Solidarity Housing Frequently Asked Questions
What do you mean by solidarity?
Solidarity is the support that arises from a sense of common goals and a shared struggle. In this context, the struggle is to address cycles of displacement and precarity, and the goal is to create more permanent affordable housing. Solidarity asks us to consider where we’re coming from, what we have to offer, and what we’d be willing to do to support others to thrive. It is a recognition of our inter-dependence and the power that can be found in working together. This is in tension with the self-interested ways that many of us have been taught to think and act, especially about finance and property. From the perspective of their pocketbook, there is little reason for a homeowner to participate in this project, for the simple reason that dominant property arrangements are designed to support the accumulation of wealth. We also know there are homeowners who don’t need to generate large profits from their home, and whose perspective is broader than economic self-interest, but they can’t simply ignore the economic perspective either. For many, their home is their main asset and their nest egg. The SH project gives homeowners options to consider how they might leverage their wealth to support others, while continuing to live well themselves. The structure of monthly payments provides homeowners financial stability into the future, while creating an opportunity to act in solidarity.
Who can begin a transition process?
Anyone can initiate conversations about the transition process, but it’s ultimately up to homeowners themselves to decide whether they want to explore this model to transition their home towards permanently affordable housing. If you are an interested renter, you could start by connecting with or looking into creating a Community Land Trust and seeking interested homeowners, and then use our tools to guide the legal and financial property transition.
What situations could this model apply to?
The Solidarity Housing transaction model can be used to support a variety of situations, with different priorities, values, and motivations:
A group of young people seeking to live communally form a housing cooperative and work with a willing homeowner to transition ownership of the home to a land trust that leases the home to the coop.
Renters who have a solid relationship with their landlord could approach them and work together to transition the house to a land trust, so that the tenants have long-term stability while the former landlord retains a source of income.
A homeowner seeks to return their home to the people whose land they’re on, in support of decolonization and Indigenous resurgence. A Community Land Trust is created and controlled by a local Indigenous nation, assumes ownership over the house, and provides housing to the people of that nation.
An aging farmer works with a group of young farmers to transition the property to a land trust that provides stable housing and land access to farmers who are committed to sustainable agriculture.
A homeowner transitions their home to a land trust that supports a specific community or identity group they’re tied to, such as BIPOC folks or Syrian refugees.
What is a Community Land Trust?
Simply put, a CLT is just a non-profit society with a mandate to own / acquire land for the purpose of affordable housing. Beyond that, there is a lot of variation. Some CLTs develop housing, others are non-profit rental housing providers, others provide limited-equity housing through leases, and some provide affordable housing indirectly by leasing the land to a cooperative or non-profit housing provider.
Who will run the Community Land Trust?
There are some existing Land Trusts that homeowners and renters can explore connecting with, but we envision a decentralized network of land trusts that are controlled locally, by the communities in which houses are based. We’re working and living on the West Coast of BC, so that’s where our focus is, but if you’re living elsewhere and you’re interested in this model, please reach out to us. We’re open to sharing all the resources we have, as long as you commit to sharing what you come up with too, so that this model can be tried in as many places as possible.
How long does this process take?
We don’t know yet, but we anticipate it would take 2-5 years depending on the situation, from the first conversation to new residents moving into their home. We hope to pilot this model with a few houses over the next year or two, and this will give us more insight into the transition process, how long it takes, and all the steps involved.
How much does it cost?
We are currently developing financial assessment tools that will help us give more precise estimates of the cost of each transaction. Similar to the private sale of a home, we’ll need help from lawyers, accountants, and other professionals to support these transactions. We hope to find professionals who are willing to contribute some of their time pro bono or at discounted rates, which will help lower costs. If you’re a lawyer, realtor, accountant, or someone with other relevant skills, and you’d like to contribute to this project, please get in touch.
What does ‘affordable’ housing mean?
The word ‘affordable’ housing gets tossed around a lot. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation defines ‘affordable’ rent as 30% of a household’s income before tax… but they don’t say which households they’re talking about. Definitions of affordability can get a bit ridiculous. Here’s some quick math:
In 2018, the City of Vancouver defined a 2-br house as ‘affordable’ if it was less than $2756/mo in West Van. That wouldn’t count as meaningful ‘affordable housing’ to most of us.
