Foundation Funding to Make Home Ownership Accessible and Achievable

With a recent planning grant from the GoWest Foundation, Canopy Credit Union is now better prepared to offer its community access to innovative and affordable housing.

“Spokane is an attractive and growing community,” says Canopy’s President and CEO Charlotte Nemec. “But the cost of housing is out of reach for a lot of people.  There’s limited inventory and decreased affordability.  We wanted to explore new options for affordable home ownership.  The GoWest Foundation provided the funding necessary for us to find a similarly committed and curious partner and develop the idea for a new option.”

In 2020, Canopy CU received a $17,000 Foundation planning grant that allowed the Spokane-based credit union to partner with Community Frameworks, a non-profit with expertise in developing affordable housing.  The partners used the funding to conduct focus groups and other research to better understand the housing preferences of individuals earning between 30% and 80% of median household income, including the neighborhood where Canopy’s main branch is located.

They were especially interested in finding out whether Cooperative Housing, a shared equity model of home ownership, would be attractive to the community as a way of converting renters to homeowners.

Typically, in a Cooperative Housing complex, residents own a portion of the building (based on the size of their residence) versus their own individuals’ units (as in a condo complex).  Researchers explained that in a housing cooperative, “people come together on a democratic basis to own or control the housing in which they live Your Overall costs are more affordable because the ongoing common expenses such as maintenance and building repairs are shared.  There is not an outside owner, so ongoing costs will stay fairly consistent.”

The feedback from research participants was enlightening and encouraging:

  • “I think it sounds great if you can get a good group of people together. It would take a lot of the burden of the unknown out of home ownership. It’s scary to think of the things that could go wrong or need repair. Having the security of knowing that any expenses come from a ‘pool’ of funds would be very reassuring.”
  • “I do like the concept that there is not an outside owner. That would make this idea possible.”
  • “Personally, I’m all aboard. I am tired of watching my rent climb exponentially. I would love to use this as a step ladder to home ownership. It would freeze increases and allow me to save up a down payment.”

However, Canopy learned in the research, others were not ready to accept the idea easily.  Some said there just isn’t enough private space.  Some were suspicious that it sounds more like a commune.  “Older men and those who may be currently renting but have had homeownership experience before, regardless of their income and ability to get financed, appear to be very hostile towards the product,” concluded researchers. “They have a hard time finding value in the cooperative ownership model and overanalyzed the product to a point of distrusting it completely.”

“It was very interesting to hear how people perceive the idea and what we will have to do in order to best educate the community about this option,” says Nemec.  Education and marketing will be the key to community engagement.

The most important findings from the research will most certainly guide Canopy’s next steps:

  • A conservative estimate of market potential would be for 600-1500 units to be served through an attractive Cooperative Housing product in the Spokane market.
  • Many renters have a desire to own, and the idea of this kind of affordable home ownership is enticing, but potential buyers must be educated about how they build equity through ownership and how it is transferred through sales.
  • The ideal customer is someone who has rented for a long time and has attempted to buy but has been blocked by rising rents, inability to save, credit history issues, etc. This would include young families, and older adults who are single and new to fixed income lifestyles.

“Finding land in order to move forward with a project like this is challenging,” says Nemec.  Certainly, the funding provided by the Foundation has positioned the credit union to better understand what’s needed to make the Cooperative Housing model a success and to help more people become homeowners.  “We are hoping that the land that is being set up may provide an opportunity for us to further explore the Cooperative Housing model.”

To learn more about applying for a GoWest Foundation grant, connect with the Foundation or reach out to Foundation Strategic Initiatives Manager Nayab Abbasi to learn more about partnering to strengthen credit union impact in communities.

Posted in All Articles, Community Impact, Foundation, Grants, Workforce Housing.