This interview with the Oakland-based real estate cooperative’s Noni Session is the third in a series highlighting grassroots organizations working, or seeking to work, outside a reliance on wealthy donors. It has been edited for length and clarity.

The East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative (EBPREC) aims to re-imagine land and housing by building pathways to collective property ownership.

What is East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative (EBPREC)?

EBPREC is a people-of-color-led multi-stakeholder co-operative that supports Black, brown, and allied communities to cooperatively organize, finance, co-steward, and long-term asset manage land and housing in Oakland and the East Bay.

What is the short term vision of EBPREC?

Our short-term goal is to bring in non-extractive capital that supports affordable and sustainable project outcomes. Non-extractive capital is not over-determined by donor interests, and it is deployed at non-extractive rates that are well below the typical six percent and above rates frequently offered to grassroots and community based projects.

We then offer that capital to community members as stake in a collective ownership of land and housing for Black and brown Oaklanders. We offer the owners technical assistance to get their cooperatives running, build their governance systems, and plan and manage their housing and mixed use acquisitions.

What has bloomed out of that modest goal has been a very wide range of possibilities. It’s become clear that EBPREC is not only effective, but it is a critical design for community development, land sovereignty, and economic solidarity among underserved communities.

How are you building community wealth?

First and foremost, we’re working on accumulating land and housing assets that are permanently protected and affordable. But we’re also re-tuning what folks understand as community wealth. The concept of wealth evokes an individualized treasury upon which one sits, like the monopoly man on his pile of gold.

Our concept of wealth extends into providing people with more than just tangible assets. We’re providing the intangibles of which they’ve been dispossessed: information, networks, power, resources for wider visions, and each other. We’re healing, empowering, and redefining the relationship between capital and frontline communities so that they are networks and sources of transformation for folks to take value into their own hands and use it in the ways that they desire.

Lack of wealth is not just an absence of currency. It’s an absence of connection, relationships, and safety nets. We’re addressing this through our organizing model and platforms for project learning, investment, education.

Our work aims to activate our community owners around investing in our communities, not just with their dollars, but with their bodies. People come away with more than just a garden or a rebuild or a repair. They come away with the relationships that define strength in togetherness to build cohesive, collective visions together.

We make our learning open source so that EBPREC doesn’t become the expert bottleneck. This way, our community can scale this conversation with the assumption that real expertise sits in the empirical experience of the everyday. We’re not only creating the bookends that provide legal and technical support, but we’re creating the shelving that gives people the power, sovereignty, networks, and access to capital with or without the existence of EBPREC.

EBPREC staff collective, launch party at Impact Hub Oakland, December 2018. Credit: EBPREC.

How does creating community controlled housing markets counter market forces that lead to housing injustice?

Instead of protesting in front of city hall, we have decided to become the market and the market actor. For instance, instead of competing with cash bidders when a house goes on the market, we are building community relationships so that when an owner wants to put their house on the market, they come to us first. They give us the time we need to raise the money, build the community solidarity networks, and galvanize a resident owner body around the property. This way, the seller knows their life’s work doesn’t go back into a generic one-to-one commodities market, but becomes a device of empowerment, a device for organizing, and a symbol of what we can do together.

Another way that we compete with the market is by challenging the conventions of impact investment and returns on investment. Real investment in communities that have been disassembled by the financial market means that you do not sell money back to communities at rates of five or six percent.

If you sell money back at all, you must sell it at rates that are commensurate with the economic conditions of the folks you claim to be reinvesting in. And that means interest rates are four percent and below. The justice rate is zero percent. We are navigating the difference between the ideal (zero percent rate) and reality by pushing boundaries of what a so-called return on investment can bear. Reaching the four percent threshold and then being able to demonstrate to investors other kinds of returns (social, communal, etc) may empower more conservative funds to bring down their rates.

We are also building an internal political and civic ethic among our residents, investors, community, and staff owners. In order to support and rebuild a community, you cannot sell back the very thing that has been stolen from them in the first place. Real reinvestment means giving back what was lost and standing there, in integrity and dignity, to offer all of the necessary support until that community has its own strength to then pass those same resources out to the next frontline community in need.

How can readers support your work?

Donate or invest at You can also contribute to the Shumi Land Tax, Northern California Land Trust, and Oakland Land Trust. All grassroots organizations that put community members as their leads and work toward having permanent and permanently affordable land and housing supports our future.

Other grassroots organizations in this series include Cooperative Energy Futures in Minneapolis and the Black Dirt Farm Collective in Maryland.

Kayla Soren is a Next Leader at the Institute for Policy Studies. 

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