Equity-Linked Affinity Network

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* Article: ÉLAN. Equity-Linked Affinity Network: Interpersonal Process, Financial Structures and Legal Designs for Landed, Spirited, Joyous Urban Community. A Allen Butcher.

URL = https://we.riseup.net/assets/4969/ELAN.pdf


"This paper is intended to support the founding and growth of intentional communities in which there is no commonly-owned property, meaning that member's housing payments go into equity accounts which they take with them when they leave. Such communities may be described as involving the sharing of privately-owned property, which for this author is also the definition for the term "collective community."

Although cohousing is discussed in the following article "Communitarianism in a Market Culture," the intent of this paper is to focus on forms of community that are less expensive than cohousing, and therefore accessible to more people. This would tend to emphasize collective households, yet the ideal and goal may be more toward the "urban cooperative block" or "urban ecovillage" as represented by the graphic on the cover of this publication.

Community projects involving the remodeling of several existing structures on one block would be similar to "retro-fit cohousing," yet if the properties involved in such a community are not contiguous but scattered around a city or town, or if such a community were to involve on-site businesses or a particular spiritual or cultural orientation (other than that of the dominant culture), the term "cohousing" would not be appropriate. Thus the need to create a new term for a different form of intentional community.

The term "èlan" works well for community as it suggests enthusiasm in pursuing a mission. The word is from the French for a lancer exhibiting esprit de corp. As the term refers to a militaristic brashness it is good to adapt it to the communitarian culture as that is one of the themes of this paper, adapting what originally supported the values of competition and possessiveness to the support of the communitarian values of sharing and cooperation. The first article in this paper addresses the transformation of aspects of the dominant culture into forms of communitarianism, specifically by utilizing the market system to support the creation of community.

Given that the market system has tended to destroy community, the reverse co-optation process of using market capitalism to create communitarianism essentially involves fighting fire with fire, turning the tables to use the force of market economics against itself. This could be said to utilize a form of "culture magic" in the deliberate effort to change both consciousness and culture. Introducing the basic elements of that process is the intent for this publication, presented in three primary sections offering models for interpersonal and group process, financial strategies and legal designs.

As an acronym, the name ÉLAN could be said to link the three important aspects of community; the social bonds or affinities that define a community, the wealth or equity owned by it or its members, especially with regard to land, and the system of governance that manages the group or network of groups.

The original concept for ÉLAN, and the term itself, was developed in 1995. It remained dormant until world events and contemporary American culture progressed along their respective historical cycles to where interest in communitarianism showed signs of beginning to build toward a new wave of movement activity. Such waves have occured many times in the past, in America and Europe in particular, such as during the 1960s and '70s, and it was only a matter of time until another would begin to build. The beginning of the 21st Century is very similar in many ways to the mid '60s. Also, with the many successful communitarian movements and traditions that have survived from earlier waves, there are now various models available for working to build the next wave of communitarianism. This paper draws from those to present some of the specific tools most useful for urban intentional community, with many more models and tools available among various other sources.


Financial Structures for Community

A. Allen Butcher:

"Common forms of equity financing for both personal housing and for investment properties can be adapted for the creation of an intentional community. Simply take the basic strategy that people use to build their personal real estate empires and instead modify it for use in building community.

People use the accumulated equity in one property as down payment to buy another, use equity from those two to buy a third, and so on, but the problem is that one would have to become a landlord, renting out those properties not used for personal living space (including vacation homes). However, this could be done as a community. If a couple people in a given town owned homes with accumulated equity, they could join that equity and buy another property, and someone in their community network who didn't own a house could move in as one of several joint owners.

Instead of being a renter they would be a co-owner, and their housing cost would go into an equity account in the community rather than paying rent. They could get their share of this equity if they left the community.

Obviously, the group would have to write community agreements on shared real estate equity as a means of building urban community. Signed community membership agreements that are fair and reasonable are upheld by courts."

More at: Equity Sharing



A. Allen Butcher:

"For the ÉLAN community a primary value is sharing land ownership and real estate equity. This sharing of land value is a way to use the dominant culture's economic system to build the parallel culture. Creating a community of affinity groups sharing real estate equity affirms the values of social and of environmental responsibility.

Culturally engineering an intentional community, or "intentioneering" is the deliberate effort to live by the values of our choice, rather than the values of the dominant culture.

The ÉLAN community or "equity-linked affinity networks" uses real estate equity as a community asset to be shared and stewarded for the good of the affinity group. And if extended among several affinity groups, this equity is shared for the good of an entire ÉLAN community.

