Noise from the Bleachers

“RETURN TO NORMAL” – is a phrase we’ve heard in recent weeks as the country is loosed from the grips of a horrible pandemic that has devastated so many businesses, economies and families. The phrase strikes me as a failed attempt to describe something that is far from attainable. We have been irrecoverably changed. Businesses have learned to adapt by adopting completely new operations models. Economies have shifted to focus on different centers of revenue in response to changes in the business landscape. Families have been upended by loss, restructured finances and a disrupted routine of basic daily functions. So, is there a normal to which we can return?

In an attempt to recreate our pre-pandemic world, many have resumed travel schedules, dining out, visiting family and, of course, enjoying sporting and entertainment events. Arenas and stadiums are gearing up to host record numbers of visitors to live concerts and games of all types. “America’s favorite pastime” was played in empty stadiums until recently. Now there is actual noise from the bleachers: cheers, shouts! “Get your hot dogs here! peanuts, cold beer!” Even with these familiar touchpoints, normal still is an elusive target.

NAHC and member cooperatives work to strike a balance between the comfort level of our members and our need to emerge from this long period of social and economic distancing. Housing cooperatives are working to resume inperson meetings with their members, boards and committees. However, some of the changes forced upon us will change the way in which we interact, and rightly so. Many cooperative communities have learned that their age-old practices were far less efficient than new solutions to which we’ve recently become accustomed. Boards of all sizes have learned the benefit of online collaboration and electronic communication among themselves and with their hired professionals. No, this will never replace the warmth of a face-to-face conversation or the spirited debate between members as they hash out critical issues related to their housing cooperative. However, many have reported that they were able to accomplish a good deal more in the new operating environment.

So, a return to normal? I think not. But the cooperative economy is resilient and extremely malleable. Housing cooperatives, in particular, have had to adapt to many changes over the years and have yet remained the most economical form of homeownership. These times are no different. Some of the adaptations have revealed hidden strengths. Those include the ability to assist members with the payment of carrying charges amidst a struggling economy. Cooperatives and their managers have sought out financial assistance from a variety of sources. While meeting the increased maintenance needs brought on by families forced to work, educate and recreate from home, cooperative boards have managed to maintain staff morale. They’ve also worked to stave off a barrage of investor attempts at harmful redevelopment plans. Such plans would dissolve housing cooperatives, destroying this most valuable housing stock. Using the lessons of the past 14 months, the cooperative movement has an enormous opportunity for growth as not realized in decades.

We are facing an extremely hot real estate market with historic low-interest rates. Our Government Relations Committee through its work is much closer to realizing the results of years of advocacy work, which will allow our veterans the ability to use their housing benefits to purchase housing cooperative shares. This is a perfect time for housing cooperatives to look within and work to renovate their properties and place themselves in a much more favorable financial position. It is time that housing cooperatives embrace the growing economy and work to be a competitive housing choice for people of all backgrounds. Return to normal? No, it’s time to go far beyond normal. Now that there is noise from the bleachers again, there should be noise from the cooperative movement. Let’s Play Ball!

This article was featured in the Summer issue of CHQ. Click here to read the PDF newsletter.


Fred Gibbs, NAHC President


Climate Change, Local Law 97 and Us

Turn on the television, tune to the news. Climate change is finally a leading story. President Biden has made climate change a core policy for every department. He has committed the United States to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (ghg) 50 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 emissions.

New York State has pledged to have a fossil-fuel-free electricity grid by 2040. That means electricity in New York will come from sources like solar, wind and hydropower. By 2050, the state plans to reduce emissions across all sectors of the economy by at least 85 percent from 1990 levels.

1n 2019, New York City enacted the Climate Mobilization Act, Local Law 97 targeting emissions from buildings over 25,000 square feet. Emissions limits are set starting in 2024, then get tighter in 2030 and each five years thereafter. A building’s emissions are based upon how much electricity, natural gas and fuel oil it uses during the year. Those numbers are reported to the city each year, and buildings that exceed their emissions limits are subject to a financial penalty.

