A Legal Centre That Enables Land Trusts And Co-operative Housing

A sign extolls the affordability of student coop housing
A sign celebrating the long term affordability of student cooperative housing.

Sprinkled across the western world there are housing cooperatives, community land trusts, and other forms of collective ownership and decision making. Elsewhere, we’ve discussed some of the benefits of these approaches which include: reducing housing costs, sharing risk, and providing non-market housing1.

Despite these attractive features, they aren’t easy to start up. One of the big barriers is creating the legal agreements to incorporate these entities. Land use regulations, which typically prohibit collective ownership, are another barrier.

So here’s some good news: there’s a law centre, based in Oakland California, that is dedicated to matters of collective ownership. The Sustainable Economies Law Centre works on the legal agreements that help marginalized communities to create homes which operate using collective ownership and decision making.

You might wonder at the merits of collective decision making in the aftermath of the condo collapse in Florida. But as Natasha Lennard, writing in The Intercept argues, part of the reason for the collapse lies in the legal structures that give preference to profit over human safety: Miami Building Collapse Shows Tragic Costs of Neoliberal Deregulation. From this standpoint, the Susainable Economies Law Center’s work, which seeks to build in protections for people, makes a lot of sense.

The Center’s work extends beyond individual enterprises to include public policy. For example, the California legislature approved Bill 1079, which gives non-profits and co-operatives more opportunity to bid on housing as it comes up for sale. The Center worked alongside the Moms for Housing campaign2, which gave rise to the bill. It also participated in the review process as the bill made its way through the legislature.

The Center’s team has also prepared a survey of all kinds of collective and cooperative initiatives in other countries. It is published here: Policies for Shareable Cities: A Policy Primer for Urban Leaders The section on housing starts on page 22.


  1. Try: Housing Co-Operatives: What Are They And What Are They Good For? or, Limited-Equity Cooperative: What Is It? How Can It Help Finance Affordable Housing? or Land Trusts – What Are They? What Do They Mean For Affordable Housing?
  2. For more on this story, try: Oakland Carpe Diem: When “Seize The Day” Became “Seize The Empty House”

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