Shared Equity Cooperatives and Community Investment Trusts

Shared Equity Cooperatives and Community Investment Trusts

The vision of intergenerational coliving is not just an important path to consider for the sake of friendship, mutual care, and passing on wisdom.

It also opens up the possibility of exploring alternative financial models that could enable transitions of spaces to low-income Millennials or other marginal groups, with the support of aligned investors, into resident-owned communities.

Announcing the Nuns & Nones Research Initiative

OUR COMMUNITY HAS HEARD several key needs THAT are INSPIRing US TO Take next steps:


1. Women Religious are Facing Difficult Choices and Questions about The Future of their Orders and Sacred Spaces

Many communities of sisters are at a critical juncture in their history, facing challenging questions about the future of their orders and their ministries. Sisters are in the process of transitioning a wide range of institutions and missions they have started—hospitals, schools, community education, emergency shelter, spiritual training programs, affordable housing programs and properties, organizing and advocacy programs (for immigrant rights, against human trafficking, for divestment from fossil fuels), and so much more—and are passing on a wealth of wisdom in the process.

In particular, many of the spaces and properties of women religious are in transition, posing challenges and heart-wrenching questions. No transition of a congregation’s property comes without significant discernment, questions, challenges, and often a wide range of reactions by local community members, as both sisters and their spaces are such beloved, vital members of their community and history. Sisters are also holding and weighing tender questions about the cost of maintaining aging properties, missions, and their own eldercare.

2. Millennials Are at a Precarious moment and Long for New Forms of Community, Grounded in Spirituality and Service

In response to these longings, and the challenges of sisters, we are asking: how might we join the insights, expertise, and energy of these two populations to create new communities of belonging, rooted in love and equity, and standing for justice?

One of the most important, and oft-overlooked, institutions and bodies of wisdom the sisters hold—and that the world is clearly hungry for—is their way of life in community.

In listening to the needs of our time, one thing has begun to speak louder; at a moment in which loneliness, isolation, a desire for belonging rooted in place and for spiritual practice held in community are widespread among Millenials (and many more, besides), community itself, is perhaps one of the most valuable and critical missions sisters have to pass on.

Millennials attending Nuns & Nones our gatherings have expressed a deep desire to learn from sisters and carry these seeds of wisdom into new forms in our generation.

3. Together, We have a rare and timely opportunity to help forward sisters’ legacies and missions by partnering to keep sacred spaces in service to community.

Rather than losing convents, motherhouses, and retreat centers to for-profit developers or the wrecking ball, we believe we can work together to simultaneously meet the financial and community needs of sisters, the housing and gathering needs of a younger generation of spirited activists and organizers, and the broader need in society for sacred spaces of sanctuary and community.

We recognize that such spaces are in short supply and of utmost importance. Whatever challenges await in the years and decades ahead, we know that meeting them will require strong communities of spirit and safe spaces to gather, to hold difficult conversations and build bridges across difference, to offer sanctuary for those in need, to organize and envision, and to build beloved community. In an era of increasing technological speed and distraction, we need sacred spaces to invite us out of the trance of ordinary time and into life’s prophetic and contemplative dimensions. In a society that prioritizes profit over people, we need spaces that model the opposite, showing what's possible when we create a culture of care and compassion, and orient ourselves in right relationship with the earth and with each other.

What would it take to ensure that the sacred living and gathering places of sisters continue to serve unmet needs in communities across the country for the next hundred years and beyond? Together, we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to work across generations—and at a significant scale—to preserve not just these physical spaces, but the histories of the sisters who created, lived in, and tended them, the prayerful energy that has grown there, the ministries that have emerged from these communities, and the essential living legacy of community as a way of life.


Launching a Research Initiative

Born out of our growing appreciation for these shared challenges and possibilities we're launching a research initiative in 2018 to try to address these questions together.

Our hope is that our research will seed timely and ongoing conversations between Nuns & Nones, leading to hopeful, actionable ideas and collaborations.

Our Landscape of Inquiry

Our research initiative, currently composed of a wide ranging team of volunteers—including women religious, Millennials, advisors, and other relevant experts—has already begun. Our first priority questions are:

  1. What can Millennials, longing for community grounded in spiritual practice and service, learn from sisters in this moment—and how?
  2. What creative community and financial models might enable sisters' living and gathering spaces to continue to be of service, stewarded by the next generation, well into the future—in ways that meet their financial needs and forwards their missions and charisms?
  3. What role can the Millennials, and our communities, play in this transitional moment? 

