East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative

Interview with Noni Session, Executive Director, and Annie McShiras, Investment & Fundraising Director for the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative

I first read about East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative in a blog by Nwamaka Agbo. Nwamaka worked to support EBPREC in their early organizing and planning work when she was a Just Economy Fellow (2017-18). Then I discovered Annie McShiras, another Just Economy Fellow (2019-2020),  I met through our alumni network was working with Noni Session, their Executive Director. Noni’s commitment to building community-controlled resources in the neighborhood in which she grew up reflects the kind of place-based integrated capital investing knowledge and relationships that I know build a strong fund.

Jen: How did you get involved with the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative?

Noni: I am a trained cultural anthropologist and third generation Oaklander. When I returned from graduate school in 2011, I saw huge changes in our city. I didn’t understand why people weren’t helping each other and ended up running a grassroots campaign to be elected to the Oakland City Council. After the campaign, I got involved in Mandela Grocery Coop. I realized that there was a huge group of people who were willing to help to address the extractive financial system. I came to volunteer for the EB PREC for 20 hours a week. I was named Executive Director 6 months later.

Coop 789 is a group of queer, indigenous, people of color, and allies who, with EB PREC’s help, organized to buy and co-steward their building in North Oakland. Photo Credit: Laurel Chen.

Jen: How are your investment funds catalytic in a way that is different from other funds?

Noni: We are a democratically run, People of Color led, and multi-stakeholder cooperative with 388 member-owners. EB PREC is transforming an unjust finance and housing system to build collective ownership and wealth among historically disenfranchised Black, Indigenous and people of color communities. EB PREC has pioneered a unique non-extractive, multi-stakeholder cooperative real estate model that creates pathways for everyday people to organize, finance, acquire and co-steward land and housing on their own terms.

Jen: How do you describe the kind of non-financial returns the fund offers?

Noni: We recognize that one of the failures of community development and neighborhood improvement work is the separation of BIPOC communities from critical conversations, networks and resources necessary for ownership and stewardship of resources. There is a lack of resources, technical skills and long-term support for these communities.

Jen: Can you describe how you use integrated capital to do your work?

Noni: In order to align the necessary resources for this work, it calls for a skills transfer. People need more than just land and housing; they need skills to build wealth. Lining up financial resources is more than lining up loans, because the economic system is a priori extractive from our communities. We have to transform our relationships with foundations and investors so that communities are supported and integrated in all stages of their own sovereign economic and cultural development.

Our approach to the work is integrated, and thus we require an integrated capital stack in order to do this work for community benefit.

The Esther’s Orbit Room Cultural Revival Project is a multi-unit, mixed-use property EB PREC is in contract to purchase by fall of 2021. Photo Credit: Jane Tyska for the East Bay Times.

Since incorporating as a California Cooperative Corporation in 2017, we have innovated a blended approach to restoring access to wealth and collective resources by galvanizing non-extractive capital for our projects, building power and viable land acquisition plans with our frontline community members, collectively purchasing land & housing through our multi-stakeholder cooperative model, and co-stewarding and cooperatively governing acquisitions in partnership with our Resident Owners. Our innovative organizing and community reinvestment model—the transfer of assets, technical assistance, non-extractive capital, and governance support to the most underserved members of our community—functions as a holistic reparative approach to the historical loss of wealth and ongoing deprivation of capital & cultural space in Black legacy communities.

Jen: What is transformational about your real estate development investments?

Noni/Annie: Our model centers deep community engagement in the real estate and business development process, grounding solutions locally, repairing the underlying problem of ownership and community building. EB PREC moves this vision forward in partnership with our broad spectrum of stakeholders.

In the example of our upcoming mixed-use acquisition, the Esther’s Orbit Room Cultural Revival Project, we are developing a business model that is fundamentally intertwined with community engagement and activation. We are a unique real estate developer in that we integrate deep community engagement fully into the process of property acquisition, development, and business feasibility. By organizing the community around their own interests in activating land & real estate, we bring forward the project’s customer base: those rooted West Oakland and excited to patronize a cultural asset of their own. We recognize that in order to be financially sustainable, our community is indispensable, and so our business model prioritizes community design, activation and long-term control.