In New York City, buildings are the major source of emissions, and heating and cooling is the biggest producer of emissions in buildings. The planners believe that with green electricity by 2050, buildings can switch from using oil and gas boilers for heating to electrification using heat pumps. There are several kinds of heat pumps. The most common being discussed are air source heat pumps. The easiest way I’ve found to explain a heat pump is to think of it as a reversible air conditioner (An air conditioner itself uses a heat pump but only moves heat in one direction). A heat pump can provide heat in the winter and cooling in the summer.

To waste less heat, there is talk of making buildings tighter. Exterior insulation finishing systems (EIFS) add insulation outside the building with a covering over the insulation. Where that is not feasible, insulation can be added inside, though that can reduce room sizes. Roof insulation standards will also increase. New, more insulating windows are included in the vision.

With buildings more airtight, ventilation and indoor air quality are an issue. Here the technology calls for energy recovery ventilation (ERV). Old air is drawn out of the building; new air is brought in. The system uses the energy in the exhaust air to contribute to the heating or cooling of the new air.

There’s more, but now let’s look at what it means for our cooperatives. Amalgamated and Park Reservoir already meet the emissions standards for 2024 – 2030. Unless we add to our emissions between now and 2030, both cooperatives are okay as is. LL97 also allows an extension through 2034 for Park Reservoir (Mitchell Lama) and Amalgamated (Mitchell Lama equivalent). The extension allows an alternate path of prescriptive measures, including some steps we are already planning on.

Amalgamated is going forward along the primary path as indicated several times in other reports. We do this to bring us closer to the tightening standards of 2035 and beyond and more importantly because we believe that through a combination of incentives from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and Con Edison, along with energy loans that are repaid through energy savings, we can reduce our emissions, lower our energy bills and provide greater comfort with no upfront cost to cooperators.

Electrification, EIFS and ERVs are likely to be in our energy future. Getting there will require long-term thinking and long-term planning. They are major undertakings, with funding and logistical questions not yet answered.

Our buildings may not now have the electrical capacity that will be needed for electrified heating and cooling. If needed, rewiring is expensive, estimated at $50,000 to $70,000 per apartment at current rates. We are not alone in facing this issue, and government leaders understand that. Will they step up with funding or simply impose mandates on us? There’s another “who pays for electrification” question. The law now mandates that building owners pay for heating, while residents usually pay for cooling. Our cooperatives are currently master metered, but for residents who are directly billed by Con Edison or who are sub metered, heating costs will show up on their electric bills. Once again, a problem broader than our cooperatives, that must be addressed before we can electrify.

Adding to the question, there are voices recommending eliminating gas stoves with replacement by induction or electric stoves. They make the case to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) as well as eliminate greenhouse gas emissions that come from cooking with gas. Induction or electrical cooking will add to the electrical capacity needed for each apartment. Our cooperatives are not yet considering eliminating gas, but future policy may lead us there.

Amalgamated is still considering submetering. Every study I have seen says submetering reduces electrical use by at least 10 percent, usually 15 percent or higher. There are problems and obstacles including those noted above. It remains to be seen whether we will seek to overcome the obstacles or accept the shortcomings of our existing master metering.

We are already thinking about charging equipment for electric vehicles (EVs). There are very few EVs in the cooperative now, but that number will surely grow. What equipment should we buy? How do we fund it? How many charging stations? How do we bill for charging? Can we accommodate cooperators who do not have spots in the garages?

Other cooperatives are seeing the same questions, and members of our Coordinating Council of Cooperatives’ family are exploring optimum solutions. We will probably need additional power from Con Edison and separate lines for EV charging. EV charging electricity will not count toward our emissions for LL97 as the city will certainly recognize that EV charging offsets far greater emissions that would come from gas powered vehicles.

Amalgamated has just invested about $8 million in two new boilers, a combined heat and power unit (CHP), chimney repairs and a range of modernizations in our power plant. Therefore, electrification with heat pumps is likely to be later between now and 2050. Heat pump technology will improve between now and then, as a lot of very smart people are working on this challenge. New and better refrigerants for air source heat pumps (ASHP) are high on the list of priorities. The field of geothermal and ground source heat pumps (GSHP) is also growing, and by the time most of our cooperative buildings electrify, other alternatives will also be explored.

Amalgamated is planning on geothermal for the towers very soon. This is because the existing towers’ heating and cooling system needs major overhaul now. Geothermal offers the best option for reducing emissions.

