“By the gap I mean the gap between the hard realities around us and what we know is possible — not because we wish it were so, but because we’ve seen it with our own eyes.” Parker Palmer
I’ve been thinking a lot about Parker Palmer and his writings on the gap over the past few weeks as I’ve transitioned into the ROC cooperative movement. The work to create and sustain affordable housing using cooperative principles is incredibly inspiring and effective. It is also difficult and we sometimes struggle to achieve the cooperative ideals. To stand in the gap is to recognize the structural tension between our ideals and our realities and be resourceful and compassionate in making progress.
My work over the past 20 years has been in the gap; first working with communities to design and build community-built playgrounds, and then with public sector union members trying to better the lives of working families. Conceptually, in both environments, we’re attempting to build self-reliance, leadership, capacity and community, in ways that enable rather than disable.
It is with this in mind that I begin working with the Cooperative Development Institute (CDI) professionals in the NEROC program. Transitioning to my new position with CDI as director of the NEROC program, the gap is immediately present. The team provides high-level technical assistance, coaching and training to resident-owned communities (ROCs) as the residents govern and manage their manufactured housing communities, sometimes multi-million dollar corporations. It can be difficult, challenging work for both the community and the organizers. But anyone doing this work will also tell you it is rewarding to be part of a movement that builds community, leadership and empowers people to own their future.
The ROC cooperative housing movement is incredibly important in creating and sustaining affordable housing across the country. While still in its infancy, this model has protected nearly 17,000 homes from the vagaries of the market and put the destiny of the families living in the homes into their own hands.
I am fortunate to be joining a team of passionate and committed professionals who have paved the way. There are lions still leading this movement; Julie Eades of the NH Community Loan Fund, Paul Bradley at ROC USA, our own Noemi Giszpenc and Andy Danforth at CDI have all made significant contributions to advancing the cooperative housing movement. My job is to provide guidance as we follow the trail blazed before us – how lucky am I?
Parker Palmer tells us our best ideals are not just theoretical. We see them everyday in the inspiring efforts of resident-leaders working together to provide safety, security and stability to their neighbors. They are successful because they embrace the work in the gap. This alone can sustain us as we stand with our ROC leaders and community partners working toward a better, more just world.
I’m happy to be here with all of you.
Joe Cicirelli is the Director of the NEROC Program at Cooperative Development Institute. This blog post was originally posted here.