housing Cooperatives (LEHCs). LEHCs provide residents with a unique form of equity stake in their home that restricts the resale value of shares to keep the prices low when regular market forces would otherwise drive them up.
This is the culmination of three years of work by a coalition of organizations, including the Sustainable Economies Law Center, the California Center for Cooperative Development, the Bay Area Community Land Trust, and other organizations that support affordable and cooperative housing throughout California. Assemblymember Ed Chau backed the bill and helped it through the legislative process.
So many people are seeking more stable and affordable housing in California, especially in the Bay Area's volatile housing market. The legal landscape surrounding the creation of cooperative housing in California is unnecessarily complex, which is why we helped write and support AB 569.
AB 569 will remove two of the most significant barriers to the cooperative ownership of housing and make one minor amendment to facilitate the operation of smaller housing cooperatives. AB 569 will address these barriers by making the following amendments:
1) Remove Barriers to Financing for Cooperative Housing: Until AB 569 goes into effect next year, the California Subdivided Lands Act prohibits the sale of housing cooperative shares when the units are subject to a mortgage secured by the entire property, which has the effect of banning housing cooperatives in California, since most cooperatives finance the purchase of a building with a single blanket mortgage. AB 569 creates safeguards to protect members of cooperatives, while allowing a cooperative to actually obtain a mortgage.
2) Modify the Situations in which Limited Equity Housing Cooperatives are Exempt from the Public Report Requirement: This expands the opportunities under which Limited Equity Housing Co-ops can secure an exemption from the costly public report requirement by adding state or federally charted credit unions and state or federally certified community development financial institutions (CDFIs) to the list of financing agencies qualified to enter into the regulatory agreement under the public report exemption.
3) Remove Burdensome Election Procedures for Collectively Governed Housing Cooperatives by exempting housing cooperative where every member serves on the board of directors from burdensome election procedure in the California Davis Stirling Act.
SELC and the rest of the coalition that worked on this bill also hoped for amendments to the California Subdivision Map Act that would remove other unnecessary barriers to creating cooperative housing in California. We got a lot accomplished with the bill this year by amending many confusing provisions of law, which required educating legislators about housing cooperatives. We didn't want to run the risk of the bill getting further stalled by adding more layers of complexity, but we hope to be part of efforts in the future to make more revisions to state laws so they are more conducive to housing cooperatives.
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