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

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