Over 50 years ago in 1964 New York City was in the midst an affordable housing crisis. Affordable housing was scarce and often in disrepair. Many were fleeing for the suburbs and high inflation and interest rates made home ownership unrealistic in the city. Sound familiar?
The inflation and interest rate issue aside, we seem to find ourselves in a similar predicament. So under the then Mitchell-Lama Federal Housing Initiate, the CO-OP city was born. An enclave on the swamps of Bronx, consisting of more than 15 thousand units in 35 high-rises and more than 236 townhouse units of multi-tenant occupancy. Over 40 office spaces, three shopping centers, 8 parking decks and 17 houses of worship. It even has 100 plus acres of green space. If it were standalone, it would be the 10th largest city in New York. It was designed to bring a type of ownership to those who could not afford it.
As with many large government projects of its time, it has a checkered past of issues from shoddy construction and rent strikes to fraud. But through it all it has kept its mission as a place for those rent burdened in a hyper expensive city to experience community and ownership. Today, Co-Op city is one of the most diverse and successful affordable housing projects in the country. Diverse in race, religion and age, it has seen a resurgence with the growth of Bronx and is looked at as a renascence project to emulate. It has grown organically to even become the largest senior housing project in the country with more than 9 thousand residents over 60 years of age.
Rent burdened means paying more than 30% of your income to rent. In large cities across the country that includes a lot of middle income people that make good money but are finding challenges to keep decent housing. It’s time to think out of the box in an effort to not just support the poorest of the poor but all of those with housing challenges. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned from the past trials and tribulations that led to the development of Co-Op city and the success it has achieved on so many levels.