Demystifying Legal Frameworks with Clifford Paulin & Jonah Mesritz
Inside Community Podcast — Ep. 005
Do legal structures and documents make your head spin? Fear not!
In this episode we’re diving into the financial and legal issues all communities face (but many dread looking at) with two expert guides. Solid agreements are essential for creating a sense of safety for community members. My guests Clifford Paulin and Jonah Mesritz are going to not only demystify the basics, but also drop some practical advice and philosophy that just might change the way you think about red tape.
- Clifford Paulin provides a full suite of legal, facilitation, and mediation services to individuals, businesses, communities, non-profits, and government entities. His extensive background in serving these organizations as well as being part of them provides him with a unique understanding of their needs and desires. He also has extensive experience in mediation in both individual and group settings. He has facilitated strategic planning and other processes for groups in both the private and public sectors. Mr. Paulin is also a co-founder of The Oak Granary, a land-based environmental education non-profit in Potter Valley, California. www.cliffordpaulin.com/
Here’s a 30% off Discount Code that you can use for Clifford’s 5-week course Legal Basics for Forming Communities: INSIDE30
- Jonah Mesritz is a cofounder of the Emerald Village, a thriving ecovillage in San Diego, California and a cofounder of the newly forming Terra Lumen Community in Southern Oregon. He is a firefighter with the Orange County Fire Authority, a former Navy SEAL sniper and a licensed California REALTOR. Bringing to bear his experience investing in both businesses and real estate, owning and managing rental properties and “flipping” houses, Jonah has helped many new intentional communities to find and successfully finance community land without traditional bank loans. He is passionate about supporting the communities movement and his Activated Villages Facebook page is a forum for discussions about creative financing solutions and sharing unique properties that are perfect for intentional community.
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— Rebecca, your podcast host
Rebecca Mesritz 0:03
The inside community podcast is sponsored by the Foundation for intentional community. The FDIC has been working to promote the communities movement for over 35 years with educational programs, publications and videos and incredible communities directories, scholarships, and more. If you’d like to learn more about the FDIC, or this podcast, please visit ic.org/podcast. And while you’re there, I hope you’ll consider making a donation to the show so that we can continue to bring you along for an inside look at the beautiful and messy realities of community. Welcome back to the inside community Podcast. I’m Rebecca Mesritz. So for today’s episode, I wanted to do something a little bit different. I’m talking about a subject that is not near and dear to my heart. For many founding communities. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is all of the varying legal and financial decisions that need to be made early on. And if you are like me, legalese, and lots of talk about numbers tends to induce something kind of like a coma. But due diligence and crafting good agreements is of the utmost importance to create the safety and trust needed to support right living, security and financial stability. Now, like I said, this is not a subject near and dear to my heart, but it is a subject near and dear to my partner, Jonas deserts his heart, and it’s also a subject near and dear to my other guests. Clifford Pollan’s heart. And so for today’s episode, I’ve brought in not one but two people to come and talk and share about the ins and outs of good agreements and how to do this in a good way. Clifford Pollan provides a full suite of legal facilitation and mediation services to individuals, businesses, communities, nonprofits, and government entities. And he has an extensive background serving these organizations, as well as being a part of them and this provides him with a unique understanding of their needs and desires. Clifford sleep legal practice has focused on transactional law, nonprofit law and community law since 2006. He also has extensive experience in mediation in both individual and group settings. And he’s facilitated strategic planning and other processes for groups in both the public and private sectors. And on top of all that, Mr. Pollan is a co founder of the oak greenery, a land based environmental education nonprofit in Potter Valley, California. Yona Mesritz is a co founder of the Emerald village, which is a thriving eco village in San Diego, California. And he’s also the co founder of the newly forming Terra lumen community in Southern Oregon. He is a firefighter with the Orange County Fire Authority, a former Navy SEAL sniper and a licensed California realtor, bringing to bear his experience investing in both businesses and real estate, owning and managing rental properties and flipping houses. Yona has helped many new intentional communities to find and successfully finance community land without traditional bank loans. He is passionate about supporting the communities movement. And his activated villages Facebook page is a forum for discussions about creative financing solutions and sharing unique properties perfect for intentional communities. Well, I am just thrilled to be sharing this three way conversation with you all. So let’s just jump right on in Clifford, I usually start my conversations with folks by asking them to share a little bit about the community that they live in. Can you get started?
Clifford Paulin 4:11
Sure. Well, first of all, thanks so much for having me here today. And thanks to FDIC and all the other folks that are working behind the scenes to help get the good word out there about communities in general. Yeah, so my name is Clifford pollen or cliff and I currently live in so called Potter valley here in Northern California, a couple hours north of San Francisco in Mendocino County. And I live on some land with some other humans and some non humans and we also run a land based educational organization here called the oak granary. Our community is made up of different people of different ages. We’ve got one child and then people in their 20s 30s and 40s We have been some constellation none of us have been on this land for about 11 years. And our current constellation is fairly new, we’ve got some new transplants who are moving from a community called coil springs down south to be up here. And our big focus on this land is stewarding the oak woodlands. As well as living in community and growing food together. We have had different iterations where we’re more communal sharing more of life’s endeavors or less, we’re kind of in a middle ground right now where we have weekly work, work parties and weekly Garden Parties. And then we gather informally for meals and to share time together as time allows. Our community like many has changed as children have come into the mix. I’ve worked with lots of communities over the years whose need for the balance of communal activity and family autonomy shifts as children enter and grow and multiply and morph. So that’s part of our journey. Right now. It’s how to hold tiny humans in the mix.
Rebecca Mesritz 6:19
Wonderful, wonderful. And Jonah, I think our listeners probably have, maybe at this point heard my intro and my sort of story of the community that we live in, but maybe you’d like to share your community experience.
Jonah Mesritz 6:36
Yeah. You and I co founded with eight friends emerald village over a decade ago. You know, and the, my place in that my specialty and my, my place of awareness was creative financing, and helping solve buying that property. Even if people didn’t have money, and everyone owning equally together. And then I went into teaching classes over the last decade to groups of people on creative financing and how to buy communal land, and consulting with groups. on doing that, and then as we have four of those 10 members have moved up here to Southern Oregon, again, my my eye has been on, you know, right now we’ve we’ve purchased three properties up here, over 200 acres, and I’m in escrow on another property as well. And a lot of that has to be, you know, call it creative but hustling the process, you know, leveraging sometimes over leveraging ourselves to solve these, these interesting and large real estate deals. And that’s that’s my that’s my passion, and maybe sometimes a detriment to the group, because we’re all now chain selling 200 acres and taking care of it. And it’s a lot of work. But I’ll just say that about my background is that’s, that’s my love. And that’s where I keep, keep my eye focused.
Rebecca Mesritz 8:16
Thank you. So I mean, there’s, there’s so much to cover in these legal issues that are facing communities. And I know that Clifford, you have a course coming up through the FDIC, that’s going to take people through all of this, and I don’t want to spend a bunch of time going over a lot of basics that I think people could get from that course. But I kind of do want to jump right in to a little bit about structures and how different communities hold their land. And for us and the communities that we’ve been involved with over the years, I mean, there’s obviously a lot of people we’re holding as tenants in common or an LLC. But what I think is kind of where my head starts to get scratched a lot more is around 501 C threes, nonprofits, private foundations, We’ve We’ve even talked over the years about creating a church to somehow be involved with the project. And it’s a huge I mean, this is obviously a huge topic. But I would love for you to just kind of walk us in a little bit to what the pros and cons are about having a nonprofit entity associated with your project.