Some more specific questions within those broad themes include:

  • What would shared spiritual practice look like for an interreligious community?
  • What other structures have sisters created to thoughtfully transition missions or institutions to new leadership in robust ways? What can we learn from them?
  • What are the important financial considerations for sites in transition and what creative financial models could be considered to support transitions? 
  • Which sister sites are in transition, and which have already been sold, converted or “lost”? What can we learn from all of these examples, both for inspiration and caution?
  • What inspiration can be gained from similar examples in other domains—such as the ongoing conversion of hundreds of VA properties, farms—or from ecovillages, tiny home villages, the transition town movements, the new monastic movement, etc.?

What questions are you exploring? Join Us!

What questions are you considering? Women religious, associates and lay community members, intentional community builders and organizers of any generation, we invite your thought partnership in exploring these questions with us.

Please reach out, especially if you have experience or expertise in:

  1. Storytelling of the lives of women religious, especially in moments of transition or in new forms of relationship with lay community members.
  2. Alternative models of community that might inspire congregations of women religious looking for signs, hope, and inspiration in these times.
  3. Alternative financial models that might enable us to think bigger about ways to enable bolder action in this moment.

Learn more about joining or following our research project as it unfolds. And be in touch anytime! hello@nunsandnones.org

Intergenerational Co-Living: New Covenantal Communities

Intergenerational Co-Living: New Covenantal Communities

The desire for eldership and spiritually-rooted, intergenerational community is widely shared among many Millennial community builders and organizers of all backgrounds, faiths, and genders, to which the Nuns and Nones community can attest.

Meanwhile, Millennials face unprecedented economic precarity and a shortage of affordable space, both for ourselves and our organizations. Also, we have different attitudes and visions about housing, the American Dream, and community than prior generations.

Convents in Transition: What's Happening?

Many of the spaces and properties of women religious are in transition, posing challenges and heartbreaking questions to these incredible women. 

No transition of a congregation’s property comes without significant discernment, questions, challenges, and often a wide range of reactions by local community members, as both sisters and their spaces are such beloved, vital members of their community and history.

Sisters are also holding and weighing tender questions about the cost of maintaining aging properties, missions, and their own eldercare.

The Response: The Nuns & Nones Research Project

One of the two main aims of the Nuns & Nones research initiative, underway in 2018, has been to try to understand what is currently happening to these sacred community, spaces and boldly ask, “what else could happen?”

With trust growing, the Nuns & Nones conversations point to an historic opportunity to meet urgent needs of both groups—for affordable housing, sanctuary and gathering space, and communities of spirit and service—by halting the razing and selling of sisters' religious properties to the speculative market, through creative models of intergenerational partnership.

Our research hopes to get a more concrete grasp of the reality women religious are facing, and what else has been tried and considered, and seed conversations with sisters with a few bold alternative direction that might be considered in light of our unique partnership across ages.

As our research continues to unfold, we'll learn more. But here's a brief glimpse into what we do know is happening, which we think helps illustrate to us the need and importance of this research.

Some of the more common stories include:

Selling for Redevelopment (Retrofitting)

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Many urban congregation’s sites have been sold for redevelopment and most often have been converted into either market-rate housing or offices. Some have been converted into arts and community centers or schools.  

Often, interiors are gutted, while exteriors are preserved—since these are often valued or listed as historic sites—in order to be converted into luxury condos or “mixed use” developments, e.g. retail on the ground floor with coworking above.

These are often controversial, multi-million-dollar projects that involve piecing together coalitions of stakeholders and local partners over years, and, not uncommonly, more than a few false starts, broken deals, complex politics, and pressure from local activists or preservationists.

Selling for Redevelopment (Demolition)

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Unfortunately, some properties have been left vacant for some time, and also may contain inherent problems—like asbestos or mold—or may simply be in escalating real estate markets that make demolition and rebuilding seem more financially attractive than retrofitting.

Many of these sites are demolished.

Conservation Land Trusts

Many rural sites—often retreat centers, cloistered communities, or formation sites—have adopted a practice of selling an easement to a conservation land trust.

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This is a compromise compared to a market-rate sale for redevelopment. While congregations usually take in less money from the sale by going this route, this decision is often made as an expression of values of care for the sacred spirit of the land, while still providing a one-time income and an ongoing tax credit that helps pay for expected healthcare and operational costs, and also maintains ownership of part of the property with key buildings on it.

