Mutual Housing’s Sustainable Housing Model Gains Global Recognition

By Steven Root

Mutual Housing California was honored with the 2017 World Habitat Award. The last U.S. cooperative-related winner was Champlain Housing Trust in 2008.

Each year the World Habitat Awards, in partnership with the United Nations – Habitat, are presented to two outstanding and innovative housing projects – from more than 100 entries from across the globe. The judges – who include Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing – choose developments and providers that not only produced outstanding housing solutions but also can be copied elsewhere.

Mutual Housing at Spring Lake being 100 percent Zero Net Energy, means the utility bills are extremely low. Built in 2015, the 62-apartment and townhome community generates energy by solar panels installed on buildings and carport roofs to meet its electricity needs. Each home has a realtime, color-coded meter that helps residents track their energy use and stay within expected amounts for their apartment size. A water-based system for heating and air-conditioning also contributes to the energy savings, which are expected to reach 45,439 kilowatt hours and $58,000 annually.

The community has received LEED platinum certification, the first for a multi-family affordable housing development in Yolo County. The community also received the Environmental Protection Agency’s Indoor airPLUS certification and a Cool Davis Climate Solution Award in 2016.

Mutual Housing’s sustainability commitment and breakthrough of providing zero net energy to a very low-income population is remarkable, but what sets Mutual Housing apart is more than physical housing. The World Habitat award also highlights its achievement in providing a high-quality housing option that is affordable to agricultural workers and their families – many of whom struggle with housing insecurity. The estimated 6,000-plus agricultural workers in Yolo County endure some of the worst housing conditions – and most dangerous jobs – in the country.

“We are grateful to receive the 2017 World Habitat Award – and to join the ranks of so many remarkable finalists that are improving the housing conditions of people facing enormous challenges,” said Roberto Jiménez, Mutual Housing CEO. “We’re proud to have developed the first certified Zero Net Energy Ready multi-housing community in the USA and equally proud that agricultural workers and their families are the beneficiaries of this achievement.”

Further still, Mutual Housing’s resident engagement work is broad and deep. They work with adults, children and the elderly in a way that is inclusive and empowering with a multiplicity of programs that speak to the genuine interests and challenges of resident members.

“Through the community organizer and other staff, I have been presented with opportunities to work though some of my past traumas and grow my leadership skills,” said resident member Hector Sanchez. “We strive to build a community with one another knowing that each of us shares a connection to the agricultural land.”

The other winner was the Post-Haiyan Self- Recovery Housing Programme in the Philippines. After the widespread devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, this project helped more than 15,000 families rebuild their homes and self-recover.

Instead of relocating families, the project helped people rebuild their housing using locally available materials and debris from destroyed houses. As a result, families were reached and helped more quickly, and fewer were forced to leave the area. They also gained useful skills in the process.

“All of this year’s World Habitat Awards finalists are interesting and important,” said Farha. “They are helping so many people in difficult and vulnerable circumstances.”

“Billions of people across the world still lack a safe home. These remarkable projects show that it doesn’t have to be like that,” said David Ireland, director of World Habitat, funders and coordinators of the World Habitat Awards.

“Brilliant people and ideas have come together to show that people on low-incomes can live safely free from the fear of disease, natural disasters and insecurity.”

The World Habitat Awards began 30 years ago with the first awards being given in London in 1986 by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Dr. Arcot Ramachandran, UN-Habitat executive director, at the time.

Run with support from UN-Habitat, the World Habitat Awards are the world’s leading housing awards. Full details can be found at

Mutual Housing was presented with the award in February at a UN conference in Malaysia. In March, the organization will break ground on the second phase of this housing community, planned to achieve positive net energy.

Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation and Columbia, Md.-based Enterprise Community Partners funded capacity-building grants to further Mutual Housing’s work in rural communities and sustainable development.

Founded in 1988, Mutual Housing California develops, operates and advocates for sustainable housing for the diversity of the region’s households.

