What year was your center founded?: 1994
What region(s) does your center serve?: Northeast – New England and New York
What sector(s) does your center serve? Do you have a particular focus?: All sectors, with a focus on resident owned manufactured home communities, other co-op housing, food systems, and transitions of businesses to worker ownership.
How many co-ops have incorporated thanks to your center’s assistance?: 171
What is your center’s greatest accomplishment over the last five years, or the thing that you are most proud of?: We have grown tremendously in the last five years, both in size and in the organization of our work. We’ve helped create 27 new resident-owned communities comprising over 3,000 units of affordable housing. We also worked with 7 businesses to complete ownership transitions, securing about 200 jobs. And we’ve worked with dozens of co-opreneurs to establish and grow businesses in the food system, from seed to compost. We’re very proud that a growing area of our work is “training of trainers”, that is, working with various community economic development groups to develop their capacity to do co-op development. We believe that the more these skills are widespread, the more resilient the co-ops that are developed will be, existing in a supportive cooperative ecosystem.
How has CW supported your work?: Being a member of CooperationWorks means being part of a community of practice. We learn so much from each other. In particular, we’ve engaged with a group within CW that is focusing on housing co-ops. It’s great to be able to learn about new ideas and share what we are doing.
What is the most unique co-op your center has assisted?: This is a tough one to answer! Every group is unique. The Isuken food truck, pictured, is a worker co-op owned by Somali Bantu immigrants, which uses fresh ingredients from local Somali Bantu farmers, including their own and other co-ops. The Compost Co-op is a worker co-op employing individuals returning from incarceration and reducing food waste in their communities, and now renovating a building to provide affordable cooperative housing for their workers. The recent transition to worker ownership of Ward Lumber, a 130-year-old family business, has secured over 50 jobs and a thriving business in the rural Adirondack region; we collaborated with a regional development partner, a small business development center, lenders, and state and federal funders.
Has the pandemic affected your work? How so?: Yes. We’ve been working from our home offices for well over a decade, so we already knew a lot about how to meet effectively over video, but we had to quickly train up and equip our clients to meet virtually with us and each other. We also had to work with clients on rapidly pivoting their business plans, especially those connected to food service or grocery, and also successfully navigating various government and private assistance. Another, longer-term, impact has been that rising real estate prices are affecting the ability of residents to afford to buy the properties where they live, and encouraging speculative investment. This is an ongoing concern and we are exploring ways to revise public policies that currently give real estate investors an advantage over residents during the sales process. The pandemic has heightened the public’s awareness that secure, affordable housing is very much also public health.
Anything you feel this didn’t address?: Collective liberation is at the heart of why we do this work. We believe that none of us can be free to live a good, prosperous and peaceful life until everyone is free. The US is facing a reckoning about how government policies have enforced disadvantage in access to housing, land, credit, and food, not to mention education, health, and safe policing. The pandemic has forced into higher visibility stark inequities that have been centuries in the making, and the unfolding global climate disruption threatens to deepen injustices even further. Cooperatives offer a holistic way to address these inequities and meet people’s needs through self-determination, in a context of shared, mutual accountability. We can do more together!