Kevin Walker: Making It Happen — Manufactured Housing Cooperatives and the Power of Collective Action

aerial view of housing in neighborhood

image / Brandon Jacoby on Unsplash

Abstract

Nationally, there are about 50,000 manufactured housing communities that provide some of the most deeply affordable homeownership opportunities available, especially in rural and suburban communities. In almost all of these communities, however, homeownership comes with a major catch. The underlying land beneath their homes is owned by a for-profit investor, who charges the residents lot rent. Increases in lot rent increase returns for the investor-owner while taking equity, housing stability, and even the opportunity for modest equity growth away from the residents. Across the United States, residents of almost 400 manufactured housing communities have worked successfully with a national network of nonprofit technical assistance organizations organized under a national initiative called ROC (Resident-Owned Community) USA to organize cooperatives and purchase their communities. Today, nearly 20,000 home sites in these communities are owned and controlled by the residents who live there. Where lot rent routinely increases annually in investor-owned communities by 3% to 4%, the resident-controlled cooperatives' monthly charges stabilize, averaging about 1%.

The cooperatives are governed democratically by members with the support of dedicated technical assistance staff. Residents learn how to develop capital and operating budgets, and set aside resources for capital improvement projects that they themselves choose. In many states, these cooperatives can now access low-interest financing from public sources to make improvements to their communities. In this presentation, Kevin Walker, who worked for 12 years at one of the affiliated ROC USA nonprofits, will describe the process that residents in ten such communities used to improve housing tenure and opportunities for 600 households in Minnesota and Wisconsin. He will outline the model for securing a project pipeline, organizing residents, successfully achieving transactions, and speak to the impact emerging in the Upper Midwest as the work continues.

This is a story about a unique and powerful model for transforming housing tenure so that it works by and for — rather than against — residents. It is about the potential of residents to take control, work together, and to fashion directly a better future for themselves and their families through cooperation. And, it is fundamentally an example of praxis — applying theory in practice to transform lives and communities, applying principles of community organizing, technical skill, and harnessing and nurturing nascent leadership so that entire communities can thrive.

Biography

Kevin Walker (M.R.P. '00) has been active in pioneering affordable housing and community development work in the Upper Midwest, primarily from the Twin Cities metro area for over 22 years.

Walker graduated with high honors and a B.A. in political science from Swarthmore College and earned a master's in regional planning from Cornell University in 2000. At graduation, he received two CRP faculty awards, the Thomas MacKesey Prize and the Peter B. Andrews Memorial Thesis Prize.

For most of his career, Walker has focused on using cooperative ownership to transform residents' relationships with their housing and energy and to create new landscapes of opportunity from the unique powers and possibilities unlocked by cooperation. He helped introduce senior housing cooperatives to new markets in the Midwest and led work on the first manufactured housing cooperatives in Minnesota and Wisconsin, culminating in 600 households moving out of a predatory form of housing tenure and replacing it with not-for-profit cooperatives that they own and control.

Walker has worked primarily in nonprofit organizations, had a brief stint at the City of Minneapolis, and in consulting for nonprofit, cooperative, and for-profit clients. He currently serves as Vice President of Housing Development at Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, where he supports the development of deeply affordable and supportive housing for residents from a wide array of backgrounds facing significant barriers to housing access and stability. Under his leadership, Beacon has doubled its rate of housing production, completing new construction, adaptive reuse, and renovation/expansion projects with over 500 units valued at close to $200 million in the current project pipeline.

Walker and his spouse, Rachel, live in Golden Valley, Minnesota, adjacent to Minneapolis. Their children, now 21 and 19, are underway on their college paths in Montreal and near Boston, Massachusetts. Kevin and Rachel enjoy long-distance running, biking, hiking, and as of late, mountain climbing, especially in the Pacific Cascades.

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