The strength in the Resilient Village model hinges on flexibility, adaptation and innovation. We aim to be transparent and make sure all voices are heard and engaged.
Land & Property
We’ve determined that the most cost-effective (and scalable) approach is to develop on an oversized single family lot. Remodel the existing home to become shared/ community spaces (kitchen, laundry, shared eating/ meeting space/s) and, depending on the size and layout of the existing home, additional private units (adding bath & kitchenette to each). Then, build additional private units (tiny homes and/or 2/4/6/8-plexes) on the surrounding land, again- all villages would be site specific.
Our work with the City of Burien created a pathway for a zoning variance we’ll need for our pilot, but we are competing with others who are also seeking a single family lot- in a crazy real estate market. We’ll need to have cash in hand to compete, so we are preparing to launch our capital campaign later this summer. Because of our commitment to creating an ownership model, our fundraising efforts will be almost exclusively geared towards private donors. (Almost all public affordable housing funds are geared towards supporting rental- not ownership- models.) We are actively seeking visionary social-impact philanthropists to partner with us to develop our pilot model and take it to scale.
We’d consider developing in other locations, provided we have municipal support for zoning and other challenges. We want to see the model replicated throughout the county and country- by SquareOne, by us/ecoTHRIVE or any other organization willing to take this on.
Key to our learning was observing (and for some members of our leadership team, experiencing) life in homeless encampments, ranging from those that are self-managed to others managed by outside organizations. We saw how effective self-governance can nurture personal growth and community spirit. We also saw how some external management practices can undermine the sense of community and mutual responsibility. That led us to explore systems of self-governance and decision-making processes used by co-housing and intentional communities. We found best practices in Sociocracy, which encourages harmonious relationships by honoring all voices, integrating feedback and being transparent.
We are seeking property with the following characteristics:
- Within one-quarter mile of public transit, or about a five-minute walk at most, and ideally within walking distance to a grocery store and other essential services
- Oversized lot with an existing building (i.e. single-family home, church, classroom) that can be renovated to create multiple private units and enough surrounding land to build additional units of housing.
ecoTHRIVE Housing is seeking land in King County, particularly in the south county, where the need for affordable housing is greatest. We have identified the City of Burien as the site for our first Resilient Village under their Affordable Housing Demonstration Program. This program was approved by Burien City Council in November 2019 and sunsets in 2022.
Finance & Planning
We seek to implement a scalable financing strategy that includes a sustainable mix of public subsidies, charitable contributions, debt financing, and resident equity. By diversifying our funding sources while keeping expenses low through a combination of affordability strategies, we believe the Village Model is uniquely positioned to maximize the social return on investment when compared to other forms of low-income housing.
When debt financing can be kept at sustainable levels through one-time capital subsidies, housing co-ops enable low-income residents to cover the cost to operate their housing without dependence on ongoing subsidies.
Public funding available for new affordable housing construction remains inadequate. At the same time, providing affordable housing will not become less expensive in the future. ecoTHRIVE offers an option to provide affordable housing economically, while creating communities that reduce poverty, create stability , and foster human development and ecological sustainability.
OWNERSHIP & Housing Model
What we heard the most when we talked to people- housed and houseless- was the importance of community. As our plan has developed, we’ve focused on how we can integrate social technologies- like systems that support shared decision-making, nonviolent communication, peer-led coaching,…- into the model, as well as focusing on the built environment/ physical infrastructure.
Seattle/ King County has the 3rd highest number of people who are unhoused in the country. People are living in parks, streets, and public spaces all around us. There’s a huge need to provide folks with transitional shelter and millions of dollars of public funds are going towards addressing that immediate need. And then what? Where can people transition to that’s affordable once they get stabilized? It’s the “and then what?” question that inspired the development of our model. Through the process of answering that question, we believe we’ve developed a model that could serve not only people who are transitioning from houselessness (many people who are houseless are working at least part-time), but other people, with a variety of incomes, who want to invest time, energy and money to live in a creative, mutually supportive, permanently affordable community where they can grow their own food and generate energy (net zero). We believe that many people, of all incomes, would be well served by this model.
Except for SquareOne Villages in Eugene, OR we have not found anyone developing housing models that extend ownership opportunities to people earning less than 50% of the area median income and don’t require ongoing public subsidies- and if you know of any, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Extending ownership to people earning extremely low incomes (30%AMI) is essential to our mission. Those whose incomes fall under 30% AMI are often faced with a choice between housing stability and financial growth as they risk “earning out” of predetermined income brackets which may cause them to lose access to subsidized housing. Earning more money is a huge financial and psychological risk, especially for folks who have experienced the trauma of homelessness. With ownership status, residents aren’t at risk of losing their housing if their earnings change. And, as shareholders of the Limited Equity Cooperative (LEC), together they are their own landlords and their monthly payments only increase when their community expenses (ie utilities, taxes, insurance) do.
Also, with an ownership model, resident-owners could collectively choose to reserve a unit for short-term rental (ie Airbnb) or other income-generating endeavors- like solar energy generation.