Clifford Paulin 9:40
Sure. Well, I guess first and foremost that I work with clients, I always say that there’s no perfect legal structure. The legal structure that is the right one for you is the one that fits whatever circumstances you happen to encounter. And as Yano rightly pointed out, It often requires credit creative financing to acquire land for communities to happen. And oftentimes the some of the external factors of what the if you’re going through conventional lending or other private lending sources that sometimes some of those external factors might guide what legal structure you end up choosing 501, C threes and other nonprofit institutions can and do often provide benefits for people that are trying to live in community. I’d say there’s sort of three main flavors that those come under, there’s the traditional 501 C three is a nonprofit, tax deductible organization that operates for educational or charitable purposes, that actually holds title to the land, I’ve worked with a number of communities that utilize that structure. The advantage in that is that that people can solicit tax deductible donations, there can be depending on the jurisdiction, property tax, either no property tax or reduced property tax that’s paid on the property that’s held by a 501, c three. The disadvantage, and this is I talk a lot about in my courses, and when I work with people in the community realm, these different dynamic tensions that exist. And one of the dynamic tensions is, I think there’s a ethos in many, much of the intentional commodity world, for the decommodification of land and moving land out of land is commodity and it’s a ethos that I hold to. And then there’s also this need and desire, a lot of times for people to build equity in properties, people are investing their time, their money, their energy. And in this capitalistic society that we live in, that can oftentimes be people’s primary or largest single investment that they hold for future wealth preservation. And so the disadvantage of holding land as the sort of traditional 501 C three model is that typically people, at least as it relates to the land don’t have the opportunity to build equity in that land base. It has the advantage that a lot of times it doesn’t require for people, new people coming in to have the same level of financial capacity to come in some of the communities that I work with that are owned as a 501, C three, have an incredibly low buy in amount. And but there’s an understanding that when you leave that community, you’re not going to take any equity with you coming out of it. So that’s sort of the first like standard, I’ll say, like the old school 501 C three model. Another model that many communities use successfully is having a 501 C three, as sort of an adjunct to the land holding activities. So a great example is one that I know you spoke with Dave Henson earlier podcast, and their they have an LLC that owns the land, but then they have a 501 C three, that runs the nonprofit educational activities on the side. And there is a lease agreement between those two entities. And in that situation, the people that live there have the ability to build equity in the land. But you have the advantage of being able to conduct those nonprofit activities, solicit tax deductible donations and run that the land itself is still in that situation held in, you know, private holdings. And so it is still in that land as commodity spectrum. Although again, there’s not a binary there, there’s sort of abilities to move away from, you know, land is pure commodity, depending on how the LLC or whatever corporate entity is structured. So that’s one model. And that’s one that can be really useful. And a lot of clients that I work with, end up moving in that route as well.
Clifford Paulin 14:17
And then the third, and again, I don’t mean to say that these three are the exclusive ones, but I’m just sort of as a high level area. A third is a Community Land Trust, which is a 501 C three that typically holds title to the underlying land. And then there is a lease agreement with the individual or the community that holds title to the improvements above the land. And and that’s a way of preserving that lands affordability over the long term, because the 501 C three actually holds title to the real estate itself. And it allows for individuals or communities to build a limited amount of equity in the structures itself and again, there’s usually an address greement between those two entities in terms of how that equity is going to be valued over time, and what equity can be extracted and over what, on what terms there are,
Jonah Mesritz 15:11
that would be a community land trust Clifford that type of yeah, they own the community land trust owns the land. And then you can build on it and, and whatnot. And that’s kind of makes it cheaper in that way. But there’s not complications in the, I mean, if you sell the entire project and walk away from something like that is the you have to give some of that nonprofit money away like half of the value of the land, but you could sell those houses separately. Exactly, well, ticket.
Clifford Paulin 15:41
Typically, there’s a there’s an agreement that happens between the Community Land Trust and the individual or the community before at the consummation of that relationship that outlines how much equity can be built. And so basically, there’s a limited equity formula that’s created that says, when you leave, you may sell this property, and it could appreciate at a certain rate, but that rate is probably different than what the market rate would bear if you just sold it on the open market. And so in that situation, the the nonprofit, the Community Land Trust, has that structure put in place for the purpose that whoever comes in and purchases that after the fact is going to be able to do it at an affordable rate. Because their whole purpose, the reason for being for the Community Land Trust is to preserve access to land for an affordable rate on an ongoing basis. And, and community land Trust’s are one model, there are also limited equity housing cooperatives that operate in similar models, there’s a group down in the Bay Area. East Bay prac, the East Bay permanent real estate cooperative that is operates on a similar model. And basically, it’ll again, it allows for individuals to build equity, but not not at the same rate, that sort of market rate is and the value, the difference in the value that is sold, or what you bought at and what you sold that is is could be taken by the individuals. So the nonprofits not losing anything in there, they still own the underlying real estate value. So it’s not like we have to split the difference. It’s more you have to say we here, we’re going to agree on how this is going to be structured at the time of buyout. Does that make sense?
Jonah Mesritz 17:39
Yeah, yeah, no, it does make sense. And, you know, it brings something up to color some light. I was thinking this might come later. But but you know, what you’re speaking of is, is what I see in America and in a lot of countries, but America right now is that people people buy a property they buy and live in their three bedroom house and, and close to their golden years, they’ve paid down 20, to yours to all of the years of their loan. And now they have this 500,000 to a million dollar asset. And they need that in order to kind of retire and, and have the medical attention or whatever needs until the end of life. And this, this structure you just talked about creates a real problem for community when they’re, you know, you’ve got a 37 year old couple with two kids. And they’re like, can I invest the next 20 years of my life into community and into this project? Knowing that all I’ve got this $50,000 I’m going to put it into this project. And in 20 years, maybe I could get 65,000 out of it. But I’m having this amazing life. But where am I at this juncture in the future? Have I built equity have I had this is my only retirement I don’t have a job for GE or IBM, this is it. So what do I do in that situation? And I think I think there’s I personally am am thinking about and looking towards a different model. That might also be sort of the IRA, the retirement system inside communities. Because without that, I think you have a lot of people that come to the door of community, maybe dabble for a couple of years and then realize I need to go get my own three bedroom house and consider my family. This won’t work for me long time because the system in our country and in the world capitalist system is not working. What do you what do you think about that?