A member of NeighborWorks America – a congressionally chartered nonprofit organization that supports community development nationwide – Mutual Housing has more than 3,200 residents, nearly half of whom are children.










2017 Keynote Speaker Andy Reicher: Serve and Grow the Cooperative Community

I started my work with cooperatives as a VISTA Volunteer in the South Bronx in 1974 at a time when the Bronx was burning so to speak. I was organizing and assisting a dozen buildings to become housing cooperatives. I joined the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB) in 1978 where our cooperative work has grown from a few urban homesteading projects to include 1,300 cooperatives in 1,600 buildings. Much of my earliest learning about cooperatives came from here, NAHC conferences and from many of you in this room and some who are not here. Special among those was Roger Willcox. Roger was one of my earliest cooperative mentors, generous in sharing lessons of the past and his vast cooperative knowledge. Roger’s Foundation for Cooperative Housing Services alone created about 50,000 cooperative units using the whole litany of financing including 213, 236 and 221d3 BMIR. We became colleagues when we served together on early committees to create the National Cooperative Bank and later on the board of CATCH Mutual Housing Association in New York City.

Roger was one of my go-to sources for all things cooperative as long as I had the time for the history and war stories. As I got to know Roger, I learned that we shared an addiction – sailing – and Roger became my dealer when I was looking for a pair of small sail boats for my kids and nieces and nephews to learn to sail on our Upstate N.Y. lake. Driving around Westchester County with my mother to pick up our pair of boats, I discovered a family connection to Roger. When I introduced my mom to Roger, she realized that he was the brother of her college roommate and lifelong friend, Sally.

Losing Roger is a loss to me as a friend, colleague, an enabler of my sailing addiction, a family friend and a great loss to all of us, the cooperative community. And how is that cooperative community, in which Roger was so instrumental, so prolific, and for which he had boundless energy and passion?

About four years ago, while seeking funding for UHAB’s cooperative work, we were challenged by a foundation officer about why the limited equity cooperative community was so numerous and active and yet seemingly disorganized and the Community Land Trust movement which he funded was so well organized but with far fewer housing units? So with some funding from the Ford Foundation and later from the Cooperative Foundation, we set out to answer his challenge and took a look at the limited equity cooperatives across the country and learn if the lack of organization was a problem, a feature of the cooperative community or an opportunity looking for a solution.

We hired Alex Roesch as our researcher and set about to do four things:

  1. A census of all of the limited equity cooperatives in the nation – many of your cooperatives;
  2. A census of the support organizations and professionals that serve housing cooperatives, many of you in the room;
  3. A survey of the limited equity cooperatives to find out how they were doing (issues, challenges and needs); and
  4. A similar survey of the cooperative support organizations with additional questions about creating new cooperatives.

We started out looking for the 425,000 units that was commonly believed to be the number of limited equity cooperatives. This number was detailed in a March 2012 NAHC article and in many papers authored by Roger and co-authors. We learned that 425,000 was derived as an estimate of what the existing cooperative programs were predicted to have produced. We also started our work consulting Roger and Greg Carlson here at NAHC and Mary Ann Rothman of the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums and some of you to find lists and data bases and more cooperative support organizations and individuals working with cooperatives who knew of someone with yet another database. For months, we searched for sources, counted and built our database. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) data was the hardest to come by and interpret, but there was always someone with knowledge and a generous cooperative spirit to help. Websites and articles led to more lists and databases and resources, organizations and more people who worked with and loved cooperatives.