Climate change is not just a topic for political debate. How we deal with it will impact us all, as individuals and as a cooperative. The more we learn about the problem and the technology to address it, the better prepared we will be.

This article, reprinted with permission, originally appeared in Community News, a publication for Amalgamated Houses and Park Reservoir Houses, Bronx, N.Y. Author: Ed Yaker

This article was featured in the Summer issue of CHQ. Click here to read the PDF newsletter.

Cooperative Advocate Leads Washington, D.C.’s Efforts to Increase LECs

I was sitting in the living room of a friend’s home in Northwest Washington in the spring of 2018, waiting to hear D.C. Council Member Anita Bonds make a campaign speech for a second term. Council Member Bonds is also the chair of the council’s Committee on Housing and Community Development. I did not know much about Council Member Bonds even though we attend the same church, and I know several of her staff members. However, the first thing she said surprised me. Council Member Bonds said – the solution to Washington D.C.’s affordable housing crisis is limited-equity housing cooperatives. I thought to myself it is rare to have a policymaker promote cooperatives as a cornerstone of their campaign. I should know. I have over 30 years’ experience advocating for cooperatives in Congress.

In follow-up conversations with Council Member Bonds, I learned that she had taken it upon herself to visit several Mitchell Lama cooperatives in New York City. She was impressed with the size of the co-operatives and the strong community she witnessed inside the buildings. This was her inspiration for a new limited-equity housing cooperative initiative in our nation’s capital. Several months later I received a call from Council Member Bond’s staff asking me to become the chair of a task force on cooperative housing that she was proposing to the D.C. Council and mayor. The purpose of the Task Force would be:

“To establish a Limited-Equity Cooperative Task Force (LEC) to provide comprehensive policy recommendations, assist district residents and the district government with improving existing limit-ed-equity cooperatives, establish new limited-equity cooperatives and help all limited-equity cooperatives succeed and prosper.”

The task force was to have representatives from housing cooperatives, housing advocates, and those who provide services to housing cooperatives such as financial institutions, lawyers, property managers, and representatives of the D.C. government.

The other members of the task force are Jade Hall, Housing Counseling Ser-vices; Louise Howells, University of the District of Columbia Law School; Amanda Huron, University of the District of Columbia; Vernon Oakes, Oakes Manage-ment, Inc.; Lolita Ratchford, Ella Jo Baker Intentional Community Cooperative; Risha Williams, D.C. Housing Finance Agency; Ana Van Belen, D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development; and Elin Zurbrigg, Mi Casa, Inc.

The task force began working in the fall of 2018 and throughout the winter and spring gathering in-formation. We did not have a budget or any staff, and I soon learned there was little hard data on housing cooperatives in D.C. No one knew how many limited-equity housing cooperatives were in D.C. This was going to be a true grassroots volunteer effort. However, there was a study from 2004 by Katheryn Howell at Virginia Commonwealth University that assessed housing cooperatives and the support systems, but the data was out of date. I was afraid that without current data the task force’s policy recommendations would not be taken seriously. However, the task force was grateful that the National Cooperative Bank, Capital Impact Partners, and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation stepped forward and provided funds so that the study could be updated.

Washington, D.C., like most other major cities in the United States, has an affordable housing crisis. However, low- and-moderate income families in D.C. have one advantage, the Tenants Opportunity Purchase Act (TOPA). The D.C Council passed this legislation in the 1970s that provides that if a building owner plans to sell or convert a rental property, they must provide the current residents’ first right to purchase. This often leads to the formation of the tenants’ association and ultimately a housing cooperative. The catch is that the tenants only have one year to complete the transaction. The TOPA has ensured that thousands of affordable housing units have remained affordable.

In the early years of TOPA, the D.C. Council provided funds that supported the conversions by tenants’ associations and housing advocates. Funding was available for education, training, feasibility studies, predevelopment funding, and most importantly financing for building improvements and long-term financing. However, in the 1980s, D.C.’s city government experienced severe financial problems, and many of the programs that housing cooperatives accessed were underfunded or eliminated. Council Member Bonds and the task force set forth to change the current situation for preserving existing affordable housing units and creating new limited-equity housing cooperatives.