For instance, a couple working full-time at minimum wage ($14.60 at this writing) would be spending 67% of their income on rent.
To spend the recommended 30% of their income on that 2-bedroom, they’d need to work 72 hours per week (basically two full-time jobs each).
These definitions apply to “market rental housing,” which, from our perspective, is basically a dismal cycle of tax breaks, incentives, and profits for developers and landlords. One thing that makes the SHS model different is that no one is profiting from housing, so that money can be used to deepen affordability.
The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation conceptualizes affordable housing is as a ‘continuum’:
In the context of this continuum, we envision this model supporting “affordable rental housing” and “affordable homeownership” (in the form of limited-equity leases). Any house that undergoes this transition will be permanently removed from the market (because it’s owned by a non-profit) and insulated from housing booms, so rents and leases will always be significantly lower than market rental housing, becoming more affordable over time.
We know that $2700 for two bedrooms is not affordable for the communities we’re part of, but a single definition of ‘affordable’ might not be very useful. What counts as ‘affordable’ will depend on the specific situation, house, background, community, values, priorities, habits, and supports available to residents. Rather than coming up with a universal definition of affordable, we hope to support conversations among homeowners and residents about what it takes to live a stable, thriving life. This means homeowners assessing what they need in terms of monthly payments, and prospective residents assessing what they can afford to pay.
How can I be involved?
We hope that this model can be used in a decentralized way by people trying it out where they live. While the model ultimately depends on homeowners being willing to transition their homes to affordable housing, anyone can support this model in a number of ways.
Who is Solidarity Housing?
SHS is a project of Arts in Action Society in Vancouver, BC. While we have some background in non-profits and land trusts, none of us are experts in real estate or non-profit housing; we are artists, writers, gardeners, farmers, graphic designers, and filmmakers. This project was initiated by carla bergman and Nick Montgomery because the housing crisis was/is affecting us and those we love, and because we thought this model had a lot of potential, but we didn’t see anyone else doing it. Read more about who we are in our bios.
How is the Solidarity Housing Funded?
We’ve received some seed funding from Vancity, Vancouver Foundation, the City of Vancouver, and the Real Estate Foundation of BC. That funding enabled us to conduct research, create a website and promotional materials, design a homeowner survey, and hire a consultant to help us with the technical details of the transaction model and feasibility assessment. Currently we have no permanent staff and no core funding. Sometimes we get paid for the work we do for the project; sometimes we volunteer our time. We hope to find further funding for the next stage of this project, which includes public outreach, info sessions, and pilot projects with interested homeowners. We’ll also need funding for consulting, legal, and accounting fees for the pilot project. We hope to find professionals who are willing to contribute some of their time pro bono or at discounted rates, which will help lower costs. If you’re a lawyer, realtor, accountant, or someone with other relevant skills, and you’d like to contribute to this project, please get in touch.
In the long term, we hope to find sustainable sources of funding to support Solidarity Housing to hire at least one permanent staff person who could be a resource for homeowners, land trusts, and others seeking to explore the model.
What sorts of homeowners might be interested in this model?
Broadly speaking, we envision three main situations in which this model could work for homeowners:
A homeowner wishes to downsize to a smaller living space, and monthly payments from the land trust provide a sustainable income to the homeowner.
A homeowner wishes to remain in their home while sharing it with others. They can remain in a suite of their home, while others move into another portion. The homeowner could receive free rent in perpetuity, in addition to monthly payments.
A landlord wishes to transition away from the responsibilities of renting their home. The land trust rents it to others on an affordable basis, and the former homeowner receives a monthly income without having to manage the property.
It’s important to note that in each of these scenarios, there are for-profit versions that will provide better returns for homeowners. A homeowner could sell, rent, reverse-mortgage, or contract a property management firm to manage renters. They could share their home with others without giving up ownership, or engage in a rent-to-own arrangement with tenants. What makes this model different--and means it won’t be right for everyone--is that the house is removed from the private market and turned into permanently affordable housing, so that it will never be sold or used to make a profit.
