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“Am new york yes. Some new you i am new york destroy new york. So so no yachts welcome to diverse city. Where we explore new york s eclectic enclaves neighborhood at a time um zyphus lebrun this month.
We re here in the northeast bronx in co op. City a veritable city within the. City the middle income development is a 15000. Plus.
Apartment complex that s celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. This year. Even before the foundations were laid for this place. One of its supporters.
Governor. Nelson rockefeller. Called. It a quote completely sound investment in a better society.
Co op. City sits on 320 acres. Making. It the largest cooperative housing development in the world.
Previously. These grounds were the home of freedom land. Usa. An american history themed amusement park that operated from 1960 to 1964 freedom.
Land was nicknamed the disneyland of the east and at 205 acres. It dwarfed its california competitor. The park featured attractions such as a stagecoach ride through the rocky mountains. A trip on a steamboat and a street.
Show featuring actors and audience members putting out the great chicago fire ultimately. The park declared bankruptcy in september 1964. Making way for the construction of co op city. Nearly two years later.
Co op has become one of the most successful affordable housing projects in new york city. Along with that distinction the development. That s got a majority of minority residents has faced its share of scandal and scorn on this episode. The road back co op city s new leadership facing resistance from residents.
The pioneers seniors actively changing the narrative about aging and rent rebellion a memorable moment in the past that s still impacting residents today those stories and more coming up as we explore co op city in the late 1960s. New york city officials were grappling with a way to keep city dwellers from fleeing to the suburbs. They stumbled accidentally upon a plan co op city a massive complex that provides affordable housing to working class and middle class new yorkers 50 years later garry pierre pierre takes a look at the bay chester community and a success that s yet to be duplicated co op city. A cluster of high rise buildings and townhouses in the northern bronx stands as a reminder of what affordable housing was and could be this remains.
A truism as new york city continues its decades long struggle to create or maintain affordable housing for millions of residents. Residents. Like linda collins collins is a retired corrections officer. And the president of one of the 35 tenant associations that represent each of the apartment complexes that make up co op city she moved into the mitchell lama buildings four years ago.
And knows a lot about the community s history people back in the 60s who were making a certain amount of money were fleeing the city. And so two senators mitchell and lama were figuring out a way with robert moses of keeping people in the city. The city was dying and what they came up with better housing. We mainly had tenements and private homes.
But the tenements were rundown and people were getting out if they had money so they figured out a way that if we had a cooperative way of living where people who were middle class who had money could stay close to their jobs. Which were in the city. Some of those who did made their way to co op city and laid the foundation for a community that has to talk like these high rises for 50 years today it s held up as a unique symbol of housing affordability in new york city event. Planner elena power has lived in co op city since the early 1970s.
I think for many years people have seen co op city. But not really understood. What s here. It s a really good community.
It s a very diverse community. It s a real representation of new yorkers tom waters housing policy analyst at community service society. A nonprofit group that analyzes housing and other issues. Says.
That course overruns on the project forced the federal government to lower the income requirements to buy into the complex as a result the pool of residents expanded and led to the diversified community that exists now it got harder to make the buildings work financially so they started adding more subsidy on from federal. The federal government those subsidies were meant for people with lower incomes. Then mitch lama was originally meant for so the inca my people started spreading downwards and you ended up with a program that actually provided housing to people with a pretty wide range of incomes from people who were pretty poor to people who were pretty middle class living together in the same developments. Which was a really good thing and i think a key reason for the success of the program.
It wasn t intentional. It was meant for a narrow band of people right there and it ended up being a broad band of people creating a kind of economic integration. Which nowadays we come to think of that as a really good thing. But they didn t know yet.
It was done by accident and mitchell lama accidental or not the policy gave residents ownership of their apartments. And feel a sense of pride about their community. We have our own police department. We have our own sanitation.
We do not rely on new york city sanitation to pick up our trash. We have our own sanitation. So think about that think about what you have a city within a city and that s the pride that they have in common. It s our personal city.
