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
We envision a world where every person has a home, and housing is a right rather than a commodity. We prioritize working alongside low-income communities and communities of color – those who historically and currently have the least housing security – to develop legal structures and policy mechanisms that remove housing from the speculative marketplace and give communities control over land and housing resources. In particular, we promote cooperative housing, community land trusts, and other cooperative mechanisms for creating truly affordable, community controlled, and ecologically sustainable housing.
The Sustainable Economies Law Center’s Housing Program provides education, research, legal advice, and advocacy to promote more just, sustainable, and cooperative housing models.
Incubation of East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative: In partnership with the People of Color Sustainable Housing Network, the Law Center is piloting a new model of collective land ownership that mobilizes community capital to preserve affordable and democratically controlled housing and commercial spaces. Read more about this model on our PREC Pilot Project page, or visit EBPREC’s website.
Aging Cooperatively: 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 is increasing its legal support for cooperatively-owned, resident-controlled housing options for seniors. That's why we've brought on a Borchard Fellow for Law & Aging, Julie Gilgoff, to help realize this vision. To find out more, please visit our Aging Cooperatively webpage.
Legal Services: Our Center provides one-time legal advice for sustainable housing projects at our Resilient Communities Legal Cafe. Occasionally, we develop longer-term relationships with clients to create particularly unique and replicable housing models, though our capacity to do this is quite limited.
Legal Research and Online Resources: We conduct legal research on land and housing issues and publish easy-to-read legal information on our brand new online legal resource library - CommunityHousingLaw.org. This website is still a work in progress, so stay tuned for more information on starting housing cooperatives, community land trusts, and other forms of shared, cooperative, and equitable housing!
Public Education: We often host teach-ins and community conversations on a range of issues related to cooperative housing and community control of land, including this webinar on financing permanently affordable housing. Visit our events calendar to see what's coming up!
Short-term residential rentals, like those facilitated by online platforms including Airbnb, Homeaway, and Flipkey, have become a popular alternative to traditional hotels in recent years. A drastic increase in short-term rental (STR) activity has many cities feeling the negative cumulative impacts of STRs on housing prices and availability, neighborhood quality, and public revenues. However STRs can also provide some benefits, including creating opportunities for income generation, diversifying travel options, and spreading tourism dollars to local residents and businesses. Our policy recommendations for equitable short-term rental regulation balance the potential benefits of STRs with the need for protection of important public interests. Click here to read or download Regulating Short-Term Rentals: A Guidebook for Equitable Policy.
The Sustainable Economies Law Center and several key partners successfully introduced and passed AB 569, a bill to facilitate cooperative housing development in California, especially the creation of Limited Equity Housing Cooperatives (LEHCs)! Click here to learn more.
The latest updates on our advocacy work to create more sustainable and cooperative models of housing and land stewardship.
- Read our latest blog on "Community Development and the Commons" here.
- Read our "Slow Homes Manifesto" here.
Why Are We “Rethinking Home”?
All human beings need economically sustainable housing solutions. However, the burden of housing ourselves is heavy and the predominant options are limiting. Throughout the world, landless people’s movements are vocalizing the essential unfairness of the fact that so many people must struggle to simply secure a place to physically exist, much less make a livelihood, on the planet.
The struggle is not confined to the poor. Middle-income people in the U.S. are floundering to determine how their current housing arrangements will be financially sustainable into the future. The speculative marketplace drives many of society’s decisions about land and housing, and contributes to the scarcity of land resources. Land and housing resources have also been made artificially scarce because we have parceled them into ever larger and more expensive single-family boxes. We are “rethinking home,” because we want to challenge and change many of the predominant models for housing ourselves, and create more cooperative and just alternatives.