“Cooperative Solutions for Affordable and Rural Senior Housing” was the topic of a daylong discussion at the National Press Club on March 19th, 2012. In a forum that brought together government officials, non-profit leaders, financial representatives and community members, CDF championed the role of housing cooperatives in providing housing and financial security for rural seniors. In discussing the Housing Needs of Rural Seniors and Communities, Judy Canales, Administrator for Rural Business and Cooperative Programs for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), affirmed that proactive measures should be taken to “invest and maintain quality of life presence through the cooperative network.”
Unlike the $7.4 trillion that was lost in real estate equity as a result of the recent housing bubble, not a single cooperative loan has entered foreclosure. President and CEO of NCB Capital Impact, Terry Simonette, provided this context in order to frame how the Case for Cooperative Housing could be made. Particularly, at a time that policy makers are wavering on what really works, the cooperative model provides an innovative solution to preserving long-term community stability.
Manufactured Housing as A New Option for Co-op Housing was a crucial aspect of the cooperative housing discussion. Rural Cooperative Homes, Inc., and its modular home case study in Adams-Friendship, WI, provide a successful small-scale example of seniors aging in place. The organization mobilized seniors to purchase prime property, located two blocks from a new community center, grocery store, and hospital. The seniors then constructed modular homes that cost less to build, had lower monthly expenses and were more energy efficient, while employing a cooperative governance model to collectively determine their present and future wellbeing. On a larger scale, the social enterprise ‘ROC USA’ works with manufactured homeowners to convert rental land to housing cooperatives when the owner puts the land up for sale. Since its founding in 2008, ROC USA has already converted 30 such communities and 70% of these conversions are in rural areas.
Andrea Levere, President of the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), underscored the Importance of Affordable Housing by emphasizing the need to design and deliver affective housing solutions that build economic security. With 43% of all Americans unable to make ends meet for three months at the poverty level if their income was crippled or taken away, society can no longer maintain the opinion that issues of housing affordability only affects those people. Adopting an ambitious asset-building strategy that includes, but is not limited to, affordable housing has the potential to “inspire hope in this country again.”
In addressing The Needs of Seniors in the Rural Housing Arena, it is important to keep in mind that though Rural America is older than the rest of the country, rural seniors are not a monolithic group. Thus, a range of options is needed between remaining in single-family home and moving into nursing homes. Housing cooperatives provides a nice alternative by creating a sense of community and ownership amongst its members. Rural seniors, who typically do not carry a mortgage on their homes, cannot remain in jeopardy of rising land rents while living in manufactured homes. Seniors ought to be given the option of building wealth through their manufactured homes in the same way this privilege is afforded to traditional site-built homeowners.
In his remarks, the Honorable James Clyburn (D-SC) elaborated on the Challenge of Energy Efficiency in the Rural Housing Stock. The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina has been able to retrofit and audit older manufactured homes as a way of keeping member costs low and improving the livelihood of those they serve. Similarly, the nonprofit network ‘Next Step’ has been instrumental in converting older manufactured homes into energy-efficient, affordable places to live. With 1.5 million manufactured homes built before federal standards for these homes were adopted in the 1976, Next Step is committed to replacing all of these homes over 30 years. If just 10% of these homes were replaced, three tons of carbon emissions would be removed annually.
Lastly, forum participants considered Challenges and Opportunities In Making the Finances Work for cooperative rural housing. A group like ROC USA also provides financial support and technical assistance throughout the co-op conversion process whereas community loan funds like Iowa’s Homeward, Inc. provides funding to assist with the purchase of manufactured homes themselves. Overall, the challenge is that financing for housing cooperatives continues to be an area of untapped potential for many financial institutions. However, credit unions are beginning to explore opportunities in creating financial instruments specifically for housing cooperatives and their members.