Everyone Loves Ice Cream: A Case for Land Co Ops

I think a wild blind spot at StreetsMN is the idea that there are only two possibilities for residential property development.

A) Private ownership by young growing Single Family with golden retriever and infinite sums of cash to refinish the cool old house.

B) Private ownership by profit driven private developer.

Considering the golden retriever option is an economic fantasy, I understand the urbanist appeal towards fighting for a feasible idea in private development.

But when we side with openly profit driven private developers, it makes us look like jerks because giving a big land use gift to a private developer gives up neighborhood influence and power. This cuts back on democratic influence as one neighbor whose door you could have knocked is replaced by a developer who likely doesn’t even live here or care beyond due diligence or legal compliance.

Urbanists argue on the side of the bad guys of every Disney movie because they are arguing against a fantasy from a Disney movie.

First off: this is stupid. Stop arguing with ghosts. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. Disney isn’t real and even if it was I’d live in Saint Paul over Disneyland any day of the week because I think Saint Paul is better than Disneyland and you can quote/fight me on that.

But beyond that, we don’t HAVE to blindly defend land developers, neoliberalism, and capitalism as a community development practice. There are other ways to interpret land use and there are other ways to develop our city.

Private ownership is not mandatory.

What if we propose a better solution that involves democratic process, slows the rate of gentrification, and actually gives young people some skin in the game?

Dig this:

  1. Start a fund at the county level and pass some ordinances at the city level to collectively own some or all of these developing properties.

  2. Set guidelines for this development so that some of the benefit for the property is returned to residents. The landlord will still make a profit, but make it so people don’t have to live in poverty as renters because way back in 2018 Joey Developer INC LLC had the coin to drop on a 12plex.

  3. Set up a democratic process such as a Co-op to insure that residents have a say in what happens to their homes.

This for me should be the bare minimum expectations of urbanists requesting development whilst shouting “HOUSING IS A HUMAN RIGHT!” We should make a plan to insure humans have rights now and into the future. That is literally what we are shouting. Let’s make it actually happen instead of expecting a developer to do it for us as if they are driven by a moral imperative instead of a business imperative when morals are clearly not their imperative. If we don’t make this expectation now, it’s entirely reasonable that in 20 years private developers will function exactly as they said they would: for profit.

And before y’all key me up and say I’m just hammer and sickle loving beardo: WE ALREADY DO THIS IN OUR COMMUNITY AND IT WORKS SUPER WELL.

The co-op idea has preserved artist neighborhoods. ( http://www.tilsnerartists.com/ ) The collective ownership idea is making better old folks homes. ( http://seniorcoops.org/ ) Collective ownership is preserving naturally occurring affordable housing while beautifying mobile homes. ( https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/07/mobile-home-cooperatives-residents-buy-land-from-owner/565277/ ) And collective land use is fighting rising costs of living while empowering people to live the American dream. ( https://www.rondoclt.org/ )

This idea is more ice cream social than socialist: a party where we can all be invited and enjoy the company of our community. Everyone loves ice cream.

Isn’t that way better than shouting in defense of capitalist land developers?




Daniel Choma

About Daniel Choma

Daniel Choma is a community advocate, a jazz musician, and a former bible salesman. He rides bikes, plays drums, and tells jokes. He can consume a bag of jelly beans faster than almost anyone.

15 thoughts on “Everyone Loves Ice Cream: A Case for Land Co Ops

  1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    I love land trusts, would like to see some practical examples of it, and would like to figure out how to expand programs like this on the ground in Saint Paul. It seems to me like a funding question.

    1. Dan Choma

      Absolutely. I agree whole heartedly. This essay I think comes off as smarmy, but mainly I’m wishing Ramsey county had explicit funding to expand and facilitate land trusts. There are probably programs and examples beyond what I know as I’m obviously not the smartest person in this StreetMN room, but I would like to see smarter people than me talk about this more.

