In Orlando, I introduced myself on Thursday night by explaining why this work is so important to me; why ROC USA is so much more than a job to me.
Having dedicated 20 of the last 24 years of my