How affordable housing activists are trying to thwart cutthroat real estate capitalism

by James Rainey, Los Angeles Times

Noni Session, director of the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative and a third-generation West Oakland resident, cultural anthropologist and grass-roots organizer at her office in Oakland on Sept. 3. Session and her cooperative are seeking economic justice by halting her community’s displacement through a cooperative economy.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Excerpt: “Part of what we will need to turn things around in this world is to have people become really dedicated and affectionate land stewards,” said Janelle Orsi, founder and executive director of the Sustainable Economies Law Center.

Orsi’s public interest firm is crafting the “justice easements” to lock in affordability. Like agricultural easements designed to preserve farmland, the justice easements will designate housing as the only appropriate land use, with an additional requirement — that future rent increases be limited to, for instance, hikes in the consumer price index.

Read the full article here.

(Originally published October 21, 2019.)

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Berkeley approves new financial opportunities to promote worker cooperatives

From the Office of Mayor Jesse Arreguin

CoB Logo Mayor.png(Berkeley, CA) – Businesses that are at risk of closure because their owner is retiring or putting the business up for sale are now eligible for the City’s Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) for the purpose of converting them into worker cooperatives, thanks to a unanimous vote of the Berkeley City Council last night revising the RLF policy. This will help the workers acquire and democratically own and operate the business, keeping it rooted in Berkeley and elevating the jobs and wealth-building opportunities provided to its employees.

...The Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) worked with Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development on the latest proposal. This comes after a report by Project Equity revealed that half of business owners in the United States are considering transitioning within the next five years, with 85% having no succession plan, and a third planning to close down altogether.

“The changes the Council have adopted will make it possible for more workers to become owners of the companies they helped build, elevating the quality of their jobs and saving businesses from closure” said Sara Stephens, Housing and Cooperatives Attorney for the SELC. “These amendments will certainly prove widely influential, as cities around the country are looking to Berkeley as a model for how cities can prioritize worker cooperatives and more equitable local economies."

Read the full article here.

(Originally published September 26, 2019.)

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EB PREC’s Plan to Replace Landlords With Communal Ownership

By Zach Haber, Post News Group

Excerpt: The East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative (EB PREC) is working to keep Black, indigenous, people of color and allied communities in the East Bay by communally purchasing and sustaining land and housing with local residents.

“The critical part of our project is that we take land and housing permanently off the speculative market,” said EB PREC’s Executive Director and third-generation West Oakland resident Noni Session. She, along with six other local residents, form the Black led and POC majority staff of EB PREC, and the growing cooperative currently has more than 125 other non-staff members including resident owners and investors.

In an interview with The Oakland Post, Session explained how EB PREC is replacing landlords with resident owners and investors who are driven by the desire to sustain the community as opposed to make money.

Read the full article here.

(Originally published September 19, 2019.)

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Are We Diluting the Mission of Community Land Trusts?

Excerpt:Community control of land” sounds straightforward, but in practice it can be limited, fleeting, or difficult to achieve due to high property costs and the social, legal, and financial challenges of collectivizing property ownership.

Recognizing these challenges with independent housing cooperatives and the shortcomings of the CLT model, new visionaries are developing community-funded models for land ownership, like the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative and the Community Land Cooperative in development by Ecovillagers Alliance.

Read the full article here.

(Originally published August 30, 2019.)

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People power: A growing number of groups are flipping the Bay Area’s insane housing market on its head

By Erin Baldassari, The Mercury News

The Law Center's Tia Taruc-Myers at her home.

Tia, right, and Chris Taruc-Myers, prepare breakfast at home in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. The married couple along with other residents in the rent controlled building they live in worked with the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative to purchase the property, after their landlord decided to sell.

Excerpt: In less than a year, a nascent Oakland organization grew from a small staff with some bright ideas and a website into group that is stewarding two properties for permanently affordable housing, with plans to soon acquire a third.

How did they do it? By relying on a lot of people, a new model for investment and some innovative partnerships. But in turning a novel concept for developing affordable properties into a reality, the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative joined a growing number of organizations in the Bay Area challenging the status quo of the region’s skyrocketing housing costs.

The cooperative, called East Bay PREC for short, shares the same goals as many housing cooperatives and community and trusts:  acquiring and maintaining properties as permanently affordable homes and businesses. But the for-profit company isn’t either a cooperative or a trust. It’s a combination of multiple existing models for investment and ownership all rolled together.

