Now that our Bright Village project is getting close to incorporating (see last week's post "Grooving on the Fine Print"), and we are building a good core group of potential resident-developers,  we really need to start getting very serious about the big question of Where Do We Get the Money to Build the Project? While most of our community falls pretty squarely into a middle-to-lower-middle class strata, such that making monthly housing payments is not a matter of serious concern (although we DO have a few folks who are truly very-low-income, due to advanced age and/or a lifetime of low-paying community service work), we are faced with the classic challenge that anyone has who wants to become a home owner - where do we get the down payment and how much is it going to cost us in interest payments and how confident are we that we can commit to the long term financial stability of the project - because for this project default is not an option! 

To begin to understand what we are up against here we have begun to make the rounds of local banks to get a sense of what the rules of the road might be for funding a project like the Bright Village. After making calls to over a dozen banks, we have so far had appointments with three locals - Tri-Counties Bank, Savings Bank of Mendocino, and Umpqua Bank. The first two of these are fairly small, which we like - it will give us a chance to pitch the virtues of our project directly to senior bank officials whom we know will be sympathetic to our fire-recovery and local service objectives. These conversations have been VERY educational. The commercial loan officers we have met have been wonderful in walking us through the complexities of a commercial construction loan package - once again, we are learning a new language and we will probably talk with several other banks before we're done shopping.

For starters, we have learned that as a "multifamily"  development, and an unorthodox one at that, we are looking, right off the bat, at higher rates (5%+ vs. 3.2% for straight home mortgages) and higher down payments (25-30% vs. 20%, 10% or even less for home mortgages). This is on top of increased construction standards and regulations for multifamily buildings. In addition, because we are building from the ground up, and any initial loans will be to bankroll the construction process, the banks will want to have extremely tight oversight (which means additional expense) of the construction process. Lucky we are not looking to make a profit on this!  This really does push us to ask, can we possibly pull this off without bank financing?

It was clear to us from the beginning - in order to realize the kind of out-of-the-box village development we are envisioning for our  "Bright Village" project, we would need to find some very creative legal and financial help. Here's some of the issues we are facing:

  • We want to establish our village as a cooperative, at least in function, if not in legal form (which carries other restrictions).
  • We want to incorporate cutting edge permacultural design features that may lay outside the usual building code boundaries.
  • We want to make use of investment funding from a variety of sources including "angel" investors who may live outside California, or even outside the United States.
  • We may have to rely on bank financing at least for construction loans.
  • We want to provide for some very low income units.
  • We want to take advantage of potential government funding available for disaster recovery projects.
  • We want to maintain a high level of control over who lives in the village. Providing relief to survivors of the 2015 Valley Fire and  the creation of a sacred cooperative culture associated with service to the Mountain Of Attention retreat sanctuary are key raisons d'être for the project.

In addition to the critical ongoing mentoring by our patron saint Clark Bladsell at NorthBay Family Homes, our search quickly brought us into contact with the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) in Oakland.  We had been aware for a few years of the work of one of SELC's key founders, Janelle Orsi. She is a truly pioneering attorney who has literally written the book on all of the legal ins and outs of cooperative ventures of all kinds.  SELC holds free monthly "Legal Cafes" where you can sit down with an attorney familiar with the emerging legal landscape around what is coming to be known as the "sharing economy."

We LOVE these folks. Bright, happy, eager to get creative with the law. They were key players in lobbying effort in Sacramento pass AB 816, the "California Worker Cooperative Act" , AB 2561, the "Neighborhood Food Act," and AB 129, the "California Alternative Currencies Act," and they continue to be active partners in several other innovations in State law that will enable greater freedom to work creatively in the world of cooperation + tolerance = peace.

Cobb Area Council Committee meeting
Generally, the basic solutions to human needs do not (or should not) require resort to any of the resources of  an abstract State--but they should be managed locally, in one's own community, and in natural cooperation with other communities.  (In other words, first establish intimate, cooperative community and the planned solutions to fundamental needs--and, on that basis, see what kind of agreements are useful in cooperation with other communities and with large-scale cooperative agencies.) 
                                        -- the World-Friend Adi Da, Not-Two Is Peace 
The "People Part"  - Part 1
By New Year’s day 2016, the disaster-response "honeymoon period" was over. After the Valley Fire swept through our community earlier in September (the third most destructive wildfire in California to date), there had been a truly inspiring and impressive surge of immediate repair activity, particularly heartfelt in a county that has long ranked among the poorest in the state. Now we were settling into the long-game of recovery. County leadership was still holding regular task force meetings in public, and FEMA leadership was in the process of handing the long-term recovery effort over to a local "Long-Term Recovery Group" (LTRG).  Establishing the LRTG is part of FEMA's post-disaster process, but they are required to leave the group to organize itself as they wish.  

It was clear to us and others that the new LTRG was struggling to form and be effective. Long-standing turf issues among the various agencies and friction between strong individuals was creating a forceful counter-productive current. The situation combined with the equally long-standing absence of a county emergency plan or even the semblance of a disaster council at any local level, and made organizing the LRTG very challenging. The closest active VOAD ("Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster") affiliates were in Southern California, as those in Northern California were relatively inactive.  Consultation with the FEMA National and Regional Coordinators led nowhere as each worked as quickly as possible to get the situation off their hands and turn everything over to the FEMA Volunteer Agency Liaison (VAL) below them. No one was in charge, and no effective cooperative process was emerging. While individual nonprofit representatives spouted the ideals of democratic organization and transparency, they didn't seem to know how to talk to one another or hold one another accountable. The recovery chaos could not be blamed simply on lack of resources and, as disaster survivors ourselves relying on our savings, we couldn't afford the resources to sort things out at that level.