HomeSight’s Uche Okezie Wants to Put Co-Ops on the Map in Seattle
Okezie joined the Remarkable Credit Union podcast to share how HomeSight’s housing co-op project, ʔúləx̌(U-lex) @ Othello Square, can keep community members from being displaced – and create a stronger community.
People may not be familiar with the word ‘ʔúləx̌’ – it’s the Lushootseed word for ‘gather’ – but the word ‘co-op’ should be in every Seattle homebuyer’s vocabulary, HomeSight’s Real Estate Development Director Uche Okezie told the hosts of the Remarkable Credit Union podcast last week.
Okezie joined the podcast to talk about HomeSight’s partnership with Verity Credit Union and how it helped bring the U-lex @ Othello Square project to fruition. Tina Narron, the Chief Lending Officer at Verity Credit Union, joined the discussion as well.
Hosted by Pixelspoke CEO Cameron Madill and Pixelspoke Senior Marketing Manager Kerala Taylor, the podcast is geared to “help credit union leaders think outside of the box about marketing, technology, and community impact.”
The hosts asked Okezie and Narron: “Why a co-op?”
Okezie, who has worked at HomeSight for over 20 years, said the changing homeownership climate played a major role in HomeSight’s decision to bring the limited equity cooperative (or LEC) model to Seattle.
Since HomeSight began working to help people purchase homes 30 years ago, “things have been changing in Seattle,” Okezie explained. “Land is more expensive. [HomeSight] typically relied on down-payment assistance to help income-qualified folks purchase homes, but there’s just not enough to cover the gap in affordability between what they can afford and what the market says they have to pay in order to purchase it.”
Okezie said an LEC provided “another pathway to provide that level of affordability.”
Sometimes described as the ‘first rung’ of the ladder to homeownership, co-ops, said Okezie, “everyone who is a resident in the building is a part owner of the building. They have bought shares and that gives them the right to live in their unit for however long they own their shares. It gives each household, or member, a vote in all the building operations. Whether it’s the budget, or the board members — who are elected community members – their share gives them a vote on what happens with their building and in their community, and that community is the building.”
Okezie said community is a significant difference between condo ownership and co-op ownership. “Because everybody owns the building cooperatively, they all have a vested interest in its destiny, its future, and they have the right to communicate that to their fellow members, the people that they all share this asset with,” said Okezie. “You aren’t going to have your own mortgage, you’re helping to collectively build wealth, the asset of the building that you all live in and share.”
Narron said Verity Credit Union jumped in at the beginning of the project, when HomeSight invited all members of the Othello community to sit down and discuss their needs. “HomeSight did a really good job of hearing all of that, gathering all of that data, [and] coming up with plans,” Narron said.
Podcast host Madill commented that while Othello Square is a “truly innovative initiative,” it “alone won’t solve the affordable housing crisis in Seattle.” She asked Okezie and Narron: “How do you hope the project might help change the narrative when it comes to affordable housing solutions?”
“I think our biggest stumbling block here has been that it’s just not a common model,” said Okezie. “It’s rare in Seattle. I would love for this to be something that was completely normalized and another option for people.”
Narron agreed and said the LEC model presented an opportunity for credit unions to normalize the unique elements of this mortgage product. “We’re looking at this as a pilot for the West Coast because this might be another viable option to help, not necessarily solve, but help with solving that affordable ownership problem that we’re running into. Cost is out of control, inventory is so small, financing is so difficult. We push the American dream, but how do we help people actually achieve it?”
Okezie said that dream can be realized for more people with “more co-ops, more limited equity co-ops, and more demand for these units” in the new year. She wants co-op ownership to be “just as commonplace as saying: ‘I’m going to go buy a condo.’”
Listen to the Verity Credit Union Podcast here.
U-lex @ Othello Square has opened applications to income-qualified buyers. Situated at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and South Holly Park Drive, U-lex will offer 68 units affordable to families earning 80 percent or less of the area median income at the time of purchase. To be eligible, purchasers must have a household income 80 percent or less than the area’s median income by household size, and be first-time homebuyers or have not owned a home in the past three years. Learn more about U-lex here.