Here. They took advantage of the people s desire to be homeowners to raise money to build this building. And that probably helped create the loyalty that people feel to the neighborhood. Was mary bailey.
Knows all about that loyalty she s lived in co op city for 43 years. The recently retired nurse has watched a community go for mostly jewish residents to black latinos and a handful of asians despite the shift. Bailey says. The neighborhood has kept its sense of pride as the older people moved or died.
Most of them were here until they died on the demographics to change. There were more black people we had asians come in and there was a point when there were the russian jewish people came in even as the price of an apartment continues to rise in the five boroughs co op city remains a viable alternative for some who are seeking an affordable place to live for diversity. I m garry pierre pierre even though co op city stands as a model of successful affordable housing. The complex has had its share of scandal.
One in 2008 eventually led to a board member serving jail time that scandal along with other upheavals in the last five years have left many co operators. Skeptical of the new management running the development this distrust comes as the new team is trying to modernize the facilities while keeping them affordable t. Bob kleehammer has been working on refurbishing co op city s aging infrastructure for the last three years this year. He s got just under a hundred and sixty million dollars on hand to get it done no significant amount of facade maintenance work had been done here in over ten years.
We have one of say six capital projects that i inherited that s still ongoing but most of the hundred and fifty nine million are new projects so for instance some of our larger ones we have 160 residential elevators. We re completely modernizing the elevators that s a 40 million dollar project alone we have roughly 35 million dollars in facade work that we have to do in compliance with the city s local law. 11. Cle hammers company took over management of the complex.
After co op city s board of directors fired the previous longtime manager marion scott real estate. The department of housing and urban development or hud demanded that co op city s board who had taken over running the complex in the interim relinquished the reins to an outside management firm. This was a means of honoring their six hundred and twenty five million dollar mortgage agreement with wells fargo well it s almost been three years now since douglas elliman was awarded the management contract for co op city. I think part of that came out of some pressure that was brought to bear by the lender wells fargo and the governing agencies hud the state and the city that had professional management brought into co op city to deal with many problems legacy issues and ongoing operational issues that the complex was suffering kleehammer is no stranger to affordable city sponsored.
Mitchell lama developments like co op city he used to run new york s mitchell lama program. Under mayor koch. He says co op city presents its own challenges. The greatest challenge is to get the board to buy in to a plan that we ve put together it has met doing an annual carrying charge increase every year.
We ve been able to keep the increases under. 2 they ve actually been 19. Percent the last two years and we re going to have two more 19. Percent increases one later this year and one next year.
That s probably been one of the challenges. I think also getting the board s trust. I think the experience with the prior managing agent left the bad taste and a lot of people s mouths here. And i think.
It is it took me a good year year. And a half to get the board to realize i m trying to do the best for the development. I m not here trying to line my pocket. We re trying to beat out old contracts to get the best prices we re bringing in new vendors to try to get the best job.
And that s probably been the biggest challenge beyond dealing with the board. There s renewed scuttle amongst. The tenants that all these changes are a preamble to privatization years ago. Some residents who are also called co operators here debated that the complex should be bought out of its mitchell lama status.
They argued this would allow them to get market value for their apartments. But the board shut that down then and kleehammer says that s not the case now that s certainly not an agenda that a managing agent can drive that would be an agenda that that the board and residents would have to put forth plus with way the existing mortgage is structured. It is federally insured significant portion of its federally insured. But also the state and the city have a piece of the mortgage insurance.
One of the requirements to obtain that mortgage was that the complex would stay affordable even with those concerns kleehammer says. There s still a six thousand person waiting list for one of the thirty to forty apartments that become available every month. I think co op city is probably the best housing deal in the city of new york. I mean we re in the city of new york for a very small buy in because we are limited equity.
So you pay very little getting in you can t make a profit going out. But during your time here you get a two bedroom apartment for roughly thirteen hundred dollars a month. With all utilities. Included every mayor has a program to save affordable housing well co op city is 15000.
