What is Double and Up?
Double and Up is a social enterprise focused on affordable housing
Commercial real estate development maximizes profit by buying property so that all future profits accrue to the developer. When the property is sold the developer gets a big chunk of money to reinvest. The D&U social enterprise model is different in that it does not seek ownership. D&U leases the property from the owner, paying an annual rental fee. The fee and the length of the lease are calculated based on the break-even date for the renovations plus time for a positive cash flow to support D&U. At the end of the lease, the property and the equity in it revert to the owner.
Depending on financial factors and the availability of suitable properties, some participants may choose a rent to buy option on a second house or apartment and emerge from the program owning two properties. That's why it is called Double & Up.
How can people participate?
Many people own houses that are not code-compliant, contain lead, and are not energy efficient, but they do not have money to invest in renovations. D&U will lease and renovate these properties and will recoup costs by subletting the renovated units. At the end of the lease, the property reverts to the original owners.
When a lease is signed, the owner of a property receives a cash advance on their rental income to help them move. If D&U has a unit the participants want, they can rent that apartment or perhaps rent to buy.
After the contract with D&U ends, the owners may choose to withdraw their property from the program or to continue. If they choose to withdraw and move back in, they now own a cozy, code-compliant, energy efficient house. If they withdraw and sell, the upgraded house is worth much more, and their equity is much higher, than it would have been in the original property.
D&U housing stock
After the startup period, D&U will have various renovated apartments and houses available to rent in each participating neighborhood. Senior-safe units would be a top priority to encourage aging in place. Many units will be suitable for subsidized housing programs.
D&U housing stock will grow over time but units will also leave the program at the end of the lease or through rent to buy. D&U will be able to accept property as tax-deductible gifts. Units that D&U owns outright, including program start-up assets and gifts, can be sold or traded.
Baltimore is a good site for the D&U pilot. The city and banks own thousands of vacant properties that drain resources and bring in no revenue or taxes. D&U will save the city money.
D&U will work best if organized around existing neighborhood social infrastructure, and Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods.
- The ideal neighborhood has many owners who can't afford to bring their houses to code and seniors who can't afford to make their houses safe.
- The ideal neighborhood has vacant properties interspersed or at the edges that can be renovated for special uses such as shops, workshops, pop-up sites, and community spaces.
- Community support and involvement is important. Strong local churches, schools, and other social communities will strengthen the program.
- Baltimore has many vocational training and energy programs that can be brought in to help D&U renovate and manage properties. Veteran and union training programs can be mobilized.
The proposed dollar house program represents an excellent opportunity. The participant buys two or three adjacent houses for a few dollars. The houses are leased to D&U to repair, perhaps combine, and then sublet. At the end of the lease the properties return to the owner who spent two dollars toward the buildings and has received a small rent from them each year.
What we need to get started
- Legal team. D&U needs a legal committee with broad skills. The organization needs to be formally incorporated. The legal committee will face many issues over time including contracting, liability, and insurance.
- Finance managers. D&U needs a team of creative number crunchers and financial advisors who can keep the project profitable.
- Skilled staff. D&U needs staff to handle different aspects of the program and to liaise with existing programs for mutual benefit.
- Start-up capital. D&U needs capitol to build the revolving project fund and core funding for operations including staff salaries and benefits, equipment, offices and liability insurance. With strong early support, D&U could be self-sufficient in as soon as 5 years.
- Start-up assets. D&U needs startup vacant buildings, tools, vehicles, and materials with which to begin the program. These assets can come from banks or the city or from private citizens. Donations of building materials and tools are appreciated.Once the initial building are renovated, they can be offered as rentals for participants or newcomers who want to come to the exciting new neighborhood.
- PR and outreach. D&U needs a website, logo, and, as we go forward, we need a group of people who promote the project.
To contact Double and Up, email us on
The iconic photo above was taken in Baltimore by Ben Marcin and is used with permission. Ben's other work be seen on