Clifford Paulin 19:42
I mean, I think you’re spot on. I think that, you know, there’s a lot that’s predicated right now on the speculative real estate market and real estate market appreciating at a value that we have witnessed, you know, in sort of the recent historical time So that’s something of a benchmark against which people weigh what an investment in a community is going to or what it should return to them. I would argue that there’s there’s a sort of a riskiness to assuming that the real estate market will continue to expand at the value level that it has been for the last 20 years. That being aside, I do think that for people who enter into community, who need to be thinking about future retirement, medical care, all of those things that you talk about, there has to be a reorientation to say, my, my house isn’t my piggy bank in the same way that it is, if I’m living out there, in the dominant society. And I hopefully, you know, the, the structures that can be in place with limited equity situations, it could, could and should, if it’s going to work out, reduce the barriers to entry, reduce the cost of ownership, you know, reduce those things that you would be paying for in, you know, the dominant real estate paradigm, and that individuals are able to hopefully, take some of those resources that are not being spent there and do exactly what you’re talking about, put them into other investments that might then be that safety net, in that future time. And yeah, there’s things like IRAs or deferred annuities, there’s lots of interesting things. And I’m not a, an accountant or a financial whiz, I mean, I deal with this in some levels, because of people that I work with. And I’m really glad to have individuals like yourself who are thinking about and engaged in this process as well. Because I, again, people do have to reorient to saying like, Alright, my primary, my primary investment towards my future is not my home. And again, it’s a trade off of between the values that people want to hold, do you want to, if you want to just, you know, exist in the dominant paradigm, and you want to say, my home is my asset that will pay for my future living, you’re, you’re choosing to say that I believe in treating land as commodity and I want to, and I’m participating in that system. And so there is a philosophical and a moral trade off that occurs. And I don’t mean to, I don’t want to put any of that in sort of a moral hierarchy, you know, everyone has their own their decisions that they need to make. And those of us that come from different backgrounds of racial or class privilege have different opportunities that some people might not. And so I think that there can be a, unfortunately, in the community sphere, there can sometimes be a little bit of a moral righteousness that comes around like, well, we need to de commodify we need to do this, everybody should be moving down a certain path. And that’s not true for everyone. There are certainly there certain people out there for whom, you know, buying that three bedroom home and using that towards your future advancement and having those resources passed on intergenerationally. That’s a great, that’s a great big step for some people who have been shut out of that system for, you know, historically as well. So, I do think that there’s a, there’s a need to reconcile our own individual values that we want to hold to and we want to ascribe to, and not necessarily imposing those out there in the world.
Jonah Mesritz 23:21
Well, I think I think giving listeners some hope in this conversation is that you know, if the three of us were to start community right now, and we’re looking 2030 years down the road, the our hope is also that maybe we don’t have a big nest egg built in there that we can take with us. But maybe we’ve we’ve worked the community down to free rent, low costs, you know, that there’s food being grown on there’s that there’s a food share, these sorts of things have an important to look deeper into that entire cycle because Rebecca and I have experienced in our, in our previous community where people come in, they give all of their time and energy to the community. And they’re living there but then they’re they realize I’m further from society. I haven’t been working outside in society, I’m actually making myself poor, I can’t afford my phone anymore. I can’t afford my car insurance. So as you’re looking 20 years into the future, you you realize like where am I as a human going to be when I’m just outside gardening eating the food off the land working on the land, you know, trading am I going to be in a in a financial or energetic experience that will hold me where free rent and low costs on the land and work on the land is going to be enough to take me to the end. And that’s the that’s the goal is that I have a home to die in, which is what I have heard from a few community members is, is where they’re aiming towards.
Clifford Paulin 24:55
Yeah, and I think that question of like, what is what is wealth? is a really important one. You know, I would argue, and I think many people out there listening this podcast might agree that true wealth could be more accurately described as rich, robust relationships with the people that we’ve shared land with for many years, and we have access to clean water, and healthy food. And we’re all held an intergenerational space where we pass with, you know, grace, and humility, and, and all of that, as opposed to having lots of ones and zeros in a bank account somewhere. And again, that’s not, that’s not to say that it’s not important to think about, you know, being able to be cared for at the end of one’s life. And I would also say, just in this conversation, that, you know, community can and does look very different for lots of people. And I know that I’ve gone through my own journey of looking at what’s, you know, sort of, like, what’s appropriate community. And I think that the, the movement of moving towards more communitarian values is a multi generational effort. And when I work with clients, a lot of times I say, it’s, it’s great, it’s really important to have your guide star of where you want to go to. And it’s also really important to be pragmatic and honest with yourself about where are you right now. And, you know, I don’t know that all people are in a situation where they’re ready to join an income sharing community, and have every aspect of their lives intertwined with every person that’s around them. You know, most of us grew up in this sort of hyper individualistic society, and that’s a big leap. And that there are there are places along that path that might be more appropriate for certain individuals. And so I think it’s one of the reasons why cohousing has become such a popular form of community. And you could argue all day about whether it’s, you know, true community or not. But you know, it gives people an opportunity to share in many of the activities of life with other people, but they’re still able to build equity in a home that can then be sold later, and, you know, move them towards retirement in a different iteration. So I think that it’s just yeah, I think that it doesn’t, I don’t think that there’s one prescription that’s appropriate for all people, I think it’s important for people to say, this is where I am. And these are the considerations that are important to me, both the financial, moral, spiritual, legal considerations, and this is what makes sense for me to move into. And so, you know, I think that, yeah, I think that it’s going to take, hopefully, hopefully, we can do this in a couple generations, where, you know, our, our children are living in spaces that feel more collective than than we did, and their children are further along in that path. So
Rebecca Mesritz 27:59
you know, I’ve heard you, Clifford, talk about some of these blended models of co op and land trust or nonprofit and LLC. And now we’re kind of talking about the community trust, or the the land trust, and conservation easements and things like that, which I think it’s really beautiful to me, because I love this idea of returning the earth to itself. And also, we have to balance out what you guys are talking about, which is the reality of the world around your community isn’t quite operating like that. And so there’s, you know, there’s still thinks that in order to actually acquire the land to take stewardship of it, and then and be able to build on it, and house, its people, we have to be able to apply for loans. And we have to be able to make sense, in some way to the rest of the world. And I guess kind of I have a couple of questions inside of that. But mostly, have you seen people doing that in a way that feels like it’s actually leapfrogging towards that that beautiful future that we see where the land maybe isn’t treated as much like a commodity that we can harvest from but that we’re actually living in a reciprocity with the land where we’re supported? And it’s supporting us? And, yeah, is anybody doing that? Well? Have you worked with people to construct deals or construct contracts? Or have you seen anyone that’s kind of modeling that in a way that feels? Sustainable, generative?
