Step 2. Choose your model - land ownership

Updated: Dec 27, 2021

Want to buy land? Who's going to own it? Important stuff.

Maleny Eco Village 2021

So you are sick of talking about community, and you want to buy land. The land ownership model is the first question that needs answering.

If you want to start a community with 10 (nominally) houses with their own kitchens and laundries, expect to be in discussion with the council for 10 years. It would help to have a few million dollars in your pocket. And there is no guarantee of a favourable decision from council. But there are other ways...

Intentional community land ownership models normally fit into one of these four categories:

  1. Not owned

  2. Collectively stewarded

  3. Collectively owned

  4. Privately owned

The choice of land ownership model is based on many considerations including your group's ethical choices, the closeness of your intended community, term of tenure and your budget, etc.


1. Not owned.

Before you skip this section (because you grew up in a capitalist society in which land ownership is the god we worship), there is a question you first need ask. This will blow your mind:

"Do we even need to own any land?"

Well, of course! Why? Um. Security. Perhaps we have placed too much faith in land ownership as a pathway to security. Maybe if we dealt with our trauma, generational and otherwise of having to fight to 'earn' the right to eat and shelter ourselves, we would see life differently?

The truth is that you can find community without owning land.

Some solutions in this space:

  • Tiny House. Buy or build a tiny house, find a family willing to host you. This can be a fast-tracked path to living in a community that meets your needs.

  • Squat. I know some people who do this. Estimates are that 300,000 houses are left vacant each year in Australia. Around 150,000 houses are build each year, so that's 2 YEARS of supply! Possibly, once owners have got over the shock, and they see that you are mowing the lawn and looking after the place, they are quite thankful. Most often though, the owners are overseas and never visit.

  • Rent a room or a house. Well you probably know that. But have you tried creating community in a rental? I lived in a small intentional community in Brisbane - five of us renting as a small intentional community where we cooked, cleaned and shopped on a roster. Good times.

Let's test this out.

  • Ethical. 20/20

  • We score this high on ethics. You aren't contributing to a system which exploits people, animals and the environment. There are in-fact between 8-14 MILLION spare bedrooms in Australia any given night, yet we still bulldoze Koala habitat to build poor quality housing for humans.

  • Term of Tenure 5/20

  • True security is in community, not the land, however, while some share houses and squats have been known to go for over 20 years, they don't usually provide you with a long-term tenancy.

  • It's hard to build permanant structures (including gardens). Many people have built buildings on other people's land and a change of circumstance or attitude has seen them lose their investment in time, energy and money.

  • Closeness of intentional community 15/20

  • These mini-communities can be very good for your soul. It doesn't need to be big to be good, however, these arrangements can easily slide away from community over time.

  • Time Frame 20/20

  • The great thing about non-ownership models is that they can be done immediately - or close to. That's a good thing!

  • Budget:17/20

  • Non-ownership models do vary (renting can be expensive), but these models do tend to be cheap (shared renting is cheap). Squatting is free, and renting space for a tiny house is sometimes free, but usually around $100-$200 a week.

Total: 77%

Wrap-up: If you are sick of talking about community, then these can be fast, low-risk ways to make it happen. Learn, make mistakes and go for it!


2. Collectively Stewarded (The Eco Villages Australia Model)

First Nations didn't own the land that nourished them. They were stewards of it. Land ownership is a modern-day construct that contributes to inequity. But we live in Australia, so something or someone has to own the land. We chose a 'something' - a true non-profit to hold the land. Eco Villages Australia's model is firmly based in this paradigm. "Community Land Trusts" (CLT) are also based on this land ownership model.


A collectively stewarded land ownership model is a neat model that doesn't have the disadvantages of privately owned land, without the disadvantages of non-owned land models.


Let's test this out.

  • Ethical. 20/20

  • This model stacks up ethically no matter how you look at it. There are no landlords, no tenants. No one is making money from shelter - which surely is a basic human right. Groups in fact 'pay themselves', as we close the circle in economic terms.

  • Term of Tenure 20/20

  • Because the land is put away as a non-profit, members or directors cannot share in any profits. That means that practically this land will never be sold. We have effectively taken it off the speculative market so that it remains a place for affordable housing forever.

  • Permanent structures can be built. Most CLT's have private ownership of buildings, which can be bought and sold, but Eco Villages Australia have all the buildings 'owned' by the non-profit. So if someone wants to build a structure, we will pay for it and help build it!

  • Closeness of intentional community 20/20

  • This model is designed for interaction. Connection is inbuilt into the model.

  • Time Frame 18/20

  • You can get into community extremely quickly. A few friends get together, buy land with shared resources using Eco Villages Australia's model. We have sat in front of lawyers, tax accountants and consultants so that you don't have to.