  2. Christa MChris Moseng

    I absolutely would support efforts in this direction. I would love to see Minneapolis, for example, together with any liberalization of multi-unit residential zoning, provide fiscal and/or logistical support to encourage innovative (or retro!) ownership models of those properties that aren’t strictly landlord/monthly or annual-lease renter.

    This would address many of the concerns/advance goals concerning “owner occupation” of the properties, as well as provide new opportunities for people to make a transition from renting to owning, if that’s something they’re interested in doing.

  3. Daniel HartigDaniel Hartig

    Unfortunately, out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straightly run cooperative can be made.

    These arrangements can only survive with the dedicated; and more likely with a closed society, like Kiryas Joel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiryas_Joel,_New_York). Without some sort of external ‘authority’ keeping people in line (and the implication is that a religious authority is the only one strong enough to keep people in line without the use of force), then every argument could potentially be escalated to the point of lawsuit.

    A collective group like that needs broad based consensus to operate, and in today’s individualistic world, with extremely strong connections outside the collective (connections on social media, in particular) that isn’t likely. And if you and your ten friends bound together to collectively acquire property, what is the authority that will ensure you all abide by the group decisions?

    In the Middle Ages, this sort of collectivism worked, but only as a form of petty tyranny. Abide by the rules of the village, whatever they are, or else we won’t help you plow/harvest and your family starves. So it isn’t really that laudable that peasants lived collectively, because they had no other choice.

    Today, people _can_ live easily by themselves. Why would they want to submit to a collective consensus on every issue, when they have the option of taking their earnings and leaving? That would take an amazing level of personal humility to be so dutiful to your community.

    1. Dana DeMasterDana DeMaster

      I think you are confusing a commune and a land trust. A (typical) land trust just separates the ownership of the land from the ownership of the building. Daniel is proposing a variation on a land trust for multi-unit buildings where the land is owned by the government and the building privately. In most land trusts, the land is held in trust, most often by a non-profit, and profits from the sale of the land go back into the trust to support more purchases, while the profit from the building goes to the individual.

      Not sure what that has to do with submitting to a collective consensus on every issue.

      1. Daniel HartigDaniel Hartig

        I was confusing the land and property ownership issues, sorry. Collective consensus on land use issues is what would cause a lot of problem; Daniel’s plan mitigates those problems significantly.

      1. Daniel HartigDaniel Hartig

        Government keeps people in line with the use of force. What do you think police are for? If you disobey the city, you get fined and, eventually, jailed. A collective wouldn’t have that option.

  4. Travis

    Maybe before throwing insults at a huge number of advocates working to make housing more affordable, you could actually work with them to get something like this off the ground, since a large portion of us are open to these ideas. To main issue is that this would not be an easy task, although that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be making an effort. But, you know, trying to make enemies right off the bat isn’t gonna help your chances of implementing the flreforms needed to expand co-operative housing.

  5. Janne Flisrand

    Dan, it looks to me like you are arguing with your own ghosts. If you think that writers on streets.mn argue to “blindly defend land developers, neoliberalism, and capitalism as a community development practice,” you have clearly not talked to (or if you have, you have heard what you wanted to hear, rather than listening to) many of us.

    I look forward to starting a conversation with you. I also ask that you step back and listen to what other I’m saying as we have that conversation. I request that you wait to paint your friends and allies with a blind, broad brush that misrepresents us until you’ve confirmed that you’re picture is an accurate one.

  6. Dan Choma

    I don’t think “blind spot” constitutes “insult.” I wish cooperative ownership were a more integral part of our discourse and funding. None of this is meant as an insult and it’s a little disarming for it to be taken as one, especially by someone with a shield next to their name.

    1. Janne

      I’m looking forward to a conversation, preferably in person.

      I’ve been writing about and advocating for cooperatives (tenant-owned and otherwise) and alternative ownership models since 2002. I am hurt that nearly two decades of my public work are erased in this post.

      I would like to understand how you read what has been written on streets.mn by many authors as “blindly defend land developers, neoliberalism, and capitalism as a community development practice,” as that is something different than (most of) what I’ve read.

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