Clifford Paulin 29:35
Yeah. Well, again, without a single metrics on which to evaluate this, I would say, yes, like there are lots of great, there are lots of great people and organizations that are working towards treating the earth as you know, our home and not something that we own. I think when we start talking about land Trust’s and Conservation easements I think that there, that is a great, great movement and one that’s a little bit more established. And I think when we talk about a conservation easement, just for people that are aren’t familiar, a conservation easement is something that’s put on land that restricts the activities that can happen on that land in perpetuity. And sort of the the traditional conservation easement is one that says, you know, you can’t, you can’t build anything you can’t, I mean, there’s sort of the I think there’s, there’s some issues in there and sort of like the treating, treating nature as a untouchable wilderness. And I have my own philosophical challenges with that, because I think that people have been in need to be in relationship with the world around us. But I think that there’s an evolution in the conservation easement community, in the Land Trust community that is starting to value and appreciate the need for people to be in relationship with the land. And I think there’s some great organizations, there’s an organization called equity trust that I’ve done a little bit of work with that I really appreciate their ethos, and they’re sort of I’d say, they’re sort of in between a traditional land trust and a conservation land trust, whereas they are having preservation of the land and positive easements meaning there are things that you must do on the land. So you know, if it’s a farmland, it needs to be continued to be farmed, and it needs to be continued to be farmed with certain organic practices are whatever the practices are, that have been designated. So it incentivizes and requires that people to stay in contact with the land. And equity trust also recognizes and values, people living on land. And so creating an ability for people to have a long term lease perhaps on that land, so they can stay there and they can be committed to that place. And they can like us, and they can have a place that’s either free rent or low rent, and a place that helps them helps facilitate their ability to be in relationship with that place. And then I would say, you know, there are a lot of great communities that are out there, that the land is still held privately, and is still sort of in that dominant paradigm model. But that have internally worked out agreed agreements that make it such that that land will continue to be stewarded by groups of people that carry that vision into the future. I think like Yan was saying one of the challenges in that is how do you provide for the people who are exiting a community if they have agreed to, you know, reduce the equity that they’ll take out in the future? And yeah, there are, there are some tough nuts to crack in terms of like sustainability. And it depends again, on what your definition of sustainability is, if it’s being able to stay in a place, and live healthily until you die and be surrounded by people. There are certainly places that are doing that. If it’s the ability to like, you know, pull your money out and go buy a condo in Miami Beach, then there probably aren’t very many sustainable communities in that way. But
Rebecca Mesritz 33:19
I like that there’s a level in there of like, you’re actually making a commitment, like when you decide to invest your life force your energy into relationship with the Earth, that’s not a commitment to be undertaken lightly, or extractive Lee, it’s to be this is a lifelong process. And so part of that process means building in the forethought in advance to say, Okay, well, if I’m not gonna be extracted from the earth, and I recognize that at some point, I might have a health challenge or an unforeseen thing come up, how do I structure the rest of my life so that I can be building the support for myself at the end, and maybe that’s investing deeply in your social capital, so that you can age in place and be cared for by your community? Or maybe that’s building another business or something like that, that’s going to be that nest egg as opposed to just relying on your ownership of the earth? Yes. And I think we can all see it’s a little fraught.
Clifford Paulin 34:31
Yeah. I mean, I think you touched on something important in that and that the interdependence has to become a larger part of the way that we move in the world. If we’re going to do this in a good way. You know, we get like I said, most of us grew up in this hyper individualistic, I call it you know, the rugged individual lifestyle if I’m just going to take care of myself, no matter what. And maybe, you know, I’ve got a small nuclear family around me that I’m going to support and they’re going to support To me, and it is a leap for us to move out to how do we support? How do we how do we support those around us? And how do we be vulnerable enough to be supported by those around us. And I think that there, you know, there’s a lot of great precedent. Where I live, there’s a pretty significant population of people who moved to the country in the 60s and 70s, as part of the back of the land movement. And it’s been a real honor. And yeah, an honor and an education for me to be in and around a part of those communities and to watch people who are at the end of their lives. And you know, that it’s going different ways for different people. But I’ve been amazed and humbled by how many people have passed away on the land surrounded by their friends and community. And, you know, I think that there’s a, there’s some values that go along with that, to have people saying, you know, I’m going to choose to live my life to its natural conclusion, however you want to define that. But I think many of the people who have chosen to live in community who’ve chosen to steward the Earth have heard are also making choices to not maybe seek the level of medical intervention that some people in the broader society might seek. And therefore, their lives might not be as long, but arguably, they might be richer. And so you know, again, it’s a, there’s no one right way, everyone’s got to kind of find out where they are, and where they want to be, and then try and structure their lives in a way that reconcile those two, the present and the future. And, and I would just say, you know, since this is a great conversation, I’m loving the philosophical riff of it all. And also just on sort of the practical side of things, you know, in terms of the legal structures that are created, you know, I think that some people would look and some people that I work with, do look at, you know, contracts and operating agreements and these governing documents, as I think some people look askance at them, and they say, Oh, well, let’s just, we’ll just figure this out. We’ll just, you know, we trust each other, we love each other, we’re going to figure out these questions. And what I say is that I think that a well written contract or well written operating agreement, that tries to anticipate as much as possible, some of the things that are very likely to occur in people’s lives, actually helps build and facilitate community, and helps build and facilitate trust and understanding between people. And you know, there, there’s this whole phases of how organizations work, you know, there’s the forming and the norming, and the storming, and then there’s the reforming. And so there’s this this process. And if you can utilize that glow, the honeymoon phase, the beginning to say, let’s, let’s think about what’s going to happen down the road. And let’s while we’re all getting along well, and while we’re all loving this vision together, let’s kind of think about the the hard things that could and, and you know, that ultimately, we will all die, ultimately, like all the changes inevitable, it’s going to happen. And so like to try and be for have some forethought about that is really useful. And so part of my role in the legal world is to both help draft agreements for people, but to also help facilitate conversations and ask questions that people can ask of themselves and of each other, to help kind of create those structures that are appropriate for them. As they’re moving forward in
Jonah Mesritz 38:49
the future. I was just thinking there must be 100,000 lawyers who have who’ve created LLC operating agreements for normal LLCs. But, you know, I have a 400 page operating agreement book for cohousing, that gets down to what, what is an agreement around a male ferret on your property, things like like things you just would not think of, but for you to be in a tip to get all of these questions and to be a part of all of these communities. It’s a totally different set of operating agreements. And you you’re getting all of this knowledge, and it’s like all of these questions, because that’s the hardest thing, Rebecca, and my operating agreements in our previous community are not good. They were not. They were not good. They were not, you know, but to work with you to work with one of the few, you know, legal support lawyers who can actually say like, oh, wow, look at all these questions that other groups have thought about and may apply to you. I think that’s I’m excited. I’m excited to work with you. I can’t wait. I got Okay. Questions for you. Well,
Rebecca Mesritz 39:55
I I’ll just say, I just want to add in there, you know, Jonas said that they weren’t good. And to Clifford’s point, we, in our founding never created solid agreements for how to dissolve, or how what to do when partners wanted to leave. And we actually had of the 10 co founders, one of our one couple, so to the cofounders, left, and then basically came back. And even then when we had this opportunity to go through and create good agreements around that we just never did it, we just never wanted to look at it. And so when the time came for the, for our two families to, to leave, and come up here to Oregon, thank God, by the grace of God, we were able to move through that, and not just the grace of God, but also really hard work and emotional processing and space holding to be able to get through that and still maintain loving relationships with the 10 of us. But I can’t imagine, I can’t imagine how that would work for anyone else. Like I really can’t, I do not recommend it. It is so so so important to have these figured out upfront. And so I would just like to ask you, you know about those questions, you know, those questions that you ask communities and are so important for them to include in their, you know, what are the considerations that you’re that you’re encouraging them to have in there just sort of an outline that people can take away from this?
