838 Park: A Story of Cooperation Among Cooperatives

838 Park became an HDFC (Housing Development Fund Corporation), a limited equity—or capped income—co-op in 2005, and is one of 72 HDFC co-op buildings with 1,349 units in Crown Heights. There are 355 HDFC co-op buildings in Brooklyn with 5,291 units, and 1,283 HDFC co-op buildings and 26,201 units city-wide, according to the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB), an organization that supports residents and shareholders to create and sustain affordable housing cooperatives.

Most were formed during the 1970s when landlords abandoned thousands of buildings, leaving a significant amount of New Yorkers with a housing crisis. UHAB and residents took matters into their own hand, and through sweat equity, cooperation, and collective ownership secured genuinely affordable and quality housing for low and moderate income New Yorkers.

Long-term shareholder Rebecca Robinson-Lawrence recalls, “I have lived at 838 Park Place for almost fifty years and to have your home go from being nearly condemned and/or sold off to a private entity to a moderately priced cooperative is nothing short of a miracle.  No one would believe that at one time we had to use kerosene heaters and sleeping bags (provided by The City of New York) to stay warm in the Winter and we had no toilets for almost six months to a year. But fast forward 40 years and we not only own our apartments and manage ourselves, we can take advantage of a unique and one of a kind opportunity to have solar panels installed on our roof providing the electricity for our entire building.  Even 20 years ago this would have been inconceivable, but what a difference a day and good cooperative teamwork make.”

In line with the rich cooperative history of HDFCs in New York, many are at the forefront of housing innovation. Earlier this year, 838 Park Place, an eight unit cooperative in Crown Heights, made news as the first affordable housing community solar array in New York City. The project started at a series of trainings hosted by UHAB, Solar One and BlocPower in the building’s community room.

838 Park hopes to build on the strength of cooperatives working together, with UHAB’s support, to help affordable co-ops self-manage, and to strengthen the network of cooperatives in New York City. They hope to collaborate on cooperative purchase of affordable, sustainable building supplies; to build relationships with repair and construction cooperatives for regular repair and maintenance; as well as bookkeeping and other services.

Shareholders at 838 Park moved to self-manage their cooperative in July, inspired to work with other New York City cooperatives, rather than with exploitative property management companies. 838 Park is working with BioClassic Cooperative on building cleaning, maintenance, recycling, and trash, embracing the principle of cooperation among cooperatives to build a stronger shared economy of solidarity.

As BioClassic explains, “Nuestra cooperativa de Bioclassic está muy agradecida con la cooperativa de la 838 Park por darnos lo oportunidad de trabajar con nuestra cooperativa. Somos un grupo de mujeres trabajando, trabajando juntas usando productos naturales para cuidar el ambiente y la salud de las personas que residen en los edificios, y limpiar sin químicos.” / “Our cooperative, BioClassic, is very pleased with the opportunity to work together with 838 Park Cooperative. We are a group of women working together using natural products to care for the environment and the health of building residents, and clean without chemicals.”

For their building and their neighborhood, shareholders at 838 Park want to keep rapidly gentrifying Crown Heights accessible and sustainable for all New Yorkers. (The building is in the nation’s 10th most gentrified zip code, according to Rent Cafe.) Future projects may include supporting their sister HDFC’s on similar Solar projects, a shared Green Roof, and a garden in the shared space behind the buildings. They also hope to work with other co-ops in the community, for example, support food justice, perhaps as CSA distribution site.

Are you a plumber, carpenter, accountant, gardener, or a member of another co-op who’d like to work together with us? Might your coop be a good fit to go solar? Please contact us at 838park@ gmail.com.

by Annabelle Heckler, 838 Park Board Member and Shareholder and Rebecca Robinson-Lawrence, 838 Park Shareholder

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