Affordable housing units. We have very little crime and we have you know a great great community here co op city is the largest naturally occurring retirement community on norc in new york city. It s also considered the largest nork in the nation. A naturally occurring retirement community is an area where a large proportion of residents are over the age of 60 unlike retirement.
Destinations. Sought out by seniors narcs areas. Where existing residents. Simply.
Age up. Judith escalona reports on why. Co op city s community is so vibrant gwendolyn taylor is one of more than 12000. Seniors who live in co op city she moved here with her mother over 20 years.
Ago from washington heights. Recently retired taylor. Has slowly begun to take advantage of the services offered in this naturally occurring retirement community like the seminar on diabetes. I was diagnosed type 2 diabetes about 10 years ago.
So i said well let me go to this class so i can educate myself i mean i do reading stuff and i know what i m supposed to do but i felt the class would just help to educate me how to take care of myself better to have a better life the diabetes seminar is one of the classes run by jassa. The jewish association for services for the aged founded in 1968 jassa is a not for. Profit providing meals and social services to over 40000. Elderly new yorkers aisha ellen is the senior director of senior centers at jassa.
She says they re trying to revamp senior living. It was a time when the senior center was the place to go just for lunch and bingo now though we have older adults. That are coming that are very active and they expect more out of their programming. They want computer classes they want exercise classes they want to learn about new opportunities.
They want to travel and so i absolutely see the changing demographic in addition to those services jassa helps retired seniors on fixed income stay in their apartments through screen. The senior citizen rent increase exemption program scree is a rent freeze program for the elderly living in rent controlled rent stabilized or mitchell lama buildings like co op city so be eligible for screen seniors need to be 62 years or older. They have to be the head of household and have a combined household income of 50000. Or less.
It was very easy i just went online and i ve read the instructions. I got what i needed and so i get a slight decrease annually. And this is about my third year now getting that deborah speller is a senior who has lived in the community for close to 50 years. She says this rent relief is especially important at a time when the facilities are being upgraded.
They really take care of the senior citizens. You know the programs that they have no one should really complain they really take care of us. I ve seen them do various projects that we need like the elevator modernization. They re trying to make the lobby accessible for people in wheelchairs.
So they re doing a lot of things here and i said i mean nobody wants an increase. But if it s gonna better the community where we live even for the future generation. Then you know i m all for word. Speller and tailor.
Both say that programs such as scree and the diabetes seminar are keeping them in co op city well the foreseeable future. I ll still stay here because like i said the convenience you can t really beat. It you can hop on the train. You can hop on the bus.
You can go downtown. You don t have to drive. So you want to see seniors that are on the ball you come to co op city cuz. We gotta go no really the dance classes the activities and different experiences that are shared.
It s it s wonderful here. Judith escalona for diversity co. Op city s crowning achievement of resident control was achieved only after a 13 month rent strike in the 1970s that nearly bankrupted new york state s housing finance agency. The schola tells us more about the strike in this report in 1975 co op city shareholders organized the biggest rent strike in the history of the united states new york was facing its worst fiscal crisis in years the state was dealing with runaway inflation oil shortages and a rise in interest rates co operators were also directly hit by the crisis when the increase in co op city s construction costs affected their maintenance fees.
Berni silage. Was one of the rent strikers as the construction. Proceeded and as bills came in from the builders. The hfa housing finance agency.
They would sell bonds to provide the payments for these bills from the contractors. And the rate of the bonds went up from 5 up to as high as 8. These are beyond the projection that the initial developers considered and so they had a serious problem. How to finish the project at the same time try to avoid the increase of current charges.
They couldn t mismanagement of funds during construction and rising inflation led. The united housing foundation to raise maintenance fees by over 100 percent between 1970 and 1974. When they decided to raise maintenance fees by another 25 in 1975. The co operators had had enough they protested in albany to stop the new increase.