Clifford Paulin 41:30
Yeah, well, yeah, one of the class I’m teaching for FRC is a five week class and one whole class is dedicated to buy in buy out agreements, because I think it’s arguably the most tricky and important aspect. And again, things change in people’s lives, especially in our society right now, where people are highly transient and work or family, other things, pull people in different directions. And so you just you have to assume and I always when people get together, so you have to assume that someone in your group is going to leave. And so in doing that, again, there is this is another one of these dynamic tension questions around what are the the needs of the community and I say, the community as the people that are staying, and the needs of the people that are leaving. And I always encourage people to put yourselves in both positions. And whatever agreement you come up with collectively has to feel good if you can envision yourself as the part of the group that staying or part of the group that’s leaving. And so things to think about in that is, how are you going to value what your your share in the community is. And having that agreed upon upfront, is really helpful. Because if you’re trying to agree on that, at the time when someone’s leaving, it’s a lot thornier. So having that in place is really helpful. And then having what’s the process by which people leave? And you know, what rights and responsibilities do people carry from the time they announced, they’re going to leave until they actually leave? You know, what decision making authority is, is seated at that point is a big part of it. And then how does the community replace those people that are leaving? So one structure that often I work with people in is you know, there’s a, there’s a period of time, where the departing member says I’m leaving, the remaining community members then have X amount of months to say, Okay, we’re going to find a replacement, and that person or person or persons are going to come in, and they’re going to buy that outgoing members share in the community. And then if the community is unable to find someone, when that prescribed period of time, then it becomes incumbent upon the community members that are still there to purchase that person out. And then that share remains available for when the right person does come along, and they could come in and then reimburse the other members of the community. And so the financial wherewithal of the remaining members has to be a part of it. And you know, sometimes what that ends up looking like is that they can’t there can’t be a cash buyout, that there’s not enough financial wherewithal, but that there may be there’s a promissory note. This agreed to again in the operating agreement up front and says when this person leaves, the community has X number of months to birch, purchase this person out and they’ll pay X percentage interest. And that’s all agreed to upfront. And then if somebody else comes in at some point, then maybe that gets paid off right away. But I think it’s important again, for the community members to say if somebody leaves what what would we need to have in place to allow us to find someone? How much time do we need to find someone that’s going to feel Good. And then what are sort of the terms that we could continue to operate on and not have someone’s departure? mean, the imminent collapse of our community? And then for the person that’s departing to say, what would I really need to be able to feel okay, leaving, how quickly would I need to get that equity back out so that I could move on to the next phase of my life. And I think, again, there’s a, there’s a balance in that, that probably, when you put yourself in either position, there’s the what feels okay, and there’s the, there’s probably a need to stretch a little bit, you know, like, if you’re buying into a community, and you’re leaving, you might be like, alright, this is gonna be a little bit of a stretch for me, I might have to do something different for some period of time before I buy the next house. And I’m recognizing that upfront, and that’s a part of the commitment that I’m making to being a part of this community. And for the community members to say, it might be a stretch for us to have to, you know, in the midst of all the other things that we’re doing in life to hustle for six months to try and recruit someone new to come in here. But like, we’re willing to do that, because we value the integrity of the community that we live in. And we want to have the right people and the right ideals held here. And so we’re going to be agreed to do that kind of work. So yeah, I think that’s sort of the basic outlines of like, what’s it? What What is it worth? What how do you value what somebody has? And what is the process that the individual and the community go through, as people depart?
Rebecca Mesritz 46:31
Yeah, that kind of, you know, just to sort of follow up on that, and I guess it kind of loops back into what we were talking about earlier about, about equity. You know, most communities and projects like this are not really set up to like a typical wall. For intentional communities. I know cohousing is a little bit different, some co living situations can operate a little bit differently. But for land based, intentional communities, a lot of them are not set up like a typical investment where you’re guaranteed a certain return on your investment at a particular time. And yet the money is real. And so, you know, I’m aware of the need to create a feeling of safety for people inside of that so that they can put their money into that projects and those projects and maybe Yona, you have some thoughts about how how do you get people to invest? When there’s no equity guarantee? Because now we’re talking about you know, if you have an LLC with multiple lenders, or multiple members, for example, or you have made your land into a land trust, and so you’re you have a conservation easement. So you’ve decreased the value of your land, you know, how are you getting people to bring their money to that project, or even getting banks to lend for building and advancement of that project? Now that you’ve kind of muddied the waters so much? And how, you know, maybe you have, maybe you both have some ideas about how to create that safety that people need in order to invest?
Jonah Mesritz 48:06
Yeah, I, you know, I think what Clifford creates what what, you know, so I, Clifford, I have a background in investing, I have my own investment fund. And you know, when people come to me with how do I do this, I want to buy this land and bring investors in, it’s the safety, why is somebody going to hand you 200 400,000, the, in these legal contracts there, they see a way in, in a way out, they see a legal framework that protects their money. And that gives them, you know, maybe ownership of the land if your agreements are not met. And so it’s it’s continually the people who are just like, I don’t know why I keep failing, I was like, because, one, you have to look at that money in those investors and then investment even if it’s just us as a community investing, how can I get in? How can I get out? How is safe? And what are the secondary, tertiary ways in which we’re going to problem solve if something’s not going, right? And so I think that’s the that’s the the first set is these legal agreements, showing and making people feel safe, like, one person has 200,000 the next person has 5000. It’s like, well, how do we get to equanimity in this deal, and I’m gonna, I’m gonna loan you 100,000 of mine at this rate, and we’re gonna be equal and, and I’ll own more of the shares of the LLC, if you ever kind of walk away from this, you know, the LLC being the project and the land. So those those those safe contracts are actually I think, extremely important in making people feel like oh, I, I see the plan. I see what you’ve put into it. And I’m ready and willing to invest based off of that plan.
Clifford Paulin 49:58
Yeah, and I think A big part of what you’re talking about in there is, is clear expectations. Right? You know, if someone’s going to invest $100,000 into a project, I think there needs to be very clear understandings about what is that? What does that mean, for everybody that’s involved? You know, what, what are you going to? If you leave? What are you going to be able to get back out? And if if there’s a clear understanding that, you know, we’ve got a limited equity formula, and your investment can grow at 2% per year, simple interests. And so, you know, when you leave in 10 years, you’re only going to get back, you know, your initial investment plus some small, small amount that’s added on top of that. I think if everybody’s understanding that at the at the get go, then it’s fine, you know, that there’s not, I think that the where you get into trouble is when people if there’s not clear understandings, and people put in their money, and then they look around, and they say, Well, hey, the property next door, just sold for five times what it, you know, was purchased for 10 years ago. So I should get five times my investment out when I leave. And if there wasn’t a clear understanding about what what that was going to look like and how that was going to operate, then you are in a place of like, almost inevitable conflict. And again, there’s not there’s different ways to talk about how do you want to value people’s investment. And there are there are, and sometimes it makes sense for people to value them based on sort of the speculative real estate market in different situations. You know, where it’s when someone’s departing, there’s an appraisal made of the property and their percentage ownership and the LLC, you know, is applied to that appraised value. And, you know, there’s a, there’s a trade off and all of that in terms of attracting, Who who are you attracting, and what are you attracting, and there there can in certain circumstances, there’s a need to attract more capital to a project. And so the more sort of capital friendly the provisions of your operating agreement are, the more likely you’re going to attract someone who wants to invest for those reasons. But, you know, then there’s the trade off of that, they might not hold the same sort of communitarian values that other people have, and, and their, their can, and there certainly are, you know, we’re in a really interesting time in history, as the sort of the baby boomer generation is aging and starting to pass. And there’s this massive financial wealth transfer that’s underway here in the so called United States. And there are people who are coming into resources that want to invest in projects that are really worthwhile. And again, I think that if there’s clear understandings of what that that looks like, there are certainly people out there with, you know, the sort of the patient capital, that are willing to either be a part of a community or lend to a community with the understanding that they’ll be getting back a return that’s less than the sort of the market rate is that’s out there. I think where it can get really tricky. And I have witnessed this is, I think it’s totally fine. And it’s totally legitimate, and almost sometimes is necessary for there to be different levels of investment for people that are coming into a community. But there also needs to be really clear understanding of what does that mean, in terms of the governance structure? And is everybody sort of on board with that, you know, are are the governance abilities of the individuals that have a larger investment? Are they going to be able to exercise greater control over the project and those that have less, and again, there’s no one right way to go about that there are certainly communities that I’ve worked with where everybody you know, there’s different levels of investment, but there’s one person or one family, one vote in terms of how decisions are made. And that can be good. And I’ve also worked with communities where that value has been inscribed. And it’s been really problematic because one family had a huge, much different amount of investment. And then when things got tricky, it was like there wasn’t the ability to protect that those resources in the way that they needed to, to feel safe. And so I think that, again, it’s just these are questions that as communities are forming, that they just have, there’s just has to be a lot of trust and honesty and ability to be vulnerable and be like, you know, I wish that I could I wish that I could say yes to one person, one vote, but I’m going to be investing 90% of the investment into this project. And that just feels too risky for me, and then the community gets to decide like, Okay, well then let’s change it so that that works, or we don’t or we don’t form and, you know, in my line of work, there actually many communities forming communities that I work with that end up not consummating the community. And from my perspective, that’s actually a success. If people come together, and they look at it, honestly, and they say, we’re really excited, but when we start looking at all the details, actually, this doesn’t work. And then they say, Okay, we’re gonna go do something different with our life energy. That’s better than the let’s all put our time and energy and money into this project. And then two years from now, we figure out eight, this actually doesn’t work. And now we’re embroiled in some legal dispute, and there’s acrimony between all the people. You know,
Rebecca Mesritz 55:33
that perspective, Clifford, that’s, that’s awesome.
