Carving Out the Commons

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* Book: Amanda Huron. Carving Out the Commons.

URL = https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/carving-out-the-commons

Review

BY ALEXIS ZANGHI:

"Limited-Equity Cooperatives (LECs): Amanda Huron’s new book, Carving Out the Commons, focuses on ten LECs formed during the first wave of gentrification in Washington, D.C., and considers their history and future as urban commons.

A geographer and urban planner who teaches social sciences at the University of the District of Columbia, Huron demonstrates how tenants resisted eviction and built their political power to reclaim housing from capitalists. In doing so, she grounds the urban commons in the everyday struggles of working people.

...

Limited equity cooperatives are (mostly) decommodified housing that shelter members from at least some of the demands of capitalism. Despite the fact that shares are still bought and sold, Huron considers them commons. First, they are an example of autonomous and community-driven spaces. Equally important, their restricted resale value drastically limits the possibility of turning a profit on a basic need and essential community resource, while removing units from the speculative housing market.

Some criticize limited-equity cooperatives because they do not allow shareholders to build equity in the same way a mortgage would. But home ownership (by way of debt peonage) as the primary path to wealth accumulation is both an old assumption that’s faced increased scrutiny and one that continues to exclude people of color.

The LECs profiled in Carving Out the Commons offer shareholders stable, below-market rate housing — and the opportunity to save money that would have otherwise lined a landlord’s pocket. Some of the people Huron interviews invested these savings; some spent more money on their children or on going back to school themselves.

Overall, residents of limited-equity cooperatives report less stress and a freedom from waged labor that renters (and increasingly overleveraged homeowners) do not. They feel like owners of their homes, able to set curfews for noise and fix up their apartments as they choose. They enjoy the benefits of reduced housing costs and security promised by individual homeownership — an opportunity that they might not otherwise have been able to access by traditional means.

Residents in Carving Out the Commons have limited access to capital and credit. Before incorporating as limited-equity cooperatives, they were facing mass evictions and displacement. By reclaiming their homes from the housing market, these tenants were not doing so out of any idealistic impulse but out of necessity in a time of crisis. As Huron writes, commoning is “a rational choice often made by people with a relatively narrow range of choices: people without access to capital, for whom capitalism is not working” — often because they have been systemically and strategically excluded from it.

Working people create urban commons to meet basic needs: it is a practice that seeks solutions. While Huron acknowledges that state power historically serves capitalists’ interests, the material conditions for reclamation are made possible “under the aegis of the state”:" (https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/03/carving-out-the-commons-review-cooperatives)