In the early 1990s, a group of housing activists from Washington, D.C. traveled to Johannesburg to help start the first housing cooperatives in South Africa’s history. These activists were from Washington Innercity Self Help, or WISH, a community-based group that directed much of its work towards helping low-income tenants purchase their buildings from their landlords and form limited-equity housing cooperatives – collectively owned housing that, because of restrictions placed on resale prices, would be affordable to poor people for years to come.
The limited-equity cooperatives that emerged in Washington, D.C. in the 1970s and '80s were a form of the commons: a resource that is governed collectively by its members, and is used not to extract profit for a few individuals, but to support the lives of a group. The commons are a dignified basis of survival for poor people who are largely cut out of capitalist markets, an alternative to both market- and state-oriented approaches to managing resources and sustaining life.
Provoked by mass evictions and the onset of gentrification in the 1970s, tenants in Washington, D.C. began forming cooperative organizations to collectively purchase and manage their apartment buildings. These tenants were creating a commons, taking a resource—housing—that had been used to extract profit from them, and reshaping it as a resource that was collectively owned and governed by them. In Carving Out the Commons, Amanda Huron theorizes the practice of urban commoning through a close investigation of the city’s limited-equity housing cooperatives.