Clifford Paulin 55:36
Yeah, I just think that
Rebecca Mesritz 55:39
doing it is the when
Clifford Paulin 55:41
it is it certainly is, you know, and there’s sadness in that. But I think we have to also recognize, you know, hopefully, for those of us, you know, spirit willing, life is long, and there’s, there’s gonna be another opportunity that comes along to say, alright, I believe in community, I want to do this. And maybe the constellation of people or the land, or whatever it is, wasn’t right in that moment, and that there’s another opportunity that’s coming down the line. So
Rebecca Mesritz 56:08
there’s something interesting in there that you touched on that. I just want to sort of, like, put a pin in because this idea of, you know, maybe all people who invest, if the people invest different amounts, they, they might still have the same amount of say, and how do you create that, especially where we are right now in time, looking at these different diversity and equity movements, and communities are really wondering how to increase diversity inside their community. And a big piece of that is recognizing that not all people have had access to the same opportunities and the same wealth, because of a lot of different issues, you know, their their race, their sexual orientation, their gender identification, and that I think there’s a really rich opportunity in there as communities are forming, to start to still honor and acknowledge money is, in our reality, money is still real. And also, how do we start to level the playing field, maybe we’re not quite ready to be in an income sharing community, but maybe we can still allow for people to come in at different levels and create rubrics are ways of accounting for, you know, what supremacy culture has basically allowed to some people to have more and other people to have less. And even as you’re talking about, you know, Boomer generation passing off and wealth transfer, you know, who who did who is getting that money? And why are they getting that money? And what allowed them what are the systems that allowed them to be the recipients of those resources, and who has had those resources stripped from them through history, and classism, and things like that. So I just love that you’re bringing that into this conversation. And I hope that our listeners take that with them as they are creating their founding agreements, that there are ways that we can, through these little movements, start to write the ship and create more equity for everyone. I think it’s really important. Yeah, and I know you had something to add as well.
Jonah Mesritz 58:25
There’s also examples of someone putting 90% of the funds in, but benefiting as not a Managing Member less liability. But because the agreement field is so strong, they’re like, great, you guys vote on it. I don’t need a vote. As long as this is the entity that we’re talking about. And moving forward. I’m excited to invest. And, you know, and sit back here. And I think another piece Clifford was just the you know, I gave a talk in LA. And there’s 6070 people in the audience and I said, Who wants to live in intentional community 60 hands go up who wants to own their own property and live with your friends 60 hands go up. Who wants to wake up at 5am four days a week and bring the food from the farm to the farmers market? No hands go up. And I was a little frustrated the time I was like, that’s what the problem is with you guys like you want community. But the real thing your computer and I think what you said around like, the great thing about people doing the work and doing all these legal agreement fields is they find out early enough like oh my god, you mean I’m marrying these people in the room. You mean I’m marrying and doing business for the next couple of decades of my life and I and I don’t know if my voice can be heard next to this person who’s always speaking up and cutting people off and we don’t have a good governance model and and there It’s like thank you Clifford, for helping us sit in the room and figure it out. Because I’m now going to bow out and realize, even though I was like, Yes, I want to do community and live with my friends, when I really get into it, you’re like, oh, that’s what it looks like. That’s tough. I, I’m maybe not the person for this.
Clifford Paulin 1:00:18
Sure, yeah, we all want to sit in the hammock and drink the lemonade on the beautiful farm on the idyllic day, but very few of us want to, you know, Snake the septic line that blocks up. But, you know, I would also just say that this is something that you said in both of you are saying that I think that it can and is possible, sometimes for people to invest a larger portion in if they and say, I’m going to step back, I also I just really always press people that are in that situation, just to say, just be really, really honest, Are you really willing to like step back, when if like, if it’s some big portion of your resources that are on the line like, and things feel like they’re going into sideways direction, are you really going to be able to sit back and say, I have full trust and faith in this organization in these people. And that, you know, if, if we’re interested in advancing equity, that’s great. And that, but there is a, there’s a really tight nexus between home and safety. And if we’re, if we’re also tying all of our financial resources into that, it’s like, it’d be a really big pressure cooker. And so if people are really invested, are really interested in like, I want to advance housing equity, and I want to and, you know, equalize class differences. And I recognize that I my wealth that I have came from supremacy society, then like, great, there’s also great organizations that are out there doing great work, and you could donate it, or you could invest it, you know, there’s ways that those things can happen, that might not necessarily have to be right in your home sphere, as well. And maybe it is like, and that’s fine. And I think that’s great. And I do think for a lot of communities that are forming, there’s often an individual or a couple individuals who have greater financial resources that are making it possible for that community to flourish. And I think that for those individuals, it’s really, really important to say, how, how much risk are you really willing to take? Are you really willing to just say, like, if this thing all falls apart, like I could lose a lot of money, like, and if the answer is like, Yes, I see that, and I’m honest about that. And I’m really willing to do that, then, then by all means, like, move ahead. But if the answer is like, Oh, actually, that feels tricky, I don’t want to do that, then it’s like, okay, well, then, maybe this isn’t the right, the right step for you. And I have certainly worked with communities where there is a primary investor who kind of came in with that sense, but then ultimately, you know, when, when one individual or a group of individuals have more power, or they have more investment, there can be a power differential that has to be spoken to, upfront, and it has to be recognized and spoken to throughout as well. Because otherwise, it can creep, you know, it can be like, Oh, well, we got to keep this person happy, because they’ve got, you know, 90% of the investment. So we’re gonna start doing things that maybe don’t feel quite right to make sure they stay happy. And then ultimately, you know, those are the types of decisions that foster resentment and foster, Ill Will in a community and there I’ve, I’ve worked with some communities that have fallen apart because of that.