So what did we find? So far:

  • Over 50 cooperative support organizations that work with cooperatives in some capacity and 150 individuals and professionals that work with cooperatives;
  • Databases, lists and referrals that resulted in a census of over 3,000 cooperatives with more than 300,000 units. But not 425,000!
  • Part of the discrepancy is optimistic over-estimation. For example, our cooperatives listed as tenant self-converted/UHAB were over-estimated at 50,000 and actually are 30,000. Co-op City was doubled counted for a 15,000-unit discrepancy. Some cooperatives may no longer exist, and others we haven’t found yet. You can help with that.
  • Further, when we went to put an address, a dot on the map and information for each of these cooperatives, a significant number, 140,000 units, were no longer limited equity. These were mostly HUD financed and/or insured and had paid off their mortgages – the document that had the limited equity restrictions.
  • In high cost markets, cooperatives without resale price and income restrictions become less and less affordable over time. But in markets that are not hot, yet, some 15,000 cooperatives that were no longer limited equity but remain affordable and were labeled as Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing, NOAHs.
  • And it was exciting to include about 10,000 units of new cooperatives particularly manufactured home community cooperatives, most assisted by ROC USA and 6,000 units of student cooperatives mostly through the North American Students of Cooperation.
  • So in total: We found over 3,000 cooperatives with 300,000 units. 166,000 units are still limited equity or affordable. But we are still searching and adding to our database and map. And then we surveyed.

We learned from the cooperatives that 25 percent have affordability covenants and limited equity restrictions that will expire. The possible loss over time of another 40,000 units of affordable cooperatives. Seventy percent of the limited equity cooperatives receive no ongoing operating subsidies, and 54 percent are self-managed. This means that for decades our limited equity cooperatives have been doing a remarkable job of providing affordable homeownership to thousands of households with little ongoing support, but this legacy from earlier years is disappearing.

Cooperatives also report that their shareholders cannot obtain share loan financing (70 percent), and the cooperatives themselves have trouble accessing affordable financing for repairs and capital improvements. This makes it harder for families in need to take advantage of this affordable homeownership opportunity and harder for the cooperatives to maintain.

For the cooperative support organizations, we found that most provide at least the basic ongoing technical assistance and training and other support services. But many cooperatives don’t have support organizations or professionals with cooperative experience in their location. Or don’t know how to find them. Those organizations interested in providing more for the cooperatives they worked with were interested in providing services like bookkeeping and insurance.

Most organizations (60 percent) feel that government support would be necessary for the creation of new cooperatives.

We also discovered a resurgent interest in cooperatives in general – worker cooperatives, retail cooperatives and the cooperative model – across the country. Because we were out and about counting housing cooperatives and talking to folks across the country, we also received calls and emails from interested local governments and organizations. By phone, internet and in person, we have provided cooperative information and referrals and discovered new housing cooperatives being created in:

  • Seattle, Wash.;
  • Yellow Springs, Ohio;
  • Syracuse, N.Y.;
  • Boston, Mass.;
  • Chicago, Ill. (Washington Park, Pilsen and other neighborhoods);
  • Portland and Lewiston, Maine;
  • Bridgeport and New Haven, Conn.;
  • Los Angeles, Calif.;
  • Newark and New Brunswick, N.J.;
  • Oakland, Calif.;
  • Washington, D.C.;
  • Asheville, N.C.;
  • And organizations – including APA, Architectural League.

Policy: In the face of a growing housing affordability crisis, there are some clear policy issues.

Some 140,000 cooperative units are no longer limited equity, and most have resale prices that make them less affordable or not affordable to the next generations of lower-income households they were created to serve. This is mostly due to expiring limited equity restrictions that were tied to HUD mortgages or mortgage insurance, now paid off. This suggests a policy for future limited equity cooperative programs to have permanent affordability restrictions built into the Articles of Incorporation or the deed or other foundation documents.

There remains across the nation more than 100,000 units of affordable government assisted cooperatives where restrictions could end. For those of us from high-cost areas like New York City, preserving existing affordable opportunities for generations to come is part of our mission. In areas that have yet to see gentrification and high housing costs, it could just be a matter of time. When I started in New York City, most of the buildings we converted into cooperatives were abandoned by their owners and had no value. We need to have the policy discussion about preserving affordability and thinking about local, state and federal incentives for cooperatives and members to opt into continued affordability and incentives for the 15,000 units no longer restricted but still affordable to opt into permanent affordability.

