Places that Matter

Alku and Alku Toinen Finnish Co-ops

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Alku Toinen doorway, Beth Higgins
Alku Toinen doorway, Beth Higgins
Alku 1, Beth Higgins
Alku 1 building, Beth Higgins
Alku 1 courtyard, Beth Higgins
Alku Toinen buliding, Beth Higgins
Alku Toinen courtyard, Beth Higgins
Alku 1 and Alku Toinen, Beth Higgins
The first non-profit housing cooperatives in the U.S., organized by the Finnish Home Building Association
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Sixteen Finnish families founded the Finnish Home Building Association in 1916, and their first cooperative apartment building, Alku (Finnish for "beginning"), was the first such building in the United States. A few years later, Alku Toinen (Alku II) was completed. A decade later, Brooklyn's "Finntown" was home to 25 other housing cooperatives, complemented by a cooperative shopping complex including a restaurant, meat market, bakery, and grocery, but almost none of the apartments in these simple looking brick buildings are occupied by Finns today.

Alku I received its building permit on May 16, 1916, and became the first non-profit housing cooperative in the United States. The concept was so new to America that these early co-ops had to be classified by the state not as housing, but under the Department of Agriculture, which regulated cooperative farms.

Non-profit “limited equity” co-op buildings are owned collectively by their residents, known as co-operators. Selling your share of the co-op for a profit is not allowed, effectively prohibiting real estate speculation. It is not surprising that non-profit collective ownership of housing would first arise in New York City, a metropolis with a chronic shortage of adequate living space and a real estate market renowned for speculation. A cooperative housing manual succinctly expresses the difference between cooperative housing and all other housing: “True cooperative housing [is] a housing unit composed of people who unite to secure attractive homes; homes built and run, not for profit, but for the service of the occupants.”