Rebecca Mesritz 1:03:34
I don’t think there’s so I’ll just say, you know, we’ve talked a lot about this model. It’s like a startup model called slicing pie. And part of what that model includes is sort of recognizing that you have people that are coming in with, with money, and you’ve got people that are coming in with time, and skills. And sometimes the people that have the time and the skills are not the same as the people that have the money. And are there ways in those early founding documents, and in those startup agreements that you can say, well, you know, this person or this couple, or this family is going to contribute X amount of dollars, this person or this family actually has an incredible amount of skill in land stewardship, and they are going to work for the project 40 hours a week, to to build the thing to actually do the be the boots on the ground. Not that everybody doesn’t have to do some level of work, of course, but that there’s ways of sort of honoring different people’s skill sets and what they have the capacity to give at different times as well that could potentially be built into those. Those initial documents as initial agreements that allow for people with different assets to bring those assets to the project.
Clifford Paulin 1:04:53
Yeah, definitely. I think sweat equity is a really important one one that needs to be accounted for and you do you do hit on something great like it, I think they’re from, in my perspective, like successful community does require participation from everybody. If you’ve got the plug and play communitarians that, you know, show up on the weekends, from their, you know, house in the city, and they just get to sit in the hammock and drink the lemonade, then that’s
Rebecca Mesritz 1:05:18
the Burning Man in their trailer with all the wear them and their costume closet brought a half
Clifford Paulin 1:05:26
problem, probably not going to work in the long run. But that being said, there are certainly communities that I’ve worked with where Yeah, you’ve got like a family that doesn’t have the financial resources, but they’re ready to move to the land and commit to like helping build the infrastructure, that’s sort of the, you know, they’re the, the forward team that’s going in and helping get things going. And I think it’s important to recognize and incorporate in those documents, how are you going to value that time and energy contribution, so that, you know, people that are giving something different than just, you know, cash can be valued in that way? And, you know, then there’s, there’s a question in that too, which is an interesting one to look at, like, you know, how do we value people’s time? Again, living in this capitalistic society? You know, different labor is valued differently? And do you want to continue to enshrine that into your community documents or not, you know, does everybody just get paid a flat rate, no matter whether they’re, you know, digging the trench, or they’re, you know, crunching the numbers,
Rebecca Mesritz 1:06:29
watching the babies cooking the food, watching the
Clifford Paulin 1:06:33
babies, right, you know, there’s no, there’s no one right way to do that. But it’s a good, it’s a, it’s an important conversation to have, and so that people can just say, like, alright, we, we are going to value, the person that’s watching the baby’s times higher than the person that’s, you know, digging the ditch or whatever. I mean, again, those are not the best examples. But you know, there’s that, that notion of how do you value people’s time and energy? And and I just think having more clear conversations and more clear expectations about that upfront,
Jonah Mesritz 1:07:04
is helpful. Yeah, and metrics, you know, at, like, you know, when someone comes on, it’s not just you put all these hours in, but maybe there’s a thing that you’re moving towards your building, once the school house is built. And your your kids from the lands have finished a year of school in the new school house, and that was your project, you’ve earned 5% of the shares of this LLC, you know, metrics is like, I feel like is a is a good business model versus the, you know, clear the forest, bring it to health over a three year period. And you will have earned this much, you know, share. Um, yeah, Rebecca, I have a I have a thought in question. Yeah. Yeah, so cliff, what, what inspires me Clifford is, I’m trying to think of like, what is the great mesh, of, of, of creating the future of community, the the game be of community. And what I like is that with you, there’s a level which, you know, my sort of idea, we could bring it to you in a big bucket and be like, help us form this. We don’t have to just pick we’ve got a nonprofit and a Land Conservancy and an LLC, and let’s get those three together. Because some of what I feel inspired to create is the, you know, you’ve got the LLC that owns the land, you’ve got a land conservancy that protects the land in perpetuity. So with those plans being like maybe in 100 years, people don’t want to live there anymore, or can’t live there, or the project sort of goes, we stopped farming, but the land just continues as a park or gets donated to a land conservancy. And then what do you do that conversation we had around? Well, what are the people as a part of the community on on that side? process? I have this idea that in because of the zoning issue that we didn’t really talk about you go and get some land out in the woods, you can’t really just build 10 homes there. So maybe you need to buy lots close by but how do you create an intention community where all those lots and all the housing is owned by one entity. So we all own a percentage of all the entities so we all come to the table and work together to make this an entire community. But while we’re doing that, as we’re buying lots and building housing, we’re creating the nest egg that we all own, you lived there for 20 years. Even if you move you own a percentage of this LLC that owns 20 homes in the valley. What we’re what we’re really trying to do at the at 70 or 80 years old is not to get get you’re not trying to get a million dollars so you can now live on that. What you’re trying to do is is get that to Two or three or $4,000, in today’s money to live off that. So this 20 homes in the valley, we could all own as a community. And those rents in the future younger people come in and move in, maybe the rents are a little closer to current levels. But there is a, you know, someone who’s lived there, 20 years is getting a check for $2,000 a month, because they’ve owned this LLC for 20 years. And that sort of helps with the process of, we can’t all live on 10 homes on one property, but we can live on the 10 lots around that property. And so what I’m excited about what I’ve been trying to get through my brain is like, how am I going to figure out which models to choose, but instead coming to you or someone like you with, with the multiple facets of what we’re trying to create? And you can help us and you can help people say like, Okay, I see some pitfalls. I see some dangerous, but but let’s create something specific for you with this nonprofit, this LLC, these multiple entities to make something for you and for the future, and maybe for the future of intentional community.