What are the benefits to homeowners?
While a private sale or rental will always provide greater individual economic benefits to homeowners, this model provides other benefits that the private market can’t. In transitioning their home to provide permanently-affordable housing, homeowners:
Mitigate displacement and support new residents to put down roots and contribute to their neighbourhoods in ways that become possible when they can make plans 5, 10, or 20 years into the future.
Leave a legacy and offer an example to others. Each homeowner who participates in this model makes it more likely that other homeowners would consider it as a possibility.
Receive a stable, dependable income without the hassle of property taxes, repairs, managing tenants, and other obligations associated with property ownership.
May create an agreement to continue living in their home while others move into another suite or unit of the house. Elders in our society are increasingly isolated and segregated, and we are excited about the potential for intergenerational relationships of mutual support here.
May transfer the monthly payment arrangement with the CLT to another individual (i.e. to their heirs if they pass away) or they can stipulate that outstanding payments be forgiven upon their death, which will further deepen the affordability of their home.
Do I need to have my mortgage paid off to transition my home?
Not necessarily. In partnership with a credit union, it may be possible for the CLT to assume the mortgage debt.
Who will guarantee I get paid?
The CLT (the non-profit owner of the property) and its community partners are ultimately charged with ensuring regular monthly payments to the homeowner. The specific contractual arrangements for different properties may vary depending on context, such as monthly payment amounts, property value, partnerships with credit unions, and other partners involved. Before any transition is made, the financial feasibility would be assessed to ensure that the CLT could reliably make monthly payments to the homeowner, based on revenues from residents and other sources. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, it is possible that the CLT, as the mortgage-holder, could be unable to make payments and end up in default. In this case, efforts would be made to find a community partner who could take over the mortgage and monthly payments and continue to provide affordable housing. If this proves impossible, the CLT could be forced to sell the house and repay the homeowner in accordance with their agreement.
Will the monthly payments be equal to the market value of my home?
Probably not. In most cases, homeowners engaging in this transition would do so knowing that they are subsidizing permanently affordable housing by giving up part of the value of their home. That means the revenue they receive in monthly payments will never be as much as they could get from renting or selling their home privately.
That said, depending on the specific region and the property, it’s possible that the homeowner could receive monthly payments comparable to what they’d receive if they sold their house at market rate and financed this through a vendor take-back mortgage. However, in regions like Vancouver and the Capital Regional District, property values are so high that the monthly payments of a VTB mortgage would be well above market rent for the house, let alone affordable rent.
What if I want to stay in my house?
If you want to stay in your home and you’re willing to share some of it with others, this model could help facilitate this. The house could be divided (and renovated, if necessary) into several suites, so that you remain in one suite while new residents move into others. Ownership of the home would transition to a non-profit, and you’d retain the right to remain in your suite for as long as you wish.
How will this support my community?
This housing transition will benefit your community in a number of ways. Numerous studies (1), (2), (3), (4) have emphasized the benefits of stable, affordable housing, including health benefits, neighbourhood diversity, and increased safety. When folks have access to stable housing, they can spend more time with their families and loved ones, contribute more to local projects and causes, and put down (or deepen) their roots in community.
Renters and Residents
What are the benefits to renters?
If you’re a renter in a precarious housing situation, we don’t need to tell you why a stable, affordable home is something you might want. We started this project because of our own experience with housing precarity, renoviction, and unaffordable rent.
We’d emphasize the benefits from our own experiences and our conversations: the more stable we feel in our housing situations, the more we’re able to undertake long-term projects in our neighbourhoods and communities. Similarly, when we engaged with artists throughout Vancouver and asked them what would support emerging artists in the city, affordable housing was the number one priority for most artists, well before more galleries or better funding or more studio space.
Can I apply to live in one of these houses?
We're not currently taking applications from prospective residents. We know there is an urgent need for this model (and all kinds of other affordable housing), and right now working within our existing networks to identify prospective residents. This model won’t be able to meet the housing needs of the thousands of people who are desperately looking for better housing, but we hope the decentralized nature of this model can enable renters to try this model in their own communities.