We all know we are in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, and affordable homeownership is nowhere to be seen. We also know that preserving what we have already created, our affordable cooperative housing legacy, is the easiest place to start.

The resurgent interest in the cooperative housing model gives us the opportunity to think about new affordable cooperative development. This development could include creating new or using existing and updated government programs and models for the creation of new affordable cooperatives at the federal but especially the state and local level.

We need to learn from the past and address current contexts as states and local governments begin to look at new ways of creating affordable homeownership through cooperative housing.

6th Principle Coalition

So when we were done counting, mapping and surveying and we had all our information and analysis, when we thought we had a sense of the state of the cooperative community, there is the inevitable question of what to do to build on the strengths and confront the challenges.

I had this overarching feeling from viewing this work that we have a rich legacy, Roger’s legacy, and that we were losing this legacy, cooperative by affordable cooperative. We found a history and existing cooperatives all around the country that no one knew about. There were resources in cooperative support organizations and professionals including NAHC that weren’t known and weren’t being used by the cooperatives with the need. There was a resurgent interest in cooperative housing and limited equity homeownership and few resources and tools to create new cooperatives. The cooperative community we counted and surveyed is a 20th century model not well prepared to meet the needs and demands of the 21st century, especially today’s 21st century.

To meet this challenge UHAB, along with our advisory partners (NAHC, CNYC, City First Enterprises, Grounded Solutions, CU4ML), are creating the 6th Principle Coalition – the 6th Principle of course is “cooperation among cooperatives.” This coalition will belong to, and be a tool to be used by, all cooperative organizations, professionals and cooperatives that choose to become part. It will be a platform to plan and address policy issues such as the continuing loss of affordable cooperatives and securing the support and resources for the creation of new cooperatives at scale.

And it is an online platform to share information, the map, the database, the directory of services, organizations and professionals, best practices and model documents, cooperative information and the like to try to meet the needs of our cooperative community. It is a work in progress with support from the Ford Foundation and the Cooperative Foundation.

All this information is now available on UHAB’s website. There under cooperative research you can find our reports and an interactive map. If you live in a limited equity cooperative or work with limited equity cooperatives or just know about such a cooperative, check the map and make sure it is there and let us know if it isn’t so we can count it and map it. Fill out the survey if your cooperative hasn’t already done so. If you are from a town or a city where you don’t think that there are any cooperatives, take a look – you might be surprised. And if there are no cooperatives now, maybe someday soon.

We all have a part to play in trying to meet this challenge. Immediately. In this season of hurricanes, floods and fires, I am reminded of Superstorm Sandy 5 years ago Sunday (October 29, 2017) when 13 of our cooperatives on New York’s Lower East Side were flooded. As they recovered, we were surprised to learn that cooperatives do not qualify for FEMA grant assistance like other homeowners. We need to fix this. NAHC and many of our regional associations are supporting the Disaster Assistance Equity Act of 2017 (HR 3238), which will correct this problem for community associations, condominiums and housing cooperatives. It is awaiting Republican leadership to move it forward, and once it is moving, our support efforts will need to be redoubled before the next hurricane season is upon us.

Going forward, we need to nurture the resurgent interest in the cooperative model in cooperative housing. Everywhere we researched, the cooperative housing model has been rediscovered. We have to become the passionate cooperative advocates that share our experiences and tell our own cooperative stories.

Finally, when I first came to an NAHC meeting, I was among the young people in the room. Sometimes it feels like I still am. We need to recruit a new generation of practitioners passionate about cooperatives, to be the new cooperative leaders, a new generation of Roger Willcoxes


Brooklyn Cooperative votes to Remain Affordable

Brooklyn Cooperative votes to Remain Affordable

Members of St. James Place Towers, a 326-unit limited equity cooperative developed under the Mitchell-Lama program in New York, has voted to remain as a limited equity cooperative. The Mitchell-Lama program provided a low-interest 40-year mortgage and property tax relief. Once the mortgage is paid off, the cooperative can go market rate or convert to a condominium, but doing so would end the property tax abatement and raise monthly carrying charges, which in turn could cause displacement of members with modest incomes.