“This project touched the very essence of us as humans. To give up potential financial returns on land is a total act of faith. But in the end, we felt that the integrity of the land was greater than its financial value.”
— Father Stan Kolasa, Congregation of Sacred Hearts in Wareham, Massachusetts

Conversion to Ecological Spiritual Centers or Farms

The above strategy is often combined with another for rural spaces that are, or are becoming, ecological centers and farms, such as Crown Point Ecology Center, Crystal Springs Center, and Genesis Farm, bringing in new partners, life, and connection to the community and the land.

Conversion to Catholic Worker Houses

There are also many examples of monasteries, convents, and other sister spaces that have been converted into new missions in the Catholic Worker tradition, such as Su Casa in Chicago.

Planned Transitions to Places of Care and Refuge

We have already met and learned about sister sites that are made plans for transitions into facilities that offer elder care, care for folks with special needs or in medical transitions, or care for other groups in transition (such as women returning from prison or leaving abusive relationships).

Some facilities have undergone expensive renovations to be prepared for their next planned use, and some are already welcoming folks to live together.

What else could happen?

The Nuns & Nones has announced a research initiative in response to this question.

Our goal is to uncover and elevate new ideas for sisters looking for creative direction beyond what either community could have imagined on our own, both to meet the urgent needs of community in our time, and to find ways to steward these spaces well into the future in ways that meet sisters’ financial needs and forwards their missions and charisms into a new chapter.

Interested? Find out more about the research initiative and get involved as a thought partner!

An Historic Opportunity for Black & Indigenous Land Liberation

An Historic Opportunity for Black & Indigenous Land Liberation

The Movement for Black Lives and the Water Protectors at Standing Rock have punctured public consciousness in recent years, calling for deeper recognition of the historical theft of land, dignity, and agency of sacred places and people across this continent by white colonizers, including the Catholic Church.

Sisters are already on the front lines of movements to right these wrongs by joining in solidarity with these movements. Naturally, we believe it is also critical to consider how the sale of sister’s properties might be seen as an historic opportunity to serve the work of reconciliation and reparations to generations of Black, Indigenous, and other historically oppressed communities.

A Sacred Spaces Stabilization Trust

A Sacred Spaces Stabilization Trust

One form of trust that has sparked our imagination is the Community Arts Stabilization Fund of Oakland, California, which combines education and training for cultural and arts nonprofits facing closure with long-term investments, to urgently save as many vital community spaces as possible in the rapidly escalating property market and permanently protect them from the speculative market.

What would it look like to create a similar “emergency stabilization fund” to meet and support sister sites in this critical moment of transition?

Anchor Partnerships with Community Organizations

Anchor Partnerships with Community Organizations

More than just living together, there are opportunities to explore weaving together our missions and organizations across generations, too. What role might sister’s spaces play in hosting Millennial-led organizations that are carrying out much of the same work in the world?

Many of our organizations are in constant need of space for community gatherings, workshops, office space, organizing space, or leadership retreats.

Tiny Home Villages

Tiny Home Villages

Sisters and the Catholic Worker movement inspire us to imagine what role sister spaces could play long into the future to meet the need for sanctuary, a need which we sadly expect to only grow in the decades ahead.

How might we combine the younger generation’s energy and desire to serve with sisters’ very real expertise in offering sanctuary and hospitality? How might sisters’ properties be set up to most creatively serve the needs of displaced people in our time?

Here's one tiny idea that have us dreaming big about possibilities: Tiny Home Villages!

Collective Rituals of Transmission, Grief, and Imagination

Collective Rituals of Transmission, Grief, and Imagination

How we get there, and what we share and dream together along the way, is just as important as our destination. How might we create structures and rituals of thoughtful transmission?

There is so much to honor, witness, and carry on in the legacies and wisdom of sisters. What would it look like to make an intergenerational community-building and storytelling project out of honoring this moment, the lives and work of sisters, and all that they want to pass on?

Financial Sustainability through Green Building Retrofits

Financial Sustainability through Green Building Retrofits

The green building movement offers a robust example and body of best practice for creating a design process that listens for what the land and community are calling for, and for envisioning properties that are intentionally designed for 100+-year sustainable futures.

Green Building also offers creative ways to think about meeting the financial needs of sister sites: for example by creating long-term contracts to fund the installation of new technology or retrofit buildings to significantly reduce operating costs.