EB PREC’s Plan to Replace Landlords With Communal Ownership

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Gregory Jackson (bottom left), Marissa Ashkar (top left), Noni Session (center), Shira Shaham (top right) and Ojan Mobedshahi (bottom right), are all staff members of the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Collective, a collective that prioritizes serving Black and Indigenous residents and creates permanently affordable housing. Photo by Erin Conger.

The East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative (EB PREC) is working to keep Black, indigenous, people of color and allied communities in the East Bay by communally purchasing and sustaining land and housing with local residents.

“The critical part of our project is that we take land and housing permanently off the speculative market,” said EB PREC’s Executive Director and third-generation West Oakland resident Noni Session. She, along with six other local residents, form the Black led and POC majority staff of EB PREC, and the growing cooperative currently has more than 125 other non-staff members including resident owners and investors.

In an interview with The Oakland Post, Session explained how EB PREC is replacing landlords with resident owners and investors who are driven by the desire to sustain the community as opposed to make money.

California residents can invest up to $1,000 in EB PREC’s collective fund and receive 1.5 percent in annual dividends, a rate similar to what many banks offer. After five years, investors can choose to sell their share, which allows them to get their invested money back plus any outstanding dividends. Local investors who own a share of the collective also can attend EB PREC events and vote on major cooperative decisions.

“If 100 of us can join together to create a pot of investment,” said Session, “that means…we don’t have to wait for organized capital, or follow the very poor advice of commercial developers, or wait for charity-based subsidies from our city in order to change our outcomes.”

In June 2019, EB PREC collaborated with the Northern California Land Trust (NCLT) and residents of a four-unit building in North Oakland called Coop 789 to purchase the building from their former landlord.

The residents now no longer pay rent but instead pay monthly lease shares. The lease share money goes towards the cost of the project, minimal property management fees, an emergency repair fund, and equity that goes into residents’ capital account that they can cash out if they want to move and sell their share back to the coop.

EB PREC’s mission is to keep these housing costs permanently affordable. The coop doesn’t allow the residents to ever sell the property, leaving it as a community resource as opposed to a commodity to be sold for profit.

“We feel secure in our housing situation,” said Coop 789 resident Tia Taruc-Myers. “And that feels really empowering.”

EB PREC is also interested in how its connections with local residents and organizations can create social capital to serve the community. Session insists that EB PREC can’t do this work alone and she never would have known how to go about starting the cooperative if it wasn’t for the example she saw in Mandela Foods Cooperative, the cooperative West Oakland grocery store that started in 2009.

EB PREC’s work also wouldn’t be possible if they hadn’t collaborated with The Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC). SELC pushed for the passing of California Assembly Bill 816, which has allowed residents to invest up to $1,000 in a cooperative housing endeavor. Before, the state had capped individual investments at $350. Without the law change, EB PREC’s method of communal housing investment wouldn’t have been possible.

Although EB PREC officially launched in Dec. 2018, it’s already on route to steward five different properties by the end of 2019 and has plans to add five to 10 additional properties in 2020.

As EB PREC works to obtain and steward these properties, it’s educating the public about stewarding land and communal ownership.

“Communities have not just been dispossessed of land and assets,” said Session. “They’ve been dispossessed of knowledge, skills, access, and information.”

EB PREC has formed the Collective Action and Land Liberation Institute, which is a platform for their outreach and educational efforts. Gregory Jackson, EB PREC’s partnership director, facilitates book clubs in East Oakland and Richmond. He’s currently teaching “Collective Courage” by Jessica Gordon Nembhard, a book that chronicles Black cooperative organization and its foundational role in the Civil Rights Movement.

“We want to communicate to our communities that not only are coops not a new thing, they’re not a white thing,” said Session.

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