Read the full article here.

(Originally published August 25, 2019.)

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Workers rising: The push for city-supported worker coops is taking hold in these Bay Area cities

By Erin Baldassari of East Bay Times

Kirk Vartan, co-founder of A Slice of New York, puts a slice of pizza on a plate at his pizza restaurant in San Jose, Calif., on Friday, June 28, 2019. Berkeley will be adding worker co-ops to businesses eligible for loans, providing a new lifeline to companies that have a hard time securing financing any other way. The Santa Clara City Council will host a study session to consider what it can do to support worker-owned businesses. Vartan is hoping Santa Clara will then follow in Berkeley’s lead. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group) 

Excerpt: While employee-owned businesses are a small minority of all companies in the Bay Area and in the nation, it’s a model local cities are increasingly eyeing as one to invest in and sustain. The city of Berkeley became one of the first in the Bay Area earlier this week to directly support the worker-owned business model, when its City Council voted to approve $100,000 over two years to help existing companies as they transition to employee-owned entities. And on Tuesday, Berkeley’s Loan Administration Board will consider changes to a revolving loan fund to make it easier for worker coops to take advantage of the funds, too.

In the South Bay, Vartan has been pushing the Santa Clara City Council to do the same. He helped organize a study session for July 9 that will feature presentations by Project Equity and the Sustainable Economies Law Center, among others. In addition to working with Berkeley and Santa Clara, the law center helped spearhead efforts in Oakland in 2015 that resulted in the city formally recognizing worker cooperatives. A push for financial support from the city is currently stalled, said Yassi Eskandari-Qajar, the law center’s policy director.

Read the full article here.

(Originally published June 30, 2019.)

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School's Out: Legal Apprentices Take Alternative Path To Bar

By Mike Lasusa of Law360

Excerpt: Yassi Eskandari, an attorney and policy director at the Sustainable Economies Law Center in Oakland who completed an apprenticeship in 2017, says her work at the center has included advocating and raising awareness about legal apprenticeships. She often gets emails and phone calls asking about them, she says, but she doesn’t recommend them in every case. “I would caution people who are interested in doing this,” she said. “It’s really challenging.”

An additional obstacle for would-be apprentices is simply finding someone willing to be a mentor. “It is hard to find other lawyers to do this,” Janelle Orsi, the executive director and co-founder of the SELC, told Law360. “It’s a big commitment.”

Read the full article here.

(Originally published June 16, 2019.)

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Farmers of Color May Soon Get More Support in California

By Nadra Nittle of Civil Eats

Excerpt: “Farmers of color are the fastest-growing [group of] farmers in the country,” said Neil Thapar, food and farm program director for the Sustainable Economies Law Center, which is a member of the California Farmer Justice Collaborative... “As our farming population diversifies, those are the people we need to serve. We need to help them continue and maintain strong local agricultural economies, which allows for more local food to be grown to satisfy the culturally relevant food needs of a more diverse population.”

Read the full article here.

(Originally published May 6, 2019.)

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This City Has A Radical Plan To Get Rid Of Bosses

By Robert Raymond of Huffington Post

Excerpt: BERKELEY, California ― In a 4,000-square-foot industrial space tucked away in a West Berkeley neighborhood, a team of glass blowers is hard at work. In one corner, a young man named Sam is repairing a piece of laboratory glassware used for cannabis distillation, the bright orange flames from his lathe dancing just inches from his face. In another, a woman named Laurel is concentrating on fusing powdered glass “frits.”

They both work for Adams & Chittenden Scientific Glass, a company based in the San Francisco Bay Area. But later this month, Sam and Laurel won’t be employees anymore; they’ll be co-owners of the company, along with eight of their fellow workers.

Read the full article here.

(Originally published on May 2, 2019.)

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Member-Owned Community Solar Poised For National Adoption

By Charles W. Thurston of CleanTechnica

Community solar projects are sweeping the nation, enabling individuals to benefit from solar energy even if they don’t have panels on their house or apartment building. The financial design of a community solar project may vary widely, however, which can make or break any savings that a system could yield for the consumer.

One model that has recently emerged in Oakland is that of a member-owned cooperative that shares a residential installation and includes both savings and investment dividends. This model, which can stretch to include a variety of installations within the coop, could help accelerate community solar projects in dense urban areas, where siting larger commercial-scale PV systems can be problematic.

Read the full article here.

(Originally published on April 11, 2019.)

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