2019 Co-op Conference Interview -Kyra Steversherwood-


The next person in our series is Kyra, our Cooperative Housing Specialist at CCCD. She talks about her current projects, some of the challenges housing co-ops are currently facing, and what sets co-ops apart from other affordable housing alternatives.

What are some of the projects you’ve been working on?

“For housing, we’re working on approaching it from different angles, specifically through people, policy, and specific projects. [For] People, [we’re] reaching out to folks in the Sacramento area as well as receiving calls and providing fundamental information and advice, and kind of ‘where to go next’ to people calling from throughout the state that are interested in housing coops, and just generally focusing on the cooperative principles starting with the people first and then, developing housing based on the needs and wants and abilities of those people.

We’ve also been focusing on policy a lot, specifically I’ve been monitoring changes to California’s policies including the multi-family housing program at the state level as well as Sacramento and Davis policies, as well as some of the Bay Area, policies on housing, funding sources for different types of housing projects, and just generally what’s going on with the conversation about affordable housing throughout the state.

Then, project-based, we’ve been focusing on various projects that could include co-ops and talking to people involved with those projects, or people who are developing new systems of cooperatives like the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative, and groups throughout the state that are moving forward with [on] whether or not they’re going to develop a cooperative.

For instance, Kim went down to Pasadena to talk to residents in homes purchased by CalTrans for the now defunct Highway I-710 project that they’ve been fighting for 60 or 70 years. In the last few years, CalTrans decided to move forward with a project alternative that doesn’t require the demolition of those homes. This is getting a bit into the weeds here, but California law provides for the development of limited equity housing cooperatives as a first option for multi-family homes purchased by CalTrans for demolition, for a project alternative that was not the alternative chosen. So, that was a project that was going on earlier this year.”

What do you think has been some of the main challenges facing housing coops?

“I would say there’s two main challenges: the first of those challenges, which informs the second challenge, is funding. Cooperatives used to be more heavily funded through federal housing urban development programs such as Section 213 programs, which are defunct and defunded, and at the federal level, we’ve seen disinvestment in the cooperative model. That’s caused a lot of housing cooperatives to–since they’re no longer funded through sources that require them to stay cooperatives–have caused some cooperatives to change over to market rates or to condos or non-cooperative models.

That lack of funding, as continuation, also impacts the development of new cooperatives because it’s much harder to start one now than it was when we had the section 213 funding. Now, [housing co-ops are] more reliant on loans versus affordable housing grants, which is challenging because the cost of construction, especially in California, is very high. When we’re targeting co-ops as an affordable housing solution, we need to see more free money, grants, more inclusion of cooperative models in affordable housing funding streams rather than trying to create new funding streams. It’s also a political battle to create new funding opportunities for affordable housing.

Playing into that, I would say the lack of public knowledge and discussion of coops, which is one of CCCD’s main objectives, to increase public education and knowledge about housing coops and that’s also one of the main roles of my position, [which] is to participate in that education and increasing knowledge of stakeholders which and to a certain extent, the public as well, and so those stakeholders and policymakers their lack of knowledge of coops, in particular, lack of inclusion of cooperative models in affordable housing movements, I think is one of the major challenges. Because we’re all trying to get to the same place and there’s different situations for different models and I think it would be better if everybody was more aware of what other people are doing instead of coops being siloed or a public perception of coops being as a hippy thing or misunderstanding of limited equity coops or lease-hold coops as being the same thing as co-housing and the associations that go along with that.”

What are some differences between cooperative housing and mutual housing?

“Mutual housing, I would say, is on the spectrum. If you think of rental to ownership as a spectrum, it’s closer to the rental end than to the home ownership end, and that’s only because if you live in mutual housing versus co-op housing, you have less final say-so on what happens to a certain extent.

In mutual housing, you have more involvement of the residents’ wishes for their property and more accountability of the people making decisions and depending on the mutual housing, you may have a more or less successful board and by that I mean, there are different requirements for what percentage of the board are residents at that property. Generally, there’s a certain percentage that are required to be residents, unless you have overlap where other categories also are made up of residents, you may not necessarily have a voting majority whereas in a coop, you always will because all members of the board have to reside in the coop full time, generally.

You have more final say-so in what happens to your coop but at the same time, many people find that mutual housing provides enough accountability and enough power for the residents that they can have a good experience. They also have more ability to get funding. Mutual housing is a good option: it provides a great experience for a lot of people, many find the same community in mutual housing as they do in housing coops.

However, in a limited equity housing cooperative, you get equity. Even if that equity is only a few thousand dollars, that can make a difference depending on your income level. And [you get] the stability of knowing you and the people you live with, especially if they’re in the same economic tier, you are all making the decision about what your monthly costs are going to be. You have the ability to decide we need to keep costs low or we’re all okay pitching an extra amount every month because our coop need such and such improvements or we finished paying our mortgage off but we want to take out another one because we want to put to put a roof on. Or a pool. Or upgrade the electrical.

You have more control about the management of the property, which depending on your previous experience, may be very important. So I would say, there are tradeoffs, but cooperative housing can fulfill certain goals and needs that mutual housing just can’t. There’s also a different perception, to a certain extent, of mutual housing compared to limited equity housing coops. Because limited equity housing co-ops can be very affordable and remain very affordable. That’s the point, it’s supposed to remain very affordable. But mutual housing often times has that same low income housing perception, which again it’s personal preference, but there can be a stigma to it compared to a cooperative that you are a member and owner of. You co-own that property. From that perspective, it’s much closer to traditional single family home ownership than mutual housing is.”