In the ÉLAN proposal, each person's housing payments go into equity accounts, moving people away from paying rent as quickly as possible. When people leave the ÉLAN community they may have their full equity account (or limited-equity in some cases) paid to them according to a formula and schedule agreed upon when the member joined. This encourages each resident of an ÉLAN property to care for it as they would their own.

The practice of shared real estate equity in the ÉLAN community uses the dominant economic system's dynamics in a way that creates and nurtures community, rather than breaking down our connections with one another and "atomizing" society.

The accumulation of appreciated value of ÉLAN properties or real estate is available for the community to use for acquiring additional properties, permitting more ÉLAN community members to move from paying rent to paying into equity accounts. All members have a role in deciding how the aggregate equity accounts are invested for the good of the affinity group or community. The group can also decide whether or when a member of an ÉLAN affinity group can make a withdrawl (cash out) from their account for private purposes. When members leave they may take their equity out of the ÉLAN affinity group or community, or offer it as a loan. Using real estate equity to build community through the ÉLAN proposal is just one way to turn the dominant economic system of possessiveness and competition into a parallel culture economic system of sharing and cooperation."

Communitarianism in a Market Culture

A. Allen Butcher:

"Intentional community itself will likely always be a parallel society, moving through time apace with the dominant culture, the two influencing each other in sometimes subtle, sometimes fundamentally challenging ways. Both the dominant and the parallel cultures have always adapted or co-opted what each found to be of value in the other, and ignored or discarded what it disliked or did not understand. The opportunity in this relationship for the communities movement is to develop a concerted effort to nurture that dynamic for the benefit of all.

As intentional communities can be seen to be research and development centers for society, the movement challenges the dominant culture to acknowledge the innovations found in community as opportunities for positive cultural change. Intentional community in general exists as a response to the perceived problems or inadequacies of the dominant culture, and with that the movement can generate some excitement around the idea of communitarian lifestyles as activist vocations!

Communitarian values, increasingly discussed by theorists on all points of the political spectrum, stress the benefits to all when individuals acknowledge responsibility to a social group larger than the immediate family. Some of the perspectives on this include the work of M. Scott Peck (see: The Road Less Traveled, 1978 and A Different Drum, 1987), and of The Communitarian Network (see: Amitai Etzioni, The Spirit of Community: The Reinvention of American Society, Touchstone, 1993).

As fifty years of the post-war housing industry has shown, communitarian values are luxuries that we do not absolutely need if all that we are trying to do is acquire housing. Today, however, the challenge is to build a social fabric that provides, in addition to mere shelter, a culture that engenders in the individual an awareness of and appreciation for others, and for the environment that we all share.

Communitarian values include a safe and mutually beneficial environment for children and seniors, community food service and childcare, landscaping for common areas, building and auto maintenance and various collective services involving people working together for mutual advantage and greater efficiency. Other communitarian values may include neighborhood forums to resolve disputes or address challenges from both within and outside of the community, alternative dispute resolution, neighborhood-based primary health care services, and architectural and site designs that facilitate interactions among neighbors, the development of friendships, and resulting "random kindness and senseless acts of beauty."

  • Trust, Social, Spiritual and Environmentally Responsible Luxuries

There is quite a list of luxuries inherent in community. Consider the priceless value of the peace of mind that comes with knowing on a first name basis everyone in your neighborhood, because you talk and work with them regularly as a matter of course in day-to-day living. This we might call a "trust luxury." The informal ambience of the common facilities such as for food service, child care, workshops and agriculture we might call a "social luxury."

Consider the luxury of inter-generational community, in which both young and old are encouraged to care for the other. More than mere luxury, compared to the usual pattern of age segregation in America, this is cultural elegance. Consider too how much more completely than living separately does the fellowship of community come to the spiritual ideals of brotherhood and sisterhood, of living by the Golden Rule, or of practicing a love-thy-neighbor ethic. The opportunity of conforming our lifestyle to our spiritual ideals can be cast as a "spiritual luxury" that not many outside of community enjoy. This is in addition to the obvious potential for quantifying how much more ecologically responsible than tract-house-living community can be; perhaps this one we would call an "environmentally responsible luxury."

An additional luxury is how people living in community have a kinship with people in other communities around the country. The networking carried on among communities builds relationships that provide friends for us to visit while on vacation, even potentially around the world. Call this one a "holiday luxury." The point to be stressed is that community, and communitarian values, are luxuries that money alone cannot buy; they are priceless commodities that we should be careful not to undervalue.