Clifford Paulin 1:11:10
Yeah, well, there’s a lot in that. And I appreciate that vision. And I think that, yeah, there’s lots of, you know, these legal structures, their tools, right, like their tools for how do you create what you want in the society that we live in, that hopefully also, like, brings into being more of what we want to see in the world. And you hit on something really important. And again, in the class that I teach with FSC, there’s a whole there’s a whole class on land use issues, and how do you deal with zoning and all of that, because that’s another layer that we’re navigating, and I was that we live in these different jurisdictions that have different building codes and different land use issues that we have to deal with, and what really makes sense. And, you know, a part of my, my hope, and my goal in the work that I do in the world is to try and also be a bridge between people who have these visions, and these more sort of establishment entities like governments to talk about, well, okay, could we look at, you know, having some sort of a cluster zoning option that’s available for this property, if we then put, you know, 90% of it into a conservation easements so that the development will, you know, that fits into the overall land use plan for this area. And maybe that’s not possible. So there, maybe it is, like buying separate homes that are out there. And, you know, I think that in our, in the so called United States, traditionally, the sort of the intentional community as we think of it is on a contiguous land base. But that’s not necessarily the case in a lot of places. And I think, you know, community land trusts, while I would say Community Land Trust is they’ve sort of historically been or not, are not necessarily intentional communities, but there is a, there’s a sort of a interdependent reliance upon each other. And usually, they’re not all contiguous, you know, so you might have a community land trust in, you know, Minneapolis, that owns 300 homes, but they’re all scattered about, but the ability of that one organization to support itself, it makes it possible for people to be in those homes, and to be supporting each other in a way that they wouldn’t if they were all just isolated and independent. And then in other countries, you know, there’s a, a fairly well established community in Italy called domande. Her, and they are sort of scattered throughout a small geographic area, but they own a number of homes that sort of are in that same model, that they’re a part of that they’re not all together all the time. But it allows people to participate in community activities that wouldn’t otherwise be doing that. And yeah, I think that, you know, we got to be creative, and we got to try different models in different places, and some of them are going to do great, and some of them are going to fail. And, you know, the, the whole notion of what is failure is, is also something I think it’s really important to re orient to in the community sphere. You know, I think a lot of people would say, oh, like, if that community doesn’t persist for 50 years, it’s a failure. It’s like, well, maybe, although there’s a lot of communities that existed for a short amount of time, and people had great experiences. And then they went on, and they did different things. And we learned and we said, oh, well, that didn’t work. And okay, so let’s keep working on this. And so, yeah, to kind of come up with, you know, people coming in with these of the resources that we have available. These are the limitations that are on us for different reasons. And, and again, I want to give a big thumbs up to limitations. I think we live in a society that says I don’t want to have any restrictions placed on me, but you know, there’s limitations in the natural world and they, they help shape the beauty and the diversity of evolution. And so the limitations that we exist in, in our governmental structures or in our financial structures can help us guide to what actually works for us right now. And so yeah, I love working with clients that want to do something different and want to say like, Okay, how do I support the here and now for what we want to create now? And then also Yeah, exactly doing the envisioning of the future of like, well, what does this look like in 20 years from now? What do people gonna get one or two, they’re gonna get out of the community for they put this big investment in upfront. And then yeah, maybe it is like a, an ongoing, you know, the rents come back to people. And so they can live, you know, wherever, with that income. And there’s yeah, there’s lots of ways to slice it. There’s no one right way. And that, I think, again, it takes, it takes creativity, and it takes having more items on the menu for people to choose from. And so looking at, yeah, looking at these blended models is a great way to go forward.
Rebecca Mesritz 1:15:55
Hmm, so much. So many rabbit holes, I feel like we could go go into a here I thought my eyes glazed over when I was talking about all of this legal and financial stuff. And I’m so engaged right now, I really appreciate how you are both just making it feel really real. And, yeah, practical. So thank you so much for all of that. My final question for you, then Clifford. Before we go, is really you’ve worked with a lot of different communities and projects over the years? What are the habits? What are the patterns that you’ve seen with the ones who’ve had the most success?
Clifford Paulin 1:16:42
Well, the more the communities with the most successful, the ones that have had the most forethought upfront, and are willing to have those hard conversations and are willing to say, you know, I think for the individuals to say, to say where am I willing to bend? And where are the places that I need to hold firm to that I can’t, I can’t compromise on and to be really honest and upfront about that. And then there’s a, you know, there’s a, an elder in the communities world that I have learned a lot from, and she talks a lot about this, this notion of community mind, you know, and I think that it’s a, it’s a nebulous term, and it’s hard to put your finger on, but it’s this, like, how do we start expanding the scope of self interest to be beyond just our own skin. And I think the communities that thrive the best are ones that have that ability to expand it out there. And I think if we look at a sort of a historical perspective, the communities that thrive the most are ones that have something outside of ourselves that they believe in, and they’re working towards collectively be that some spiritual tradition, or an organic farming endeavor, or land stewardship, but something that ties them and binds them. Beyond just choosing to live together, I think that there’s a lot, there’s a lot of value in choosing to live together, but they’re the ones that succeed the most have something outside of I just want to share space with other people. And then yeah, I think the ones that are really, that are realistic about the changes that will inevitably transpire in their community and are doing them this much forethought as they can about that in advance. Or the successful ones. And then, you know, for the land based communities, like I was saying, I think the ones that succeed are ones where everybody is committed to being engaged in the land in some way. They’re just not everyone’s not going to relate in the same way if it’s not going to have the same amount of energy, but everybody’s got to say, Okay, I’m here and I agree that I’m, I want to contribute to being in this place, whatever that looks like. Beyond just the financial, so yeah, and once also, I think the communities that do the best ones that where there’s a lot of joy, and play and laughter and love. You know, those are not always easy to inscribe in your legal documents, but you gotta have you gotta have that it’s got to feel it’s got to feel nourishing to be there and community so that you feel okay, getting up at five in the morning to clear the septic line.
Rebecca Mesritz 1:19:36
Beautiful, yeah. More Love more loving the contracts. More play and contracts. Oh, well. Thank you so much. Clifford Paulin, and thank you Yona Mesritz, for coming on the podcast and sharing your wisdom and your insights. It’s been a real pleasure
Clifford Paulin 1:20:00
Thanks to both of you. Thank you.
Rebecca Mesritz 1:20:06
Thank you for joining me for this episode. I know that legal and financial issues and documents and agreements are not what brings most people to community. But I hope through this conversation, you’ve gotten to see how these agreements really helped create a sense of security and safety for people to be able to play more fully in the community of their dreams. And I hope that you can take some of that with you and back to your community. If you’ve enjoyed listening to Yona or Clifford, you can find them both online. You can find me on a Mesritz at his activated villages Facebook page. And you can find Clifford pollen at Clifford pollen calm. And you can also in my show notes, find a link and a 30% off coupon code for his online course legal basics for forming communities. When you leave this class, you are going to have a deep understanding of the legal structures, the financial agreements, and all that you need to know to set up your community in a really safe and secure way. So I highly recommend checking it out. And if you haven’t had a chance to visit my Instagram page, please come find me there. It’s an inside community podcast and I’m posting lots of behind the scenes photos and videos, and reels, so that you can really get a chance to see what life looks like and feels like inside community. That’s also a really great place to reach me if you have suggestions or ideas for show topics or guests or you just have questions about what it’s like to live in community. You know, I really appreciate your support of the show, liking, sharing with friends, subscribing, it all really helps me to get the word out. So thank you so much for your support and for joining me again today, and I look forward to seeing you next time.
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About the Show
The Inside Community Podcast brings folks along for an inside look at all of the beautiful and messy realities of creating and sustaining a community. We provide useful and inspiring content to support people on their quest for resilience, sustainability, and connection.
Meet Your Host
Inside Community Podcast host Rebecca Mesritz is a community builder living in Williams, Oregon. In 2011, Rebecca co-founded the Emerald Village (EVO) in North County San Diego, California. During her ten years with EVO, she supported and led numerous programs and initiatives including implementation and training of the community in Sociocracy, establishment of the Animal Husbandry program, leadership of the Land Circle, hosting numerous internal and external community events, and participation in the Human Relations Circle which holds the relational, spiritual and emotional container for their work.
In June of 2021, with the blessing of EVO, Rebecca and 3 other co-founders relocated to begin a new, mission- driven community and learning center housed on 160 acres of forest and farmland. Rebecca is passionate about communal living and sees intentional community as a tool for both personal and cultural transformation. In addition to her work in this field, she also holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from San Diego State University and creates functional, public, and interactive art in metal, wood, and pretty much any other material she can get her hands on. She is a mother, a wife, an educator, a nurturer of gardens, an epicurean lover of sustainable wholesome food, and a cultivator of compassion and beauty.
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