By Julia Curry, Cooperative Housing Specialist
As the newest member of CDI’s team working with ROCs (resident-owned communities), I’m excited to use my co-ops background to help more and more Vermonters control where they live. I can attest that running a co-op takes work. It’s also one of the most rewarding and hopeful choices I know of.
I came to CDI after a decade-plus of advising members of six affordable housing co-ops in Burlington, VT, with the Champlain Housing Trust. For most of that time I also served on the Board of Directors of City Market/Onion River Co-op, our grocery co-op; I served as president while we expanded to open a second store. Prior to my co-ops roles I worked as an organizer in union and interfaith settings.
My work with the housing co-ops showed me the resilience of group dynamics. On a very part-time basis outside of their paid jobs or other commitments, these folks managed complex properties and the dual roles of being neighbors and co-owners of a business. I was regularly impressed by the range of skills and knowledge they brought to bear. Serving on a board myself was a great complement to the advising — it helped me grasp what makes co-op roles so unusual. Co-op members must be willing to learn and try new things, including sharing real democratic power within a team. That takes commitment and sometimes bravery.
I especially love the training part of this work because you can see people grow and build their power. Whether the lightbulb moment happens in a workshop or a casual exchange, that person just gained more business expertise or a deeper relational skill. I’ve witnessed whole groups grow in those ways, which is a powerful experience. Seeing co-op teams develop over the years has built my faith in the long-term value of seemingly small steps.
As part of the Vermont team I aim to use my experience to help our ROCs grow by collaborating, in line with Principle Six of the Seven Cooperative Principles, “co-ops helping co-ops.” It might take the form of peer learning, of sharing vendor recommendations, of advocating together in Montpelier, of marketing jointly, or other forms. Fortunately, Vermont’s “opportunity to purchase” law makes it likely that still more homeowners will be able to buy their communities and get that economic security. And I feel fortunate to play a part in that powerful shift whose benefits will be felt around the state.