Promoting the communitarian values experienced in intentional community is an opportunity for us to take advantage of the greatest set of new-found luxuries since the invention of indoor plumbing. In a sense, what we want to do is repeat history, at least that part of our history that led to the replication of housing design innovations across our country and increasingly around the world. Understanding how we arrived at our fabled American Dream of ubiquitous suburban monocultural design can help us to build a marketing plan for the diffusion of the innovations of communitarian design throughout the world." (https://we.riseup.net/assets/4969/ELAN.pdf)

Balancing Individualism and Communitarianism

A. Allen Butcher:

"Much is being said about values today by the media, by government, by religious groups, by social organizations and others. Conservative rhetoric challenges the teaching of "moral relativism" as a cause of social decay, while liberal litanies of cultural demise decry the individual's focus upon what Gregory Bateson termed the "skin encapsulated ego." Note that there is a level of agreement in the views espoused by these two cultural poles. Focusing upon this common concern about the excess of individualism in our society can provide a foundation for a consensus, upon which a program of advocacy for communitarian values may be built.

To successfully advance intentional community it is important to not permit the debate to be defined as the individual versus society, or vice versa, but rather to advance the anthropologist Paul Radin's preference that".. .the individual and the group .. . resist submergence of one by the other" (Arthur Morgan, Guidebook for Intentional Communities, Community Service, Inc., 1988).

A dynamic balance between individual and society is the goal, encouraged in the local community by its provision of a human scale, knowable society in which individuals have reflected to them, and recognize, the importance of their personal roles. The community is comprised of a range of different types of families, always changing with the lifecycles of birth, growth, new births and deaths.

Through all this the local community seeks to maintain itself as an ongoing entity, providing a fixed context against which to measure the changes in our personal microcosms, and of the ever quickening and often unsettling changes in the vast, global culture beyond the community. Through first identifying just what communitarian values are, then how they relate to the issues of the day, a basic strategy can be developed for creating a community-building industry. And we may not be as far from this ideal as it may seem." (https://we.riseup.net/assets/4969/ELAN.pdf)

Historical Resources

Historical Efforts in Developing Community as Industry

A. Allen Butcher:

"There have been many efforts in the past to develop community as industry, and we can see some of these in the "material feminist" proposals, projects and even patents presented in writings by Dolores Hayden (see: Redesigning the American Dream: Gender, Housing, and Family Life, and The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities), Hayden's work includes mentions of Ebenezer Howard's "Garden Cities," Frederick Law Olmsted's "Garden Suburbs," and Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Green Belt" housing and community development program, part of the 1930s New Deal initiatives.

See the following.

• Hayden: http://www.architecture.yale.edu/faculty/ professors/hayden/hayden.htm

• Howard and Olmsted: http://www.asu.edu/caed/ proceedings98/Garvin/garvin.html

• Roosevelt: http://www.mdmunicipal.org/cities/ index.cfm?townname=Greenbelt&page=home

We can certainly find both earlier and current examples of investor-backed communities, such as the "Phalanstery" designs created by 19th Century Associationists including Brook Farm in Massachusettes (see: http://www.age-of-thesage.org/transcendentalism/brook_farm.html), and as advocated by Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, for whom Greeley, Colorado was named. In these community designs non-resident investors contributed the capital while others built the developments as community residents. This strategy continues today in simple "equity-sharing" arrangements, such as is being used for financing small-scale collective households like the Walnut Street Cooperative in Eugene, Oregon (see: http://icetree.com/ walnut/revloan.html in the "Financial Structures for Community" section of this paper.). In these examples investors are paid interest on their loans made specifically for the goal of creating not just the economic value of housing or businesses, yet the larger sociological value of community."

For more, see: Community as Industry

More Information

  • ÉLAN—Fourth World Services, PO Box 1666, Denver, CO 80201-1666—A. Allen Butcher—[email protected]
  • For those interested in forms of intentional community which involve the accumulation of commonly-owned property, information can be found at:


  • More detail on the subjects introduced in this paper

are available as free PDF file downloads at the website: www.CultureMagic.org

  1. For process material see: "Light and Shadows."
  2. For incorporation: "Community, Inc."
  3. For land trusts: "Geonomics and Community Power."
  4. For nonmonetary economies: "Time-Based Economics."

See also:

  1. Community Economics
  2. Time-Based Economics