Our Stories

Structuring an Innovative Housing Co-op for Long-term Ownership and Affordability


The Urban Soil/Tierra Urbana (USTU) Housing Co-op is named after the idea that building soil is one of the most important tasks in manifesting a sustainable lifestyle and that soil can be built in all sorts of environments including cities. The housing co-op is a nonprofit organization, founded in 2010 by members of the Los Angeles Eco-Village (LAEV) Intentional Community with the help of CRSP.

Los Angeles’ affordable housing crisis prevents too many vulnerable Angelenos from meeting their basic needs. Therefore, the co-op’s mission is to “provide permanently affordable housing to very low to moderate income households that sustains a diverse community whose members join together to publicly demonstrate higher quality living patterns while minimizing negative impacts.”

In 2008, Public Counsel’s Community Development Project (“CDP”) connected this group of elderly residents to real estate associate Al Valencia. Al, along with Melody Chen, Eric Remensperger, and Lois Thompson of Proskauer's Los Angeles office, took on the daunting challenge of how to achieve long term housing stability for the residents and over the years they accomplished something that advocates across California have long sought to do - developing a legal structure for long term ownership of their properties through tenant ownership of the building and nonprofit ownership of the land. The legal team helped the tenants of this building set up an innovative cooperative structure to achieve equity ownership; acquire the buildings; and work out terms for long-term affordability so that they wouldn’t have to worry about having to leave their homes or housing costs being raised in the future. With this critical free legal assistance, the clients were able to realize their primary goals of having an ownership stake in the property and maintaining control over their destinies. This project took over 6 years and hundreds of dedicated attorney hours to realize the ultimate structure that is in place today.

Lara Morrison, one of the co-op’s board members, said the Tierra Urbana Real Estate Team was “very conscientious of the research and very helpful. They really tried to understand the nuances of our situation” and were “helpful with what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Al, now at Sklar Kirsh LLP, describes his gratitude for this opportunity by stating “it really is an honor in itself to have been able to do meaningful work with Public Counsel on this and other worthwhile endeavors. I salute Public Counsel in its continuing efforts to facilitate pro bono opportunities.”

CDP would like to thank Al, Melody, Eric, and Lois of the Tierra Urbana Real Estate Team for their efforts in completing a complex real estate transaction resulting in over 45 units of permanently affordable housing for elderly residents in Los Angeles.

Click here to learn more about the Tierra Urbana Housing Co-op.