When Noni Session returned home to Oakland, California in 2011 from graduate studies in Narobi, she saw great disparities in her hometown. In Oakland in 2011, the Occupy movement had claimed the plaza in front of City Hall, tents were everywhere, and evictions were up 46% compared to the prior year.
“I visited over the years and saw a slight uptick in tents and homelessness. Those were very short visits, and then I finally came back home to live” said Session.
“I remember an incident where we were at brunch, a pretty nice brunch on patio, and a man, an old black man, was laying on the ground. He was quivering on the cold hard cement, and everybody just ate. I remember feeling really nauseous, and thinking that I really didn’t have the tools to help people that I was just an individual researcher that all of my expertise, lay in East Africa with international humanitarianism. But I promised myself, that if I ever had the opportunity to help with what was going on in this city that I would do it in righteousness, and with a whole heart and weirdly enough, probably within two years. I began to find myself in the position to transform things,” said Session.
It was the culmination of these experiences and her own housing insecurity that led her to the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative (EB PREC) a community-centered real estate developer that helps everyday people acquire land and housing. The POC-led team is dedicated to organizing Black, Indigenous and other People of Color to permanently remove property from the speculative housing market. Four years in, and they’ve already liberated $2.64 Million dollars worth of property from the speculative market, housing 12 individuals.
“When I returned home from graduate school, I had no job and no money. All I had was a 300 page draft of my dissertation, and my books,” remembers Session.
“I moved into my family home. We were blessed enough to still have possession of it, but even at that time we did not own our family home.”
Noni’s parents nearly lost possession of her family home, during the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008. An uncle purchased the property from Noni’s parents in order to keep it off the speculative real estate market; and in the Session family.
“It is actually the reason I was able to help launch the EB PREC project. At the time, I was working part-time as an assistant librarian. And so I had 20 hours a week to support a really intense project like this. I didn’t have to struggle to pay these exorbitant rents out here. If my childhood home were not available to me I couldn’t be giving away my time and vision for free, I would have had to sell it,” said Session.
“Now we’re back on our feet. And I recently closed escrow on my family home, on September 3 of 2020,” beams Session.
Her uncle sold the house back to her well below-market rate. Noni purchased the home, a two-story victorian duplex in West Oakland with two full floor flats and a small yard for $300,000. Similar properties in the area regularly sell for over $1 million dollars; even during the COVID-19 crisis. In many ways Noni’s experience inform the EB PREC model, which employs communal funds to acquire land and housing below the market value and make it available to resident owners to decide how it should be stewarded.
“My family home has been a pivotal resource, not only for my own inheritance. But honestly, I feel like for the inheritance that I’m transferring back out into my community,” notes Session.
Acknowledging that not everyone has family with access to resources like a home, Session believes you shouldn’t have to, in order to have opportunity.
“My parents’ original ability to buy this house was Aced and affirmative action, and civil rights. All these pots of funding that my mom was able to access in the 70s. So it’s almost a full circle resource that demonstrates when you make it possible for African-American families to have resources, those resources resonate in our communities for generations. Generations” reflects Noni.
Why Land & Housing?
Land is critical to EB PRECs mission to empower members of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color community. Land can be used for various purposes; like housing or growing food, or growing business. Ownership of the land is critically important because of the long history in the United States of racialized dispossession, redlining and other outcomes stemming rooted in the slavery-era mindset upon which many land-use policies are based.
EB PREC aims to reverse the negative impact by creating the conditions for people to thrive. In Oakland, CA nearly half of the population is rent burdened — meaning more than 30% of their household income goes toward housing costs — lower income households are disproportionately impacted by this reality. It is extremely difficult to thrive when your budget allows room to live to work; and not much else.
“I didn’t truly understand the burden of having an uninterested landlord until the burden was lifted when EB PREC helped us form Coop 789” says Tia Katrina Taruc-Myers, EB PREC resident owner.
“Now, my brain feels like it has so much more room to think about the future. For example, instead of constantly debating whether to choose between living with black mold or moving out of Oakland for a more affordable place, we get to debate about whether to have our own children or to adopt. These are conversations we weren’t even able to have before because of our precarious housing situation,” shares Taruc-Myers.
Tia knows about being liberated from rent burden. She formed organizing group; Coop 789 and approached EB PREC and the Northern California Community Land trust to purchase her apartment building in North Oakland when the landlord notified current residents, including Tia of his intent to list it for sale.
“We met with Noni, Tia and I drove to our landlords house in Gilroy, and just kind of like, pitched him the whole EB PREC thing and their mission, how it was so great that he would be helping to keep people in their houses and not have to be kicked out of the Bay area,” shares Crow Taruc-Myers, another resident owner.
To date, EB PREC has saved residents over $82,000 dollars in rent.
Free from rent burden the resident owners have retooled their time and attention to do some pretty amazing things that in turn benefit the larger community. In addition to being a resident owner, Tia Taruc-Myers is also Director of the Alipato Project; the first and only organization in California to represent survivors of violent domestic abusers in court.
The Alipato Project has represented and advised multiple survivors in the mediation and settlements of their civil suits. They authored the Domestic Violence Torts chapter in the American Bar Association’s The Impact of Domestic Violence on Your Legal Practice, 3rd Edition and the Closing Argument article in The Trial Lawyer and collaborate with the Alameda County Bar Association to host an MCLE (Mandatory Continuing Legal Education) course called Domestic Violence Torts 101.
“Possibilities are endless if we can continue removing rent burden,” said Session.
At just 4 years old in 2021, EB PREC has seeded two intentional communities and is in the process of creating the third. EB PREC’s next project, the Esther’s Orbit Room Cultural Revival Project, is their third acquisition, but first multi-use mixed development project. The project seeks to reactivate a long-neglected business corridor in the historically Black West Oakland neighborhood and house 8-10 new resident owners.
The organization will cooperatively fund the purchase and acquisition through its land and housing fund. The opportunity is open to residents of Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon and Pennsylvania. Head to the EB PREC website for more details about the Esther’s Orbit Room Cultural Revival Project.