NAHC Founder, President Emeritus: Gives Advice to Those
Seeking Board Service
With the NAHC board elections in the fall, CHQ editor Altoria Bell Ross had a conversation with NAHC President Emeritus Roger Willcox. During the interview, Willcox discussed his launch into the cooperatives, his board service, his accomplishments as president and advice for rising NAHC board members.
Editor: What was your starting point in the cooperative world?
Willcox: Housing cooperatives have been part of my life since 1928. That is when my parents helped create the Bleecker Gardens Co-op in New York City, so my brother, three sisters and I could attend the nationally known City and Country School nearby.
After an eventful childhood, a Harvard College degree and a most unusual Army career, five Willcox families, many friends and I created Village Creek, the first intentionally open occupancy cooperative community in Connecticut in 1950 where I still live today with two of my children and their families.
When Congress approved Section 213 of the National Housing Act early in the 1950s, I was asked by trustees of the Foundation for Cooperative Housing (FCH) to be the general manager of its new not for profit subsidiary, FCH Company, later known as FCH Services, Inc. As by then a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate city planner, I accepted this assignment and with excellent legal counsel services of Krooth and Altman. I spent nearly 20 years organizing mostly “affordable” housing cooperatives before an unfortunate decision by the FCH Board led to my resignation and a prediction that FCH under its new policy would be bankrupt within five years, which did happen just as predicted.
Dave Krooth for his own reasons engineered that decision and the actions against me that followed. Krooth and company were only interested in new construction, so I continued organizing mostly conversions of existing rental housing. In 1987 I received recognition. The National Cooperative Business Association inducted me into the Cooperative Hall of Fame for organizing housing cooperatives in 30 states, serving more than 55,000 families, helping create the NAHC in 1960 and serving as its president for more than 10 years.
“My top priority is an autobiographical type book with major emphasis on types of affordable cooperative housing.”
Editor: Why did you run for the NAHC board?
Willcox: I saw it was essential for housing cooperatives to have a source of ongoing education. By 1960 FCH had already completed organizing new housing cooperatives in 10 states and had 19 full-time staff members working out of four regional offices: Michigan, Washington, D.C., California and Connecticut.
Jerry Voorhis, a FCH trustee and president of the Cooperative League of the USA suggested it was time to organize a national association of housing cooperatives. He took the lead in getting the big housing cooperatives in New York City and the Housing Committee of the AFL-CIO to attend a founding meeting in New York City at which NAHC was born.
Three organizations each pledged $5,000 for first year dues: the AFL-CIO, Nationwide Insurance and FCH. I volunteered to be treasurer of the new NAHC and promoted new regional cooperative housing associations in the areas where we were already organizing several new housing cooperatives. As one of its principal organizers and officer, I was on the NAHC board from day one.
Editor: Why did you agree to become president of the NAHC board?
Willcox: The NAHC Board appointed its first officers. Voorhis served as its president for at least one year. I served a year or two and then tried to get our West Coast organizer, Paul Golz, to take the job. Golz came from New York and had many cooperative friends there. But after a couple of months, he resigned, saying it was taking too much of his time. No one else volunteered to be the NAHC president, so I had to take over again. After a decade as NAHC president, I also announced it was time to resign and did so at the next the Annual Membership Meeting, promising to stay on the NAHC board as long as the membership wanted me to be a senior advisor. I asked for a secret ballot vote to confirm this option. The vote was 164 to one (My wife Joan was a delegate and later admitted she cast the dissenting vote.).
Editor: What were your most important achievements during your tenure?
Willcox: The most lasting achievements have to be those in the field of NAHC publications. Over the first 30 years of NAHC existence–the 60s, 70s and 80s–it was a struggle just to even have NAHC publications and functioning regional associations. I think my filing drawer of NAHC publications is the most complete one we have for those years. When I personally delivered four filing cabinets of other NAHC records to our then Alexandria, Va. office in the l990s, I was shocked to learn of the fire the next day that destroyed most of them.
Editor: What advice would you give to perspective members who want to serve on the NAHC board?
Willcox: Someone who wants to wants to run for the NAHC Board needs to begin by discussing their reasons with a friend who is on the NAHC board. There are several matters to consider. First is why the individual wants to be on the NAHC board. It makes a big difference if he or she is an elected housing cooperative board member or a staff member of a management company managing one or more cooperatives or a member of a cooperative committee or someone just interested in attending a NAHC board meeting.
An example is Kimalee Williams, who was managing some small Connecticut cooperatives for a commercial management company maybe 10 years ago. She got my name and phone number and called me with some technical questions on how cooperative oriented management handled matters. She is now president of CHANE, the nonprofit Cooperative Housing Association of New England, and also her of own management company. As president, she serves on the NAHC board and attends all its board meetings. As a founder of NAHC and its president for a dozen years, I’m still available if someone wants to call or email me. Check the CHQ for my contact information.