Housing Solutions—Centering Community in Ownership, Control, and Long-Term Affordability

There’s a growing interest in community control of housing. How is it realized? We explore different community ownership structures, how tenants form a cooperative, and how larger housing nonprofits can incorporate residents into decision-making.

By Miriam Axel-Lute

There’s a growing interest in community control of housing. This webinar was organized and hosted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in April to explore a range of questions around how that is realized—from different community ownership structures, to the process of tenants forming a cooperative, to how larger housing nonprofits can incorporate residents into decision-making. Speakers included Devin Culbertson, the senior program director at Enterprise Community Partners and SPARCC (an initiative of Enterprise Community Partners, the Low Income Investment Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council); Roberto de la Riva, co-director of Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia (United Renters for Justice); and Andrea Ponsor, president and CEO of Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future.

(Editor’s Note: the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provides financial support for some of our work.)

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Watch the full webinar recording here.

Miriam Axel-Lute: Devin, can you talk about community land trusts, the concept of community ownership in general, and why SPARCC has explored these models?

Devin Culbertson is the senior program director at Enterprise Community Partners and SPARCC.

Devin Culbertson: SPARCC is three national intermediaries in six different regions across the country. We’re working to support community-led approaches to advance racial equity, climate resilience, and improve health. There’s a lot under the SPARCC umbrella, and we’re really looking for things that are intersectional rather than additive. In 2016 [we started] to focus on displacement and investment that drives displacement. And from there, we really landed on thinking about community ownership in a relatively broad way.

We came to that [thinking by listening to] folks interested in increasing agency and community control among tenants and residents, building community power, [preserving] affordable housing [in] high cost [and] gentrifying markets, and then more recently, building wealth and community among community members. There’s a lot of structures there. It’s really critical that whatever structure you choose follows what your goals are. So, for example, a lot of traditional affordable housing has a focus on reducing the rent paid by the tenant. That model and approach does that well. But if you’re looking at some of these other goals, you need to look more deeply at what it is you’re trying to achieve.

Read the full article on Shelterforce.

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