We developed our model by listening, particularly to those most impacted, and research. We’ve spent over 5+ years developing our plan. (We’re committed to radical transparency and are happy to share our plan- just ask. It’s a living document because we are always learning together.) Our goal is to create a truly affordable model that centers community, is regenerative (beyond sustainable), and can be replicated and scaled to meet the growing need- and doesn’t rely on on-going public subsidies. We believe this model does that.
ecoTHRIVE’s leadership team includes the populations we serve: people who are often left out of the housing development process – people of color, people with disabilities and people who have experienced trauma, addiction and housing instability, including chronic homelessness.
Initially, our goal wasn’t to become housing innovators. But we were inspired by what happened when Susan Russell, co-founder and member of our board, had a vision to make art with people, especially folks who were experiencing homelessness, to let them know they are seen and loved. In 2016, we applied for and received funding from Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods to host 5 art + conversation pop-ups. That experience was so profoundly moving, that we went on to host over 40 pop-up art-making stations and at each one, we set up a sandwich board with chalk and ask the question: “What Do You Need to THRIVE?” Asking that question and listening to people share their stories inspired us to form ecoTHRIVE Housing, a 501c3 organization.
CLT-LEC partnership offers advantages for residents:
The financial limitations and risks of owning and maintaining a home are reduced in cooperative housing because participants share the costs and responsibilities.
Buy-in equity is modest. Members experience lower monthly costs compared to market-rate rental housing. Monthly charges only increase when costs rise.
Members have an exclusive right to live in a specific housing unit for as long as they wish, as long as they adhere to the co-ops rules and regulations.
As mutual owners, members participate at various levels in the decision-making process, and have a vote in how their housing is operated and managed.
Higher level of resident engagement in co-ops has proven to be more effective in preventing crime and vandalism in comparison to conventional rental housing.
Many co-op members say that the possibility for interacting with people from different backgrounds and cultures is a positive factor in their decision to become a member.
LECs realize affordability through shared resources, self management, and operating at cost.
- In a co-op, multiple households join together to collectively own multiple dwelling units on a single property by forming a cooperative corporation.
- Each household purchases a membership share in a co-op, granting them a right to a dwelling unit, a vote in the co-op’s governance, and an ownership stake.
- A limited equity co-op preserves long-term affordability by limiting the appreciation in value of the membership share with a simple formula.
- Members pay monthly carrying charges to the co-op to cover all operating costs, including utilities, insurance, maintenance, reserve funds, and any debt service.
One of the weaknesses of LEC is that in “hot” housing markets, members may be enticed to amend their bylaws and convert to a market-rate co-op in order to cash out their shares at whatever prices the market will bear. The Resilient Village Model protects against this by building on land that is held in a Community Land Trust (CLT).
By combining the Community Land Trust model with the Limited Equity Co-op model, affordability is protected in perpetuity.
ecoTHRIVE uses Sociocracy, also called Dynamic Governance, as our governance structure and decision-making process. Sociocracy uses consent, rather than majority voting or formal consensus, in discussion and decision-making by people who have a shared objective. We embed training opportunities into the context of our organizational meetings and we will continue to embed this process into our community-centered design and development work going forward, including embedding it into the management and oversight of the Limited Equity Cooperatives we help establish and steward.
A Resilient Village is designed to withstand the impacts of climate change, food shortages and economic downturns.
We are forwarding the Resilient Village concept. Each village includes private living quarters with living/sleeping areas, a kitchenette and bath. Common facilities include a community kitchen, dining and living areas, shared laundry facilities, gardens and workshop, with potential for renewable energy production. Building small and green offers people with low incomes the full benefits of energy efficient, high quality construction. The villages will be designed to support creative work and economic activity for people who want to live in a creative community, grounded on principles of reciprocity. With resilience as a touchstone, these communities are designed to withstand the impacts of economic downturns, climate disruption, and food insecurity.
ecoTHRIVE will recruit resident-owners who want to invest time, energy and money to live in a creative, mutually-supportive community. We prioritize engaging people who are often left out of the housing development process – people of color, people with disabilities, and people without stable housing. We are designing the community to be affordable for people who earn below 50% of the AMI, on average. The resident selection process will be refined in collaboration with community members and local organizations near the identified site.
Our goal is to build a pilot village but to do it in a way that is replicable- and can be scaled. Our team is concerned about the rising number of people experiencing homelessness as well as the rising of the sea- and other negative impacts of climate change. We are committed to creating a model that can address both crises simultaneously through tapping into our collective wisdom, generosity and- whenever possible- JOY! Some people have told us that creating this model of housing is impossible and when they do, I’m reminded of something Daniel Christian Wahl said at a recent Global Ecovillage Network summit: “We must do the impossible, because the probable is unthinkable.”
Still have questions?
We’d love to answer them. Please fill out the form below and we’ll be in touch as soon as we can.
The ecoTHRIVE team