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Published: Autumn 2009

COOPERATION: A SOLUTION IN DIFFICULT TIMES

From the founding of the first purchasing cooperative more than a century ago, cooperative enterprises have provided creative means to cope with difficult situations and difficult times. In rural areas, farmers joined to purchase as a group the sophisticated equipment that none could afford on their own or to market their products more effectively. In the early 20th century, as electricity illuminated towns and cities, utility companies did not find it profitable to wire outlying areas; thus rural electric cooperative were born to cooperatively purchase this new service (cooperatively owned telephone service, television, cable and now wireless internet service have since grown from this model). In poorer areas of our nation, where conventional banks are rare and credit hard to obtain, credit unions have been formed; this cooperative way of sharing funds has enabled members to purchase homes, start businesses and to earn good interest on savings. Mutual insurance companies are also cooperative structures, with a similar history.

Cooperative housing has also come into existence to help owners deal with difficult times. The earliest housing cooperatives date from the economic crises of the 1880s. Cooperative living enabled owners to lower their individual housing costs through shared efforts, shared purchasing, sharing of expertise. In the 1930s, Americans were in crisis and cooperatives flourished by providing a measure of relief. In times of lesser economic crisis, in the early 1970s, the early 1990s and again today, cooperative living and the cooperative way of doing business help to solve problems.

All across the nation, and despite federal efforts to help, mortgage defaults continue and home owners are losing their homes. But home owners in cooperatives and condominiums are proportionally less subject to these ills, in part because of the special, cooperative form of ownership that they share. Cooperatives exercising their responsibility to review proposed shareholder mortgage loans (and to set limits on mortgage levels) have also helped protect shareholders from predatory lending.

Now, the National Association of Housing Cooperatives (NAHC) and the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) are both working to promote cooperative solution to our nation’s problems. NAHC’s Development & Preservation Committee seeks to bring together defaulting private homes into a cooperative structure for more efficiency and economy. NCBA is applying its decades of success in cooperative development in third world nations to pilot studies for cooperative solutions at home in both the housing and health care areas.

CNYC and its members are connected to NAHC and to NCBA through seats on the NAHC and NCBA boards held by members of the CNYC board and staff. Many CNYC member cooperatives and condominiums also take membership in NAHC, supporting its lobbying efforts and enjoying access to its resources.

For close to 35 years, the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB) has brought a cooperative solution to New York City, by renovating more than 30,000 units in abandoned and foreclosed buildings, to provide homes for low and moderate income individuals and families who are recruited and educated by UHAB to be cooperative home owners. These cooperatives have helped stabilize and improve their neighborhoods and provided ownership opportunities where none would otherwise exist. Many of the cooperatives created by UHAB are members of CNYC.

Members of NAHC and UHAB and other ‘sister’ organizations for housing cooperatives and condominiums will attend CNYC’s 29th annual Housing Conference on Sunday, November 15th to take part in this opportunity to learn about current issues, to brainstorm together to solve common problems, and to meet other leaders in the world of housing cooperatives and condominiums. Please greet them warmly when you meet them in your Conference workshops and seminars.

 
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