Today, D.C. has approximately 4,400 units of limited-equity housing cooperatives in 99 cooperative buildings. These units are spread across the city with more than half in low-income neighborhoods. Many cooperatives are in gentrifying neighbor-hoods representing a stable form of homeownership. A 2019 report from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found that D.C. had the highest percentage of gentrifying neighborhoods of any major U.S. city. The task force knew that as housing prices continue to soar and lower-income residents find themselves squeezed into unaffordable housing or out of the city, there is a renewed sense of urgency.

To address the housing crisis in D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser has set a goal of creating 36,000 units of new housing by 2025 including 12,000 units of affordable housing. The task force saw this commitment as an opportunity and proposed that the city should establish a goal of increasing the number of limited-equity housing cooperative units in D.C. by 45 percent by 2025 from 4,400 units to 6,400 units. Our strategy was to build upon the mayor’s commitment and complement her larger goal, but we knew that a lot of work needed to be done to build an eco-system that could support existing cooperatives and create a new generation of limited-equity housing cooperatives.

The task force began working on our understanding that limited-equity housing cooperatives are effective at creating and preserving affordable housing. Housing cooperatives pro-vide stability in housing costs. Studies confirm that the average limited-equity housing cooperative carrying charge was less than half than the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determined fair market rents for D.C. neighbor-hoods. For low-income people who could never qualify for a conventional mortgage, cooperatives offer a chance at home-ownership and the opportunity to build wealth. Data shows that limited-equity housing cooperatives stay affordable longer than low-income tax credit projects. As owners, cooperative members build community; the property is better maintained, is safer, and is often the anchor of the neighborhood. Reklama: Pakabukai, grandinėlės, žiedai, apyrankės ir sidabriniai auskarai

The task force’s conclusion was that to meet the goal of creating more cooperatives the city would need to invest in the cooperative ecosystem so that D.C. residents could create their own long-term, affordable and stable housing. The task force presented its recommendations (see the sidebar) to Council Mem-ber Bonds and the D.C. Council in February just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. The D.C. Council soon found themselves with budget shortfalls reaching $750 billion, and it was clear that the city had other priorities. Just before COVID-19 started to affect D.C., Council Member Bonds offered two bills related to the task force report. The first was to make the task force a permanent entity re-quired to submit two reports to the D.C. council each year. The second bill would provide a property tax abatement for all D.C. limited-equity housing cooperatives. Both bills have the support of the majority of the council and are still pending. It is our hope that they will be considered by the council in the fall. In the 2021 D.C. budget, Council Member Bonds was able to include funding for a staff person at the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development to focus on cooperatives, another recommendation.

Once we have COVID-19 under control, the task force plans to continue working. We now have a website where the recommendations can be found and other information about the work of the task force.

This article was featured in CHQ winter 2020 issue. Click here to read the PDF newsletter.


Paul Hazen is the Executive Director of the U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council in Washington, D.C.

Cooperative Business Head is the Keynote Speaker at the NAHC Virtual Summit

The National Association of Housing Cooperatives (NAHC) will convene its first-ever virtual summit on November 11–13, 2020. The online program will feature a keynote speaker and deliver seven online learning sessions and special events, such as social activities, engaging breaks, and games.

Doug O’Brien, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the National Cooperative of Business Association (NCBA), will be the keynote speaker on November 11. During his address, O’Brien will educate participants about the various types of cooperatives that exist and the significance of NAHC’s federal issues such as the Paycheck Protection Program, disaster relief (H.R. 5337) and reverse mortgages for housing cooperatives.

Later that day, a panel will discuss the various measures communities have taken in response to COVID-19 and share the best practices for your cooperative. The last session will highlight conflict resolution in light of the pandemic. The day will end with a game of NAHC bingo.

Thursday’s summit will present sessions on finance, management and disaster preparedness. The finance session will focus on refinancing during these low-interest rate times. The management session will deal with how to lead your property manager and help them navigate the COVID-19 safety procedures, and the final session will be a discussion on your cooperative’s readiness for disaster. After the sessions, the NAHC talent show will begin.

On the last day of the summit, participants will get an update on legal and governance issues. The legal session will expound upon the rights you have as a cooperative, and the governance session will be a new board member panel discussion. The NAHC trivia session will conclude the day.

