Category Archives: Cooperatives

The Florence Electric Vehicle Co-op

Imagine having access to the most appropriate travel option whenever you need it, and all of the options using the cleanest energy possible.  Foot, bicycle, electric bicycle, electric city buspedal electric vehicle, or a full size electric car when all the other options won’t do.

One of the problems with owning your own car is that there’s a great incentive to use it more.  In general, the more you use it, the lower the per-mile costs, because driving more doesn’t affect the cost of the car or the insurance in most situations.  Unless you drive a lot, not owning a car but having access to one when you need it is usually cheaper and uses less energy.

So – let’s create a cooperative where we can rent by the hour or day the electric vehicle that’s most appropriate for our needs!

I propose we start with a regular electric bike, and a PEBL, a pedal electric vehicle made locally.

Cars are complicated, with insurance and licensing to worry about. Once we get a handle on the costs and logistics, perhaps we can get used electric cars, such as the Nissan Leaf, which are about $10,000 these days.

Want to join me?  Let’s create a cooperative structure and crowdfunding plan – drop me a line!

A Camp Co-op

I’ve got a handful of possible co-op projects in the works right now: a housing co-op, a community investment co-op, a bike shop conversion and a camp co-op.

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One of my favorite places to visit is Monroe State Forest.  There are shelters, old growth forest, and Dunbar Brook has pools and waterfalls, surrounded by fern covered boulders.  I would love to have a wild place close to home to visit and camp with friends, but purchasing land on my own would be too difficult.  And of course I like to sharett. So why not go in on it?

The Camp Co-op is a wild space shared by 10 to 15 households.  Ideally it would be in a forest by water – a river, stream or lake.  We would purchase the land together and decide together how it would be used and cared for.

Here are some goals and ideas I have:

  • Members could sign up for exclusive use times and there would be many shared use times.
  • Within biking and bus distance of Northampton, Mass.
  • Non-buildable land, so that it’s affordable and minimally taxed
  • Ideally no road access, just a foot and bicycle right-of-way. No motor vehicle use.
  • Zoned so that we could build a tent platform or 3-sided or open sided shelter.  We could also erect a canvas tent for the winter with a portable wood stove.
  • We’d have a forest management plan which would include a focus on growing acorn, nut and fruit trees, and would use wood from the site for campfires.  We wouldn’t export wood, unless we are able to purchase more acres than needed for the camp.
  • A safe and respectful space, for each other and for the land.
  • An annual membership fee would cover the taxes and accounting, and minimal supplies.
  • The price and number of shares would be set so we could buy the land with cash, and low enough to be affordable for many.  We could loan money so that some people could pay in installments.  If feasible, share price would be based on ability to pay.

And some questions:

  • How would we govern ourselves? Consensus or majority? Collective or board?
  • Drug and alcohol use policies?
  • Long term camping?
  • What’s the impact of many people on the space? Would we rotate through different parts of the land to allow it to recover?
  • If the share price is originally dependent on the land price, how would that change if someone wants to sell their share?  Would it be the same price, adjusted for inflation, or adjusted for the land value (the market)?

Want to join me?

Valley Cooperative House Network

IMG_5668My friends and I are starting the Valley Cooperative House Network. It’s an on-going dream of connecting people and cooperative homes in the Connecticut River valley of western Massachusetts. We envision three phases of cooperation:

Community building: How many cooperative houses are there, and what do they share?  Let’s network and share events and openings in our houses.

Collective economies: Buying food together, storing food (canning, root cellar, freezers), car sharing, tool sharing…

Building equity: Creating cooperatively owned land and houses.

More information on the VCHN website.

Sharing, busyness and non-traditional family

Walking through Conway, Mass.

UPDATE: The talk is available as a podcast on the Out There radio show.

I gave a free talk at the Forbes Library  on Saturday, February 6 at 1 pm in the community room.  I spoke about sharing and learning the skills of cooperation, reforming the culture of busyness and creating non-traditional family.

I’ve been living cooperatively in a cooperatively-owned house for the past 10 years, and gotten tremendous benefit from that, both economically and socially.  It’s also been a challenge to learn how to get along with each other.  Bringing up the difficulties before they build to a place of resentment, openly talking about feelings and hashing out the details are skills that I’ve learned and am still working on.

I’ve been spending time every week for the past three years with my adopted niece who is now 5 years old.  Together we’ve created videos, gone biking, hiking and on public transit adventures, and this past summer we’ve been building a house on a bike trailer to travel to Antarctica with.  It’s been about following her lead, and finding the places where I have interest too.  I feel very much adopted in her family and all of us support each other – having dinner together, saving thousands of dollars in child care costs, and filling my need for connection with children.