When the governor refused to do so co operators voted to go honor and strike. The community was just an uproar. They said we can t afford it so we we established the steering committee as we called it and then they voted in math to go on rent strike. We call the rent increased strike.
We agreed to collect all rents made out to escrow and we would collect all the rents in the lobbies. The first of every month. The united housing foundation resigned in light of this action. The rent strike was now against the state.
More specifically the new york state housing finance agency that owned coops adiz mortgage. We had various rallies demonstrations it was and then we get in negotiations there was they day the state sued us finally after 13 months. There was some settlement. However the settlement did not include a dime from the state new york to help us mitigate.
These enormous increases. They actually refused to give us anything they said well we you organize yourself we won t take you to jail. We won t default on your more on your mortgage. Because they had every right to do that and take it over and so they said there ll be a nominal increase 20 percent increase.
We pay them back the mortgage and we begin to to manage it ourselves. And that s where the stories of lives rent strike after taking over management. The co operators relied upon collective shared responsibilities to dig co op city out of its crisis by cutting back on services and expenses today co op city s ongoing organizing has become a cooperative model of democratic governance of large scale affordable housing the theme of our anniversary exemplifies what we are what we succeeded in being we re the largest affordable diverse cooperative in the nation abi ishola for diversity finally. This complex has buildings that go up to.
33. Stories more intriguing than that are there more than 40000. Personal stories. Plenty of people here have been around for the full 50 years.
And remember. The beginning co op city s history committee has created an oral history project. Documenting the journeys of the pioneers. The project s producer amond rami tells us more about why she wanted to do this in her own words when co op city was first built we didn t have all these green spaces.
Yet but they were you know there were a vision of the future so there were dirt roads. There were no streets cars would have to pull up to a building to take people to work they had shuttle buses and so you know that s why they considered themselves pioneers. Because there are things that they had to do and these are sacrifices they made we lived in an old tenement and we had to deal with you know when also during the winter. You know didn t always have heat and during the summer of course.
There was no air conditioning and i took a vow i vowed that when i move into co op city. I was gonna kiss the floor and when we moved into co op city the day we moved in i got down on the floor. And i kissed the floor the goal was to document the voices of the people who are the pioneers. The people who have lived here since the groundbreaking in 1968 as a documentarian.
I work under the principle that if there is no one around to tell the story it didn t happen. The only store was in the garage was in the garage right was in the garage and building. One everyone could go downstairs in their own basement. Take the elevator down.
And there was and get milk. So we got milk there it was a unique experience. We waiting for co op city to grow this used to be a community largely populated by the jewish community. So now the demographics has changed there s about 75 percent of the people we interviewed are people of african descent.
Let s you know they were here since the very beginning and you know the whites that we we ve interviewed are the people who stayed there are stories about racism you know in early co op city where different ethnic groups and is not only one felt like outsiders. But over time the community grew and that may have been result of the flight. You know on both sides. This is really a melting pot of people that all have the like mindedness that wanting to live in the city.
But also wanting to live in a green space that want to live in an apartment. But also want to have a sense of ownership. This was an experiment. No one thought that this would be successful as large as it is but it worked we took them from from the beginning to to today and their their hopes for the future you know.
And that s that s what came out of the project were stories that people did just didn t want to leave. I think it offered people who might otherwise be priced out of certain areas of the city in certain areas of westchester and opportunity to live in a safe area an opportunity to live in a clean area an opportunity to feel like they owned something you weren t merely a renter here. You are a cooperator you were a part owner and whatever this grand experiment was good dad or otherwise access was really important when you re doing projects like this so we have interest with the bronx historical society to take our information. So that people can have access to it so you know we just hope that the stories will be a model and inspire people about what community life and community living and cooperative living is aman drama is also in talks with the new york public library to give the project at home.
She plans to create a website room for more voices from co op. That s our look at co op city this month. Join us next time when we ll head over to richmond town staten island to explore that part of our diverse city you ” ..
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