New York City provides a three-step process for conversion of Mitchell-Lama cooperatives. First, the owners must vote to approve preparation of a feasibility study. St. James Place Towers members did that in November. The second step is a vote to file a conversion plan with the state Attorney General. If that vote is successful, then a third vote is taken after the plan is filed. St. James cooperators voted against the second step in February, so the third step was moot. All three votes require approval of two-thirds of the members.

A Definition For Housing Cooperatives

A Definition For Housing Cooperatives

By Herb Fisher

It is amazing that after 146 years since the Rochdale Principles were set forth by the Rochdale, England pioneers in cooperation, there is not a readily available, cryptic definition of a cooperative, much less a housing cooperative. When asked, what is a cooperative, most all refer to those Rochdale Principles, as modified over the years. However, those Rochdale Principles are an operational guide for cooperators and do not describe what structure a cooperative should take. This writer assumes that the Rochdale pioneers understood that in different countries and in different times, laws regarding structure of business operations and the ownership of property could be different and could change. The Rochdale pioneers left it up to the successors to make a decision that would best permit the employment of the Rochdale Principles and the goal they desire to be reached.

Those writing about the subject of cooperation centered their discussion more about operations and how to put the principles into reality. The only reference this writer has found to this issue was in Jerry Voorhis’ book “”Cooperative Enterprise: The Little People’s Chance in a World of Bigness,” published by The Interstate Printers & Publishers, Danville, Illinois, 1975, Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 74-17878.

Voorhis was a modern pioneer in cooperation as a leader and president of the Cooperative League of the USA (CLUSA) and a founder of the National Association of Housing Cooperatives.

On page 15 of his book, he writes:

That characteristic (of a cooperative) is to be found in the purpose of the enterprise and the pattern of ownership which must necessarily go along with that purpose. It is this different purpose and it is this different pattern of ownership that distinguish cooperatives from other forms of economic organizations. First, a cooperative enterprise is one whose purpose is to provide its customers and users of its services with goods or services which they need at the lowest economically practicable net cost and in the form and quality those customers desire. The only way to be sure this is done is for the customers or users of the services to be also the owners, and the only owners, of the business.”

And on p. 17, Voorhis concludes,”Cooperatives, then, are consumer-owned, customer-owned, patron-owned businesses that belong lock, stock, and barrel to the same people who use their services.”

The Voorhis language above suggests the following as a definition that would fit for cooperatives operating in every sector of the cooperative economy.

“…a cooperative is an entity that owns or leases the assets that produce a benefit for its member/shareholders and operates in accordance with the Rochdale principles.”

Without departing from the Voorhis’ language and the above definition for all cooperatives generally, the following definition would be more specific for the housing segment of Cooperation.

“…a housing cooperative is an entity that owns or leases the housing for the purpose of providing housing for its member/shareholders substantially in accordance with the Rochdale principles.”

A couple of comments are needed with respect to the housing cooperative definition.

First, a relatively recent phenomenon has occurred in the United States in the form of mobile home park cooperatives. In this arrangement, the cooperative owns the land and all improvements on the land except the mobile home, which is owned by the individual cooperator, who leases the improved lot upon which the mobile home is situated. The cooperative owned land is considered as real estate (realty), but the mobile home (removable) resting on the lot is considered as personal property (personalty). The cooperative pays the insurance on the land and improvements for maintaining the land and improvements and other services and, in some states, the real estate taxes on the land. The cooperator pays for the mobile home, its personal property taxes, insurance on the mobile home and its maintenance. This is a “residential land owning cooperative” which supports housing but does not provide it. This requires a further thought through policy question for the Cooperative Movement as to whether it is to be included in this definition, an amended housing cooperative definition or have a definition of its own. This should involve the thinking of the mobile park cooperators themselves.