  • Budget:10/20

  • This model requires some in your group to have some money to loan to the entity so that EVA can buy the land. Everyone pays rent while the money is being paid back. And when it's paid back, the residents get to choose what level of rent they pay!

Total: 88%

Wrap-up: "Well of course this scored highly - you wrote it". Well to be fair, we researched, talked, read and visited many communities before coming up with a model that satisfied us.


And we want to share this model with you. Sure, we will help you set up a non-profit, but it's a drag running a non-profit, and it costs $10-20k to set up properly. Better to have one non-profit supporting 100 villages than 100 non-profits. Let's do this together! Contact us.


3. Collectively Owned

Many Eco Villages and intentional communities collectively own their land in a community trust, company title, strata title, dual occupancy or MO (Multiple Occupancy). However, it doesn't mean it's necessarily the best way.

You have to be very careful when setting up or joining a collectively owned property.

The basic problem is this model is that communities are using legal frameworks that don't understand communities to build a community.

The other massive problem with collectively owned communities is that they normally have freehold lots to sell which doesn't bode well for longevity of the community and communal values. If you were selling, would you sell to a person who understands community for less than the market price, or would you sell to the richer person who doesn't give a flying fig about the community? However it CAN work.


Strata titles (also known as Body Corporates, or Unit titles in NZ) are designed for groups of (often warring and distrustful) neighbours in a block of units. Not for communities. Any wonder why these communities often end up warring and distrustful?


Let's test this out.

  • Ethical. 10/20

  • This model is pretty good ethically. It promotes sharing, yet often has inherent structural difficulties that pit community member vs community member. If there is a falling out, as people own their own block or share, you can be stuck living with someone you struggle with for a long, long time.

  • Term of Tenure 15/20

  • As long as you are on the title, you have control of your own land

  • Permanent structures can be built on your own property. Often it's the shared community assets that cause a lot of friction in this area.

  • Closeness of intentional community 10/20

  • Many communities over time, due to death (bequeathing to a child who is interested in free land, but not community) or, conflict, retreat into their own patch of land and community ceases to be. But it can and does work.

  • Time Frame 0/20

  • If you want to start a community with 10 (nominally) houses with their own kitchens and laundries, expect to be in discussion with the council for 10 years. It would help to have a few million dollars in your pocket. And there is no guarantee of a favourable decision from council.

  • Budget:5/20

  • Yes, you can get a mortgage with a strata title, but you'll be thrust back into the financial market, working 40 plus hours a week in a job you hate.... which is one of the reasons you wanted to change your life the first place.

Total: 40%

Wrap-up: Sort of surprised that this one ended lower score than (spoiler alert) the privately owned model. Even though this is the most common model, it provides systemic problems that cannot be fixed by conflict resolution workshops.


4. Privately Owned

If you want to own your own home, you have the option of purchasing land to be subdivided and selling lots to other home owners in the development. This is a very time consuming and expensive road. Another option is to purchase property in a 'good' area and get to know your neighbours - take the fences down and share stuff. This could be possible all over the country although some neighbours won't necessarily be up for it, of course. You could buy a number of neighbouring properties for your group but this sort of opportunity doesn't come up much. Another thing that people do is build a home (temporary, permanent or moveable) on someone else's private property. If you do this, make sure you have very clear agreements about the building process and what happens in the case that the property is sold, etc.


Let's test this out.

  • Ethical. 0/20

  • Private ownership of land has done a lot of damage, not least to our First Nations people. House prices go up and up as housing is sold to the highest bidder. Housing affordability is a major issue and creates division in our country between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'.

  • As long as housing is treated as a commodity, we will continue to foster social and economic injustice and removal of the commons (koala habitat, etc.) for private ownership. How can we re-imagine housing as a basic human right rather than a commodity?

  • People who offer their private land for community are often very nice people. However, they always remain landlords and you will remain tenants. This power imbalance can be an issue for people who are looking for equality and mutuality.

  • Closeness of intentional community 15/20

  • You can work very hard to build a community development only to have your fellow communitarians sell their properties over time to people who are less interested in connecting. Think carefully about what you want to achieve before going down the path of subdivision and private ownership.

  • Time Frame - varied

  • If you are building a new co-housing sub-division, expect to be in the planning process and the building process for a very long time.

  • If you live on land that is privately owned by another person, it can happen quickly. Enjoy the opportunity if it arises but don't get too attached - the owner may decide (or be forced) to sell the property.

Wrap-up: This suits many people who still want to own their own home and land. Think carefully about your needs (belonging, connection, community, security, mutuality, meaning, etc) and how you can best meet them before embarking on a big building project.


Conclusion

You are on an exciting journey. It's not easy to build an intentional community. Contact us for more guidance. There are two worldwide peak bodies in this space. The Foundation of Intentional Communities and Global Ecovillage Network (GEN). We are members of both these groups. They have excellent resources, and training, which we access often.