Bronx co-ops can be a model for affordable housing.


There is an affordable housing crisis across America. As of June, the median sale price of a home in the United States was about $400,000. The cost of home ownership in big cities is very high. The median apartment in Manhattan sells for over a million dollars. Renting does not provide relief. The average apartment in Manhattan costs $5,058 a month, and the median is $4,050, an increase of $800 over the past year alone. Washington, D.C. metro rents are up 15.7 percent, and similar housing costs can be found in other U.S. cities large and small.

There is something very different to this problem: Co-op City.

Co-op City, located in the northeast Bronx of New York, is the largest housing cooperative in the United States, with 15,372 apartments in 35 high-rise and seven low-rise townhouses. Today, residents of the smaller three-bedroom apartments pay the co-op $22,500 to buy and then $751 in monthly mortgage payments, which includes utilities. Even residents of the largest 6.5-room apartments pay less than $1,700 per month. Co-op City’s raison d’etre has always been affordability. It can serve as a model and warning for communities across the country facing housing affordability crises.

Today’s problem of housing availability and affordability stems from the post-World War II historical opportunity and ultimately the construction of the Co-Op City. After World War II, returning service members put pressure on the housing supply. In most parts of the country, this is mostly due to the increasing number of single-family homes in fast-growing suburbs.

In New York State, the Mitchell Lama Program sought to increase the supply of urban housing for the middle and working classes. In the year The program, which began in 1955, offered low-cost loans, tax abatements and fixed rebates to developers who agreed to charge residents a reasonable monthly fee. Both for-profit rental housing and non-profit cooperative housing were eligible for the program. In the year Between 1955 and the suspension of the program in 1974, more than 100,000 affordable apartments were built under Michel Lama. The largest non-profit developer was the United Housing Foundation (UHF), which built more than 30,000 apartments. Cooperative City was UHF’s biggest and final development.

Like other UHF projects, Co-op City is designed as a “limited equity” cooperative. Residents generally “bought” into the cooperative instead of owning their own apartments when they moved in. As part of the cooperative, residents (or associates) pay monthly fees, including maintenance, utilities, operating expenses, and the mortgage on the property. They participated equally in the management of the cooperative through an elected board of residents. When the residents moved out, they sold their shares to the cooperative and returned the money they held.

In the year At its groundbreaking in 1966, Co-op City was heralded as the future of affordable housing. President Lyndon B. Johnson sent a congratulatory telegram saying it was “a major advance in the effort to improve the quality of our national life.” Meanwhile, tens of thousands of residents flocked to the Coop City application office. These were not the poorest inhabitants of the city; Indeed, they represent New York’s broad socioeconomic middle ground. Residents of Co-Op City have average incomes for New York City and the nation as a whole. They were 75 percent white, similar to the racial demographics of the city at the time.

While critics of Co-op City’s high-rise towers are a nuisance, the development’s new residents are excited about their community. In her memo, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor [in this multicultural development] They were clear enough, but I saw that they were nothing compared to the common object.

But neither the Mitchell Lama Program’s subsidies nor its cooperative model, nor the residents’ enthusiasm, were enough to maintain stability or affordability.

During the construction phase of Co-op City, mortgage costs rose from a projected $235 million in 1965 to over $390 million by the time construction was completed in 1972. This increase is due to various factors including inflation, interest rates and corruption. Co-op residents’ fees rose in response, from $22/unit during planning in the mid-1960s to $53/unit in 1975.

Protests against porting were the largest rent strike in American history in 1975-76, when 80 percent of the co-op town’s more than 50,000 residents withheld rent from the state. Charles Rosen, the leader of the rent strike, said, “I would suggest that the collaboration is the ultimate in the way most of our residents are working together to save our homes.” The rent strike destroyed UHF, bankrupted the New York State Housing Finance Agency, and ultimately resulted in residents taking direct control of the development. While this success was impressive, it did not bring immediate financial stability.

With the discovery of massive construction defects – including the need to replace the entire plumbing system – and continued inflation and government reluctance to provide subsidies, Co-op residents were faced with rising prices in the mid-1980s. Tenancy strikes in the 1970s and 1980s and ongoing financial and infrastructure problems led many critics to view the development as an expensive diversion.

However, it began to change in the late 1980s. As housing costs began to rise in the years following New York City’s near-bankruptcy, state and city officials began to recognize the need for the co-op city’s 15,000 units of affordable housing. The state agreed to provide a large amount of money to repair construction defects. In the early 1990s, regional officials worked with Co-op City’s resident leadership to deal with the vacancy crisis at the co-op.

Since 1991, the number of foreclosures has increased 80 percent, barely keeping pace with inflation — and other housing cost growth in New York. Meanwhile, Census data shows that, as it has since the development took over 50 years ago, the median household in Co-op City remains near the national and New York City median incomes. In the year In the early 2000s, residents strongly rejected proposals to privatize the development, which would have left the co-op structure and allowed residents to buy their own apartments.

Today, Co-op City is often hailed as a success story. In the year Real gems of the city. Since then, housing costs have risen into the stratosphere, making the co-op city even more of a model, especially as politicians and activists across America call for renewed government efforts to build affordable housing.

In this context, it is worth paying attention to the lessons offered by Co-op City. First of all, large-scale affordable housing requires significant government investment. This kind of development can only be built in the context of a large government program like Mitchell Lama.

In addition, Co-op City’s collaborative model has played a major role in its success. Because resident owners cannot realize the profits from selling their apartments, income in Co-op City is low, and it has eliminated the gentrification of important features in New York today. The capacity and stability of the development is due to the activities of the residents. Allied support during the rent strike was impressive, but decades of quieter militancy before and after helped pressure government officials to lower the charges.

When I spoke to Bill Emike, the then Gove said, In 2019, “housing czar” Andrew M. Cuomo said the memory of the Co-op City rent strike and the impending bankruptcy of the State Housing Finance Agency continued to haunt state officials in their ongoing negotiations with the co-op. It must have been Albert Einstein to know that it mattered. [Co-op City] Be dealt with in a way that does not risk a large, public escalation.”

Ultimately, the lawsuit was settled after the state agreed to work with Co-op City leaders and continue to pour resources into the repairs.

Cooperative City’s history suggests that cooperative housing represents a possible way to achieve more equitable and affordable housing. As history suggests, achieving this goal will require sustained government investment and sustained community vigilance.

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