Shared Equity Homeownership for Geeks

I was proofreading our second installment of The Answer earlier this week, which happens to be on whether shared-equity homeownership builds assets. (Sneak preview: It does! But we'll soon give it to you in a handy one-page infographic.)

Since The Answer is meant to be copied and shared, we licensed it under a Creative Commons license. Looking at the license button we put on the bottom of the page (an attribution, non-commercial, share-alike license, like the one pictured here), I realized that Creative Commons and shared-equity homeownership actually are structurally very similar.

They both take something that is really a bundle of rights that usually come as a package deal—homeownership on the one hand, copyright on the other—and disaggregate them.

Creative Commons lets you sort out and separately claim rights to attribution, remuneration, how the work is used, and if/how the work is adapted. In return for an assist to become an owner and ongoing support, shared equity homeownership separates out the right to sell a home for whatever the market will fetch from other standard rights of homeownership like security, control, decisionmaking power (and tax benefits).

They both do this because the current system of all or nothing in each case wasn't always working very well. 

Copyright vs public domain didn't meet the needs of creative producers who wanted to get credit for their work for example, and maybe not have other people making money off it without sharing, but who also wanted other artists to be free to adapt/sample from their work or nonprofits or individuals to be free to share it without each seeking permission. Creative Commons gives people a standardized way to be specific about which rights they reserve, while also giving their fans some respect and reasonable ability to use their works without fear of the copyright police.

In the realm of housing, shared-equity homeownership similarly steps into the space between the two poles of homeownership and rental to create a third option. It gives safe, sustainable access to many of the benefits of homeownership to those who can't quite afford the step into market-rate homeownership, but retains that investment and reserves that affordability for future owners by ruling out windfall profits for subsidized owners. (The owners do still earn quite a decent return however, and are less likely to lose those assets foreclosure.)

There are differences of course—there is not necessarily any public investment going into Creative Commons works, and the decision to disaggregate the rights to each work is purely an individual matter.

Nonetheless, they share enough common ground, that it may be worth keeping in mind for the next time you try explaining shared-equity homeownership to your programmer cousin. (Or Creative Commons to your boss at the community land trust.) And if you do, let me know how it goes.

Miriam Axel-Lute is CEO/editor-in-chief of Shelterforce. She lives in Albany, New York, and is a proud small-city aficionado.


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