Secondly, the word “substantially” is used in this definition because the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), in defining cooperator’s voting rights, describes one vote per person or, in the case of housing cooperatives, one vote per unit. Cooperatives organized under New York law and under business corporation laws have proportionate voting rights according to shares owned, which under ICA is reserved only for secondary cooperatives, i.e. cooperatives of cooperatives. NAHC has a long-standing resolution calling on ICA to change that requirement as to USA proportionate voting housing cooperatives.

A definition gives a common understanding of what is a housing cooperative amongst all working in the housing cooperative field. It provides a uniform definition for developers, writers, legislatures and government officials and, most importantly, for consumers.

Without a definition, we get anomalies from time to time, e.g. the Iowa developer some years ago, developed a housing cooperative but retained all of memberships and subleased all of the units to his tenants so he could gain advantage of real estate homeowners tax exemptions. The developer was successful because he satisfied the definition of a housing cooperative under Iowa law, made by uninformed legislators. That definition ignored the primary purpose of a cooperative is to use its assets for the benefit of its member/shareholders and not for investment purposes. By contrast, Illinois law provides that the cooperative homestead exemption is available only to the extent dwelling units are occupied by member/shareholders.

The test of members’/shareholders’ control over the cooperative’s assets would be determined if the members’/shareholders’ vote is required for the sale of the assets and the dissolution of the cooperative corporation. In a leasing cooperative, it would be the requirement for the members/shareholders to vote on termination or renewal of the lease of the residential property.

Herb Fisher, a recipient of the Jerry Voorhis Award, was a NAHC board member for about 48 years, President for 4 years and Board Chair for 13 years, is a retired housing cooperative attorney and a current non board member of a few NAHC committees.


British Columbia Federation Forms Land Trust for Affordable Cooperative Housing

British Columbia Federation Forms Land Trust for Affordable Cooperative Housing

By David Freed

The Canadian cooperative housing movement has embarked on a novel initiative with the potential to transform how cooperatives are developed and preserved as affordable housing for future generations. The Cooperative Housing Federation of British Columbia (CHF BC) is the service and support association for housing cooperatives in the Provence. The Federation membership formed the Vancouver Community Land Trust (CLT) Foundation to increase the supply of affordable cooperatives and to provide stewardship over this valuable housing resource for the long-term. A community land trust is a non-profit corporation that acquires and holds land for the benefit of the community and provides permanently affordable housing.

In Vancouver, the cooperative housing sector is the sponsor of a unique, cooperative variation on the land trust model. The Vancouver CLT has an expansionist vision for creating more affordable housing and has partnered with other not-for-profit developers to meet shelter needs, along the continuum of housing. Currently, the CLT has taken the lead in a four-site development partnership with 358 units under construction. In addition to the 278-unit Fraserview Cooperative, the CLT initiative will also develop 32 units of townhome rentals for low-income families operated by the non-profit Tikva Housing Society and 48 one-bedroom units primarily for persons with mental illness managed by Sanford Housing Society, another Vancouver non-profit housing services provider. To make the “numbers” work, the city of Vancouver has provided a 99-year lease at $10 to the Vancouver CLT for land valued at more than $25 million. In addition, commercial space will be sold to reduce the costs of the affordable housing under development. Upon completion, the Foundation and the two other non-profit sponsors are responsible for management oversight and stewardship of these affordable housing resources for decades to come.

The CLT model demonstrates that ‘power’ of cooperation among cooperatives and its vision for a greater cooperative housing movement. Through partnerships with other non-profits, the cooperatives and the land trust also fulfill the cooperative principal of concern for community.

In the United States, all eyes should be trained on this cooperative housing innovation. Hopefully, social entrepreneurs will dig into what makes cooperative housing work in Canada and follow the lead of our neighbors.

David Freed is a cooperative housing evangelist, community land trust catalyst and permanent affordable housing champion based in the Greater Philadelphia Area.