‘Resident-owned communities’ an affordable housing option

  • Greening Greenfield and Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution (FCCPR) is presenting a virtual series of forums on affordable housing options and development throughout the county. SCREENSHOT

Staff Writer
Published: 4/18/2021 5:43:19 PM
Modified: 4/18/2021 5:43:18 PM

GREENFIELD – While leaders across the county and state continue discussions about affordable housing, Greening Greenfield and Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution continued their nine-session virtual housing series “Housing is a Human Right: We Can Make It Happen” on Thursday by talking this time about resident-owned communities.

The emphasis, so far, has been about the trouble too many individuals and families experience finding high-quality affordable housing. In the first few sessions, the groups talked about the challenges formerly incarcertated individuals, addicts, homeless people and others face as they seek safe, affordable housing.

On Thursday, the idea of resident-owned communities was explored, with Cooperative Development Institute Specialist Libby O’Flaherty saying “manufactured” homes became popular in the 1980s, but many communities aren’t interested in allowing them because they don’t want “trailer parks” in their communities.

But Sandy Overlook, who has lived in a resident-owned community for 46 years and who has led the tenant association in her community and fights for tenants’ rights, said though people have called the homes “mobile homes” or “trailers,” it’s not the way they’re built any longer.

“There are net-zero homes and all of them are build so well,” she said.

Overlook said the homes, which are built in a factory, meet all U.S. Housing and Urban Development regulations. She said the problem continues to be the stigma that goes along with living in what people call “trailer parks.”

Both women explained that in the resident-owned communities they’re talking about, many times someone owns the land and residents own their homes. There are exceptions, though. Some residents band together to buy the land so the entire property is resident-owned and associations are formed to make decisions on various issues.

“Everyone has to abide by local codes, of course,” Overlook said. 

Paul Bradley, president of ROC USA, a nonprofit in New Hampshire, said resident-owned communities provide more security to those who live there, especially if they own their homes and the land wherer they sit.

The challenge, he said, is if someone else, for example a developer or invester, owns the land. There can be anxiety or fear of the owner of the land selling it or deciding to build on it, for instance. He said there’s also the possibility of rent increases or the landlord not attending to infrastructure issues.

ROC (Resident Owned Communities) and Cooperative Development Institute help people form associations and get financing to create resident-owned communities. They said the hurdle are cities and towns and their ordinances and bylaws.

Colleen Preston, of Cooperative Development Institute, said cooperatives are big across the nation currenlty. She said the institute has helped cooperatives in five states, including Massachusetts, and has helped almost 5,000 purchase manufactured homes located in resident-owned communities.

She said the benefits of living in resident-owned communities include the residents/members vote on rent issues and services, and any surplus is either put in an account that is used for maintenance or is divided equally among members. Each member is treated equally and fairly — like everyone else — and the property is taken off the market permanently, so no one has to worry.

“It’s a precarious place to be when you don’t have control of your home,” Preston said. “Residents of resident-owned communities don’t have to worry about it.”

Greening Greenfield and Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution will continue its forum series with “Community Land Trusts: The Burlington, Vt., Experience,” on Wednesday, April 21, at 7 p.m. on Zoom.

Reach Recorder reporter Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.

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