Building the cooperative commonwealth
September 27, 2018 6:19 AM   Subscribe

"The first building, named Alku (Finnish for “beginning”), was completed that year. Within a decade, there were almost 30 Finnish-owned co-op buildings in Sunset Park, with carrying costs (a monthly maintenance fee paid by each household) around half the rent of similar apartments in privately owned buildings. Members were forbidden from selling their units at a profit to ensure lasting affordability. In a pattern that would be repeated for decades to come, the housing co-ops became part of a local co-op ecosystem that included a restaurant, bakery and grocery store."The NYC labor movement built 40,000+ units of low-cost co-op housing for workers- So what happened? What can we learn? (In These Times) Next System Podcast on community control of land and housing, which includes a discussion of actionable policies that cities can take to push back against gentrification and build community wealth. (Transcript and Report available) In North Carolina, co-ops are building a more democratic economy.
posted by The Whelk (10 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Gov. Nelson Rockefeller told him in passing he would have done well if he had gone into business. Kazan replied, “I am a cooperator, interested only in building the cooperative commonwealth.”

I have a soft spot for people like these.

You can also do, depending on state, what is effectively a no-equity co-op. Renters are assigned nominal shares in the co-op which they forfeit upon moving out. I grew up in one of these, though it was built a little later than 1919.

...yes, there was a food co-op, and yes, there was carob.
posted by praemunire at 8:23 AM on September 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh hey this is my area of professional expertise!

A few more links that might be of interest:
  • The Socialist Experiment, by Katie Gilbert in the Oxford American: really interesting long article about Co-operation Jackson, and how "co-ops have existed as a necessary counterweight to this country’s economic violence against black communities from the beginning of slavery here. “There seems to be no period in U.S. history where African Americans were not involved in economic cooperation of some type,”"
  • Black-Owned Credit Union Will Soon Become Reality: "Connelly, director of the Association of Black Economic Power, says it was the community that decided a black-led financial institution was the best way to address racial disparities: “We’ve been unapologetic about making sure that the folks that have been carrying the burden of racially-charged oppression in the financial sector are in the position of making decisions and leading in this institution,”"
  • How to Protect a Renter Nation, by Deonna Anderson in Yes Magazine: "This resurgence to establish rent control policies is part of a statewide—and national—movement for tenants’ rights. This specific policy is just one part of a larger effort by people and organizations who believe that housing is a human right and that it shouldn’t only be a sure thing for those with a lot of money."
  • 'It’s About Taking Back What’s Ours': Native Women Reclaim Land, Plot By Plot, by Julian Brave NoiseCat, in HuffPost US: "Gould and her partner in crime Johnella LaRose, who is Shoshone-Bannock and Carrizo, founded the Sogorea Te Land Trust in 2012 to reclaim Ohlone land in the Bay Area. “It’s about decolonizing our own minds and taking back what is ours,” Gould said of their grassroots, woman-led organization. “We are going to be extinct if we do not take care of all of these things.”"
posted by ITheCosmos at 9:09 AM on September 27, 2018 [9 favorites]

I owned an apartment in Alku for a couple of years, as well as another one in a similar Finnish coop about three blocks away, on the edge of Sunset Park. Alku allows buyers to have mortgages, but the other building did not between about 1915 and 2013 or 2014, when they had a series of emergencies that drained their reserve fund so they voted to start taking mortgages and we all made a bunch of imaginary equity overnight. Even when prices for the units jumped up to market value the monthly carrying cost was really affordable. I wish I could keep being involved in coop structures but now I live in a part of the country where they're non existent. :(

The downside was they had some discriminatory the point of illegal operating documents (Ex apartments can only be sold to "Finnish people of good character" LOL) and they had some rules that were in violation of state law like prohibiting people from sharing their apartments with their significant others or family members absent board approval.
posted by zdravo at 3:11 PM on September 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Eep, I just picked up a book on socialist land experiments by Finns in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (where my family is from). Time to dive into these links as well!
posted by libraritarian at 4:03 PM on September 27, 2018

There was a Finnish settlement on Sointula (on a small island in British Columbia) that ran everything cooperatively, and then was revitalized by hippy draft dodgers and their own brand of coops in the 60s
My dad worked for the phone company and said that to have the job of phone operator on Sointula you had to speak Finnish!
posted by chapps at 4:31 PM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also Thanks for the post and the additional links in the comments.... I did my MA on student co-ops (mostly housing) and will enjoy delving into this topic again!
posted by chapps at 4:47 PM on September 27, 2018

Electchester! We didn't live there but went there often for the medical care provided to families of Local 3 workers. I remember parking being a living nightmare and how neat the shopping center was. Also the library there had the greatest selection of Choose Your Own Adventure books. And also yes we ate carob but I think that's totally unrelated.
posted by wheek wheek wheek at 8:51 PM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Prkl! I not long ago learned there were IWW-affiliated Finnish anarchist communities in the Bronx in the 1920s and '30s! It's wonderful to know that spirit took hold, and persists, elsewhere.
posted by adamgreenfield at 4:05 AM on September 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

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