The Urban Cooperative Enterprise Legal Center (UCELC) is a grassroots nonprofit with a mission to create and support cooperative enterprises within low and moderate income communities in order to promote economic, social, and ecological sustainability.
The Urban Cooperative Enterprise Legal Center started out from a plan to provide alternatives to communities that have long been neglected by mainstream economic and political systems, such as the incarcerated, the formerly incarcerated, the urban youth, the immigrant, the unemployed, the impoverished, and anyone who finds that the current systematic frameworks fail to meet their basic needs. By combining economic development with social and ecological development, the Urban Cooperative Enterprise Legal Center creates and supports a new form of enterprise that is both sustainable and effective at making self-sufficient low and moderate income communities.
The guiding principal behind the mission is Gerald Lopez's "rebellious lawyering" philosophy, which recognizes that any productive change to the status quo is a "collective fight."
Nonprofit Enterprise (coming soon)
UCELC’s mission to promote sustainable economies includes engaging in social enterprise whereby UCELC creates a subsidiary company in order to sustain itself through the supplementation of donations. This is especially important where traditional funding to nonprofits have dwindled. Here, the subsidiary’s mission aligns with that of UCELC where it aims to promote local sustainable economies through the real estate development and investment of shared spaces, rent-to-own units, and affordable housing and commercial developments. In essence, the subsidiary will develop the bricks and mortar of the cooperative enterprises that UCELC creates and supports through education, advocacy, legal and planning services.
Reduced Fee-for-Service Model
"Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." -Chinese Proverb
UCELC's work goes beyond providing a service to the community and towards empowering communities to provide for themselves. UCELC aims to build and be a part of a sustainable economy where participants exchange, share, and pool resources together in order to sustain each other's work. This includes instituting a reduced fee-for-service model that will sustain the work of UCELC and ultimately that of its clients, and the broader cooperative economy.
What are Cooperative Enterprises?
Cooperative Enterprises are entities that promote local sustainabiliy by operating on a communal or cooperative basis. This is a grassroots approach to building an economy that allows for social and economic productivity in low and moderate income communities through the pooling of resources for mutual aid. Essentially, cooperative enterprises democratize community economic development by providing a tool for those that use the goods and services produced by a company to also collectively own such goods and services as shareholder or member. Thus, cooperative enterprises promote sustainability by empowering communities, countering exploitation and waste, and ensuring local production of goods and services where members and shareholders are unlikely to cause unfair labor or production practices, commit waste, or neglect the needs of their communities when they are also the employees, consumers, users, and neighbors of such.
Cooperative enterprises include:
- Cooperatives (worker cooperatives, agricultural cooperatives, energy cooperatives, housing cooperatives, commercial cooperatives, consumer cooperatives, producer cooperatives)
- Grassroots Financing (direct public offerings and crowdfunding)
- Alternative Economies (mutual-credit clearing systems, micro-financing, alternative currencies, barter systems, service-exchange systems or time-banks, and gift economies)
- Community Land Trusts (agricultural land trusts and housing land trusts)
Cooperatives are democratically-controlled corporations that are owned and controlled by member-users. For instance, worker cooperatives are corporations that are owned and controlled by its workers where workers receive wages in addition to profits in the form of patronage (profit based on participation, such as labor hours). In general, cooperatives follow seven (7) internationally recognized principles that include a concern for the community where cooperatives promote local sustainable development in areas where their members work, play, and live. Therefore, cooperatives ensure that those who use its services and/or products are also in control of such services and products while also bettering the broader community.
Grassroots financing is an investment alternative to traditional investment options that makes it easier for cooperative enterprises to acquire financial capital because it includes a broad range of "unsophisticated" investors, such as local members of the community. For instance, a direct public offering (DPO) is an alternative to the initial public offering (IPO), an investment option reserved for more "sophisticated or accredited investors," namely having a net worth of millions of dollars. As such, those of low and moderate income would not qualify for this type of investment. On the other hand, DPOs allow every-day people to invest in local businesses, including customers, neighbors, and other local supporters. Thus, the DPO would be a feasible medium for raising funds for cooperative enterprises within low and moderate income communities.
Alternative economies are economic exchange mediums that serve to supplement the limitations of the broader economic system by providing an alternative medium of exchange when traditional economic exchanges, such as money or traditional credit (of which one's creditworthiness is judged by a FICO score), is insufficient or unavailable. Time-banks are an example of an alternative economy because they rely on the exchange of services rather than on money or credit exchanges. They allow for community members to exchange with one another through their talents, crafts, and skills when money is low. Therefore, alternative economies are important tools for facilitating productive exchanges within low and moderate income communities.
Community Land Trusts
Community land trusts are non-profit corporations designed to acquire, manage, and preserve land for community purposes. Some community purposes include acquiring and managing land for affordable housing and urban agriculture, such as the development of community gardens and urban farms. An urban agricultural land trust is a solution to land insecurity (a situation where urban gardeners face the risk of losing the land they till due to insufficient resources to acquire ownership or control over the land) by providing a medium (through membership fees) where community members combine and share resources for affordable food production. Thus, community land trusts are great tools for making low and moderate income communities productive.