The summit will take place via Zoom, a video communications application. Prior to the start of this event, registrants will receive a unique Zoom link to join the program. Register today for the NAHC Virtual Summit.

Workforce Housing Cooperatives: You Can Live Near Your Job

CREDIT: TOM ARBAN, TEEPLE ARCHITECTS, INC, TORONTO. | Local 75 Housing Co-op is located in Toronto, Canada.

Daily newspaper headlines beg for solutions for America’s affordable housing crisis. There are lots of valuable ideas, but few implementations that are scalable. For example, there’s much talk about the concept of “workforce housing” but very few concrete examples. Numerous definitions of “workforce housing” exist with the most prevalent being that it serves working people earning 80-120 percent of median income who pay no more than 30 percent of their income in rent.

There is a housing crisis in many major U.S. cities, a continued rise in homelessness and a vast shortage of affordable housing for extremely low, very low and low-income households (30-80 percent of median income). While just a drop in the bucket, federal and state programs and subsidies are at least addressing some of the problems of supply.

A similar and growing crisis exists in the supply of affordable housing for households earning between 80-120 percent. This segment of the population, however, is not eligible for subsidies or affordable housing and most often is paying far more than the 30 percent of income that the U.S. Housing and Urban Development regards as normal. This 80-120 percent segment is mostly destined to be renters-for-life, and with overpaying for rents and miniscule ability to save, they will never have the down payment to own a home or pay a mortgage.

Nor, most likely, will they be able to afford to live near their job. Commuting is a major contributor to global warming. Affordable housing for this segment of our major cities is fast disappearing. “Workforce housing” targets this segment with words and policies, but, regretfully, with few real projects.

One group did do something about it, however. Here’s the story of a workforce housing cooperative operating in the heart of one of the biggest cities in North America.

This housing cooperative gives first preference to low-income workers with jobs in downtown hotels and restaurants. Those resident members are easily able to walk, bike or take public transportation to their jobs. The 85 cooperative apartments (33 one-bedrooms, 24 two bedrooms, 24 three bedrooms, and four four-bedroom units) are a mix of subsidized and slightly below-market-rate units. Four units were developed as accessible. Because of the central city location, only 10 on-site parking spaces were provided. One space is reserved for Enterprise CarShare and one space reserved for handicapped parking.

How did such a sensible, affordable home for the lowest-paid employees of Toronto’s Downtown hotels and restaurants get built a third-of-a-mile away from Toronto City Hall in the city’s business center? The cooperative is six minutes by bike from Union Station, Toronto’s transportation and downtown hub. One Local 75 Housing Co-op resident was quoted in the National Post as saying, “I love it. I can walk to work. I don’t have to get up at 5:30 a.m. and get the bus.”

The city of Toronto had a vacant site at 60 E. Richmond Street. Toronto Community Housing (TCH) was fast losing social housing units downtown. The Cooperative Housing Federation of Toronto (CHFT) had not seen any new cooperative in 20 years, and Local 75 UNITE (Hospitality Workers) had members traveling quite a distance to their downtown jobs. The ingredients were there, but there was not yet a cook.

Along came Toronto City Councillor Pam McConnell. McConnell had lived in Spruce Court Co-op for 40 years. At times she was a cooperative housing manager and rose to become president of the Cooperative Housing Federation of Toronto. In 2017, the year she died prematurely, she was a deputy mayor of Toronto. McConnell saw a unique alliance that met her cooperative vision to house low-income workers in downtown Toronto.

The alliance spent a few years looking for an outcome that was acceptable to all four groups. At the conclusion of their efforts: The city of Toronto leased the vacant site to TCH for 50 years; TCH, CHFT, and UNITE signed a memorandum of understanding on who would be eligible to live there and what income groups would qualify. TCH then subleased the property to Local 75 Housing Cooperative, Inc. The final agreement reserved 47 units for displaced low-income households who once lived in the gentrifying Regent Park neighborhood and 38 units for UNITE members or non-union workers in the hospitality industry.

To support the project and to bolster the cooperative’s operating budget, UNITE filled another gap. UNITE rented most of the ground floor commercial space for two purposes. One was for its Toronto offices, and the other, more importantly, was for a training restaurant.