Our unique approach roots a city in its own economic strength rather than looking to the whims of external economic actors.

Jen: How do you address racial justice, income inequality, and/or gender justice through your products and services?

Noni: With an eye toward long term change, EB PREC is transforming an unjust & racist finance and housing system to restore collective wealth to historically disenfranchised communities. Our model of real estate development is grassroots-led, rather than top-down. We believe that centering people of color in this way is essential to counterbalance and decenter White dominant culture in the realms of landownership and development. We also recognize that innovation in the field of real estate is a critical frontier for Black Liberation through the restoration of our collective wealth and economic power. In order to reclaim and restore our stolen generational wealth and power, we must reclaim, restore and retain ownership of the lands and houses where we live and work.

We focus our work through a lens of Restorative Economics (credit to Nwamaka Agbo). We seek to make whole those most impacted by slavery, redlining, eminent domain and municipal disinvestment in order to build collective wealth among BIPOC communities who have been decimated by these practices.

We ask: “What would it look like if the economy loved Black people?” (Jessica Norwood)

We are reimagining capital and property as tools that can heal, repair and connect. Together we can rewrite the economic rules to favor racial justice:

  • Our community-centered real estate and Corridor development work incorporates a deep racial equity analysis.
  • We work together as peers to heal our historical racial wounds, with an openness to transferring resources and power.
  • We Liberate and Organize capital & resources to reinvest in our disinvested communities.
  • We build financial power through collective land stewardship, equity building, and the transfer of technical skills and information access in finance, real estate, & law.
  • We facilitate networks of philanthropy, government funding, and impact investing to support cooperative ecosystems. By educating resourced stakeholders on the openings and pathways to invest in cooperatives, we organize and redistribute capital flows.
  • We catalyze BIPOC communities to reimagine future possibilities for land & housing.
  • We democratize economic development by building our community’s capacity, voice, power and skills to drive development in their own neighborhoods.

Jen: What does a foundation or investor need to understand in order to invest in EB PREC? ?

Noni/Annie: To successfully intervene in and transform a racist housing system that is pushing our communities out, we are seeking partners with vision: those who support the restoration of a resource base that will lead to a vibrant future for BIPOC communities!

We have ambitious goals: We aim to build our Fund capacity for a $50 Million raise over three years. At the end of 2020, we launched Oakland’s first Cooperative Land and Housing Fund, after receiving qualification from the SEC to sell Regulation A+ DPO investment shares. Our 2021 capital campaign, centered on Esther’s Orbit Room, will fund the property rehabilitation and seed other projects that grow out of this enterprise to expand our portfolio.

We are currently raising funds for three streams of capital that are fundamental to our success, and would welcome your support. Please be in touch with us to learn more: noni@ebprec.org; annie@ebprec.org

EB PREC’s Prince Street residence, in Berkeley CA, houses Black artists/activists. Photo Credit: EB PREC.

Jen: What do you tell people who think your fund is risky?

Noni: There has to be a reimagining of the engagement with communities. In finance, we maintain the same hierarchical ideas. We predefine the problem instead of understanding the problem from the perspective from the communities’ own perspective. At EB PREC, we instead organize from those resources already located within the community. Each project is tailored to the needs of the community. Networks, internal organizational skills, governance work, whatever they need. Our technical assistance is relational assistance, resilience assistance. We refuse traditional approaches to community development that are hierarchical and don’t serve our communities.

Ultimately, community members are the best experts at determining their own future, and our radically democratic approach with deep community control is what ensures our accountability and success, and de-risks our Fund.


East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative

Investment Thesis/What is your rationale for your approach to investing? East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative (EB PREC) is a community-centered development coop. We are  democratically run and led by People of Color. We remove land and housing from the speculative market to create permanently affordable, community-controlled land, housing, and real estate.

Geography: Oakland and East Bay

Year Founded: 2015

Number of Investments: 2

Funds Raised: $718,535 through our investor owner equity raise.


What’s on Noni’s Mind?

Book: 100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez. Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison.

Song: Lianne Lahavas Midnight

Podcast/Film: Snap Judgement (podcast). Brazil, Terry Gillam (film).