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Co-op Village Online Community

an independent resource for residents of Amalgamated Dwellings,
East River Cooperative, Hillman Cooperative and Seward Park Cooperative

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History of Co-op Village



Amalgamated Dwellings(L), Hillman(R)
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*Labor and Housing in New York City
Tony Schuman, an architecture professor at the New Jersey School of Architecture, New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, NJ has written a fascinating article, which provides greater details about our roots: Architect Herman Jessor and the Cooperative Housing Movement. He has graciously agreed to share it with us.

 

 

 

Our Bronx Roots

Somewhere around the mid 1920s, in the Bronx, NY, history was being made. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, headed by Sidney Hillman and driven by Abraham E. Kazan, took a bold step and sponsored the construction of affordable housing for the working class. Then known as Amalgamated Cooperative Apartment House, it was the first limited equity housing cooperative in the United States. The project was a success and continues to thrive today, growing from the original 300 families to over 1400 families, as new buildings were added to the development up through 1970. Today it is known as Amalgamated Housing Cooperative, or, simply, "the Amalgamated."

Alexandra Vozick Hans wrote a wonderful article about the history of "the Amalgamated." Her family was one of its early "pioneers." You can read her article here.

Amalgamated Dwellings

Bolstered by the success of Amalgamated Cooperative in the Bronx, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America immediately began working on a 2nd limited equity housing cooperative on Manhattan's Lower East Side - Amalgamated Dwellings was born. Like a breath of fresh air in the midst of dark, congested tenements, Amalgamated provided spacious apartments, built around a central courtyard containing gardens and fountains.

Completed around 1930, Amalgamated Dwellings was the first of four housing cooperatives to be built along Grand Street from Essex Street east to the FDR Drive. Collectively, the four cooperatives eventually came to be called Cooperative Village.

Hillman Cooperative

In the mid-1940s the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America sponsored the construction of Hillman Houses (officially known as Hillman Housing Corporation, and named for Sidney Hillman), which became home to about 800 families. Opened in 1948, with the 2nd and 3rd buildings opening shortly thereafter, Hillman was organized as a Redevelopment Company, under New York's Private Housing Finance Law. The three 12-story Hillman structures were built on either side of Amalgamated Dwellings, creating a contiguous stretch of modern housing with gardens, playgrounds, and shopping.

East River Cooperative

The leadership of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America were instrumental in forming The United Housing Foundation (UHF), which constructed affordable housing around the country. In the early 1950s, the UHF, with sponsorship from the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) built East River Houses (officially known as East River Housing Corporation). Opened around 1956, and located at Hillman's eastern edge, East River's four 20-story triple-core structures are home to almost 1,700 families.

Seward Park Cooperative

After completing East River, the UHF began construction of Seward Park Houses (officially called Seward Park Housing Corporation), which opened around 1960. Seward Park is architecturally similar - but not identical - to East River, both having been designed by Herman Jessor*. Approximately 1,700 families call Seward Park home.

Co-op Village

It's not clear when the name Cooperative Village was first used to refer, collectively, to the four co-ops. But, it is clear that until recently all four were members of Co-op Village - sharing common management and resources such as gardening and snow-removal equipment, steam and hot water generation. At the same time, they were separate and independent corporations, each with its own board of directors.

As originally organized, the cooperatives enjoyed the benefits of subsidies such as tax abatements - but, in turn, were subject to governmental regulations. One such regulation required that shareholders sell their shares back to the corporation upon moving out of their apartments, for pretty much what they originally paid. The apartment was then sold by the housing corporation, for the same price, to the next person on a waiting list. Because apartments in Co-op Village have always been desirable, and turnover was low, the waiting lists were huge. It was not uncommon for people to wait 10 or more years for an apartment in one of the cooperatives.

In the early 1990s, after fulfilling obligations related to the earlier benefits and subsidies received under the terms of the original form of organization, the four housing corporations began the process of privatization - or "reconstitution." Privatization would convert the co-ops to standard housing corporations. There would be no more subsidies. At the same time, shareholders would no longer be required to sell their apartment shares back to the corporation when they moved. They would find a buyer on the open market and agree on a price and sell directly to the buyer. This needed to be approved by a majority of the shareholders of each of the co-ops, and it was.

For the first few years after privatizing, price caps were imposed on the sales of apartments. In addition, a flip tax was imposed requiring that a percentage of each sale be paid to the corporation. Eventually the price caps were lifted entirely, but, a flip tax remains in most of the corporations. In many cases, lobbies, elevators and upper hallways have been completely renovated or are in the process of being renovated. Windows have been replaced, security has been improved and grounds have been re-landscaped - largely thanks to the flip-tax.

Along the way, however, some differences of opinion arose between the individual co-ops. As a result, Amalgamated Dwellings pulled out of Cooperative Village shortly after privatizing. Seward Park followed suit a few years later. Today, only East River and Hillman still live under the "Cooperative Village" umbrella. But, there are still very strong ties between the shareholders of the four co-ops as many have relatives and close friends living in one or more of the other developments.

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