Called Hawthorne Food and Drink, the training center is open to all UNITE members and to any member of the public who wants to work in the hospitality industry. For example, United Way of Toronto and other government work programs provide scholarships to homeless and low-income people who want a job in the field. The Hospitality Workers Training Center (HWTC), a nonprofit sponsored by Local 75 UNITE, downtown hotels and government and nonprofit employment organizations operate the restaurant. In less than seven years of operation, Hawthorne has trained hundreds of hospitality workers.

The Canadian Architect magazine wrote this about the cooperative: “Designed by Teeple Architects, 60 Richmond East is a boldly contemporary high-rise with sculpted lines and splashes of colour, as well as a compelling blend of social, environmental, and urban aspirations.”

The 11-story building has won numerous awards for its architecture and sustainable construction, such as Governor General’s Medal in Architecture; Greater Toronto Chapter Innovation in LEED Award – First Place; Toronto Urban Design Award – Award of Excellence; ArchDaily Building of the Year Award; Sustainable Architecture & Building Award; and Canadian Architect Award of Excellence.

The need for workforce housing cooperatives like Local 75 Housing Cooperative in major American cities is enormous. Cities desperately need targeted affordable housing to attract teachers, public employees, service workers, nonprofit employees and gig workers who are the moderate-income backbone of the urban economy. Due to the very high costs of housing in many cities, the need stretches from households earning between 80-140 percent of median income.

Religious organizations, teachers’ associations, unions, employer and employee groups, nonprofit housing and community organizations are some examples of people who could step forward to sponsor such initiatives for their members.

CREDIT: ED YAKER | Amalgamated Workers Housing Cooperative, Bronx, N.Y. is one of the first examples in the United States of union sponsored workforce housing.

The oldest continuing housing cooperative sponsored by a union is Amalgamated Housing Cooperative in the Bronx. It was first occupied in 1927. A second housing cooperative called Amalgamated Dwellings in Manhattan was occupied in 1929. Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union under the leadership of their president, Sidney Hillman built the two housing cooperatives. The manager was Abraham E. Kazen, who went on to become known as the ‘father of cooperative housing in the United States of America.’

In the 1950s, a group of trade unions under the leadership of Kazen drew upon the Amalgamated experience and went on to form United Housing Foundation in New York City. Through their joint sponsorship, UHF spurred the creation of over 20 housing cooperatives. Those unions created about 33,000 units of cooperative housing in New York City targeted to their members. Some were developed by unions to house their particular members. UHF functioned to provide affordable housing to the city’s core workforce. Through UHF, union workers got to live affordably and have cooperative homeownership in the city where they worked. Without a doubt, and without knowing what it would be called later, the UHF cooperatives in NYC were the first mass provision of “workforce housing” in the USA.

Only a coalition of that type of scale sponsoring limited-equity housing cooperatives (LEHC) and using state and federal funding can meet the affordable ‘workforce housing’ shortage facing today’s moderate-income working families.

Silicon Valley and San Francisco in California are at the epicenter of the jobs-housing crisis. Apple, Cisco, Google, Facebook, and other tech giants are investing billions of dollars in foundations to address the regional affordable housing crisis. Some of these new funds should foster LEHCs for targeted employee groups such as teachers, municipal workers, tech workers, etc.

LEHCs have the best record of maintaining affordability over time, requiring modest down payments, creating lower entry home ownership, ensuring owner occupancy and creating democratic governance and community. In particular, the U.S. is fortunate that the National Cooperative Bank and Capital Impact are available to share their extensive experience in funding affordable cooperative housing.

The moderate-income housing and homeownership deficit are growing at crisis proportions. The overpayment of rent by moderate-income families is destroying the asset building opportunities of this core segment of the population. Without employing a cooperative housing solution that has access to targeted government, foundation and institutional financing, the U.S. will be left with cities of lifetime renters not able to save. Without an affordable ownership solution for the middle class, America’s societal structure and values and the American Dream are at risk

David J. Thompson has visited Soldier On twice to learn about the progress of the limited equity cooperative model. He has worked on the California legislation and successful bond measure in 2014 which made $1 billion more available to house veterans in new ways. David is president of Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation and a co-principal of Neighborhood Partners, LLC.