Social Housing and Intentional Communities

Seattle has just adopted the idea of “Social Housing”, in which public agencies own housing units that are rented to people with varying incomes. People with higher incomes pay higher rent, which subsidizes the lower-income units. Any surplus funds are invested in expanding the pool of available housing units, and tenants are included in the management of the operation. This exciting development represents a sea change in the way housing has been provided in the USA, and could create opportunities for cooperative-minded people to involve themselves in building management. Introducing the social methods pioneered by intentional communities would not only benefit the people living in social housing but would also promote the ethic of cooperation on which we stand to a much wider public.

How might this work? Even before the social housing organization begins serious work, groups of cooperative-minded people who were interested in participating could organize themselves, either as potential tenants for a specific building or as a support group for the general idea. Potential tenants could identify common interests, like sharing meals or social events, and establish relationships that would serve them well later, when the buildings are established and the tenants have to learn how to live with each other. Any pre-existing group would have to create an atmosphere of welcoming new participants with minimal screening, and pay close attention to “newbies” who might need coaching or other support to truly feel welcome. At the same time, non-tenant support could be offered by existing organizations [like a committee of NICA] in areas of expertise like conflict-resolution, community-building, etc. There are many resources already available that could help with these processes. For people not already oriented to intentional communities, I’d start with Annemarie Pluhar’s Sharing Housing https://sharinghousing.com/ . The Seattle Public Library has her book, which has a number of good ideas for individual sharing arrangements: https://seattle.bibliocommons.com/v2/record/S30C3720790

When people are ready to consider organizing, Yana Ludwig’s Cooperative Culture Handbook will help them develop the tools and techniques necessary for long-term success. NASCO is a national level resource for housing cooperatives: https://www.nasco.coop/
Their website includes a page on starting a co-operative, https://www.nasco.coop/start-a-
coop?reason=1

One of the options is renting a building as a group. The Evergreen Land Trust https://www.evergreenlandtrust.org/ holds title to a number of urban
and rural properties in Washington State. It contracts with groups of people who live on those properties and maintain them cooperatively. This could work as a model for the social housing authority to relate well to organized groups of tenants. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has just announced new actions to protect renters:
https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/01/25/fact-sheet-biden-
harris-administration-announces-new-actions-to-protect-renters-and-promote-rental-affordability/

This includes a “resident-centered housing” initiative.