And I’ll talk about making space in my life, through sharing and cutting expenses, and through meeting my needs in multiple ways at once.  Some are: biking for transportation and exercise, cutting wood by hand with a two-person saw and talking the whole time, taking the time to walk places to help me think and to see so much more than I would see traveling faster.

I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from people of color and raised poor and working class people, locally and internationally, who are cooperating and conserving and living in ways that many white middle-class people have lost touch with.  I’ll be speaking about my experience, understanding that my situation is unique and that I have had a lot of privilege to have the space to figure out new solutions, and these solutions won’t work for everyone.  Oppression is very real and puts us in a bind unequally.   Making space in my life has given me the time to work on fighting to end systemic oppression without burning out.

Check out the recording of the talk, and also a shorter radio interview to promote the talk.

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Game theory and cooperation in real estate

I recently had the opportunity to help out a few friends who found themselves in an awkward situation.  They both wanted the same house and both were negotiating with the owner to buy it.  The owner asked both parties to put in their highest and best offer.

I did some research and thinking about it.  If both parties put in their highest and best offer, one of them is likely to pay as high as they possibly can.  And all that money, of course, goes to the seller, which also raises housing prices and taxes in that neighborhood.

An auction is a better situation for the buyers, but not as good for the seller.  This is because each buyer can stop at any time and they know what the other one is bidding.  In a highest and best, you never know what the other party will offer so you bid as high as you can.

One option is that both parties sit down and come to consensus on who should receive the property based on who is the best fit, optionally negotiating an amount that the one who gets the house pays to the one who doesn’t.  This option is quite tricky and requires a lot of trust, but if successful offers the best results and both parties can walk away from it at any time, albeit with some information revealed.

The option we decided upon was to hold a private auction between the two bidders.  The winner would get the property for the starting bid, which was a price we knew the seller would accept.  The winner would pay the loser the difference between the winning bid and the starting bid.  So, if the starting bid was $100,000, and it was bid up to $110,000, then the winner would buy the houes for $100,000 and pay the loser $10,000.

Another way to look at this option is that you are bidding on what it is worth for the other party to walk away.  This has a very different psychological feeling to it though.

One problem with payments between the winning and losing bidder is that these payments can’t be bank financed.

So we all sat down together and talked for a long time about the house, and drew up some “handshake agreements”.  Each party went off to discuss the options privately.  It almost looked like it wasn’t going to happen, but then they agreed and we started the auction.  My heart was beating fast and I was quite nervous even though I didn’t have anything at stake!

Then the auction ended, one party was declared the winner, and when the sale went though, the winner paid the loser.  I can’t reveal exact amounts here due to a confidentiality agreement, but it saved the winner a substantial amount of money, and the loser got something out of the deal too!

This experience has made it clear to me that cooperation and negotiating in an agreed upon way with each other is far better for both bidders than going with a secret highest and best offer – if the parties trust each other, or have a trusted third party.

Maybe I should create some sort of business that brings buyers together to figure out the best deal for them.  Or maybe you should.

Collective equity and cooperative housing

Eight years ago four of us bought a two-family house together. Ruthy and I have lived in one side of the house with many different housemates. We’ve always expressed the intention of considering further co-ownership with these housemates after living with them for a year, but none of them have taken us up on it.

Over the years they’ve contributed money, some of which pays interest on debt, taxes, insurance and maintenance of the house, but some of which goes toward equity in the house. My question is, how should this equity be treated ethically, and could we set up a cooperative legal structure to represent this shared equity?

First, I’d argue we should subtract from this contributed equity money for the extra work we’ve done to take care of the house. We could estimate the work we’ve done and figure out a fair wage to pay ourselves for that. The rest should be considered collective equity,

Worker cooperatives in Italy take a portion of their surplus each year and place it into an internal collective equity account. They can use this money to expand their business or to borrow against if times are hard. But they can’t distribute it to themselves. If the business folds, the collective equity goes to a cooperative development organization to start a new cooperative.

What if we set up a cooperative with equity shares for me and Ruthy, and a collective equity account for the rest? If we sell the house, we could stipulate that collective equity has to go toward another cooperative housing situation or a non-profit that supports cooperative housing.

What if new housemates that we are living with want to buy in? Would they buy out the collective equity account? Perhaps that money would then go towards starting a new cooperative house, with the same cooperative arrangement, creating a growth model.

In order to stop us from changing the bylaws of the cooperative later and pocketing the money, one option could be to require permission from some outside person or organization to approve bylaw changes. I’m not worried about Ruthy or me doing this on purpose, but what if someone sues us? We don’t want them to get access to this money. And if we try to expand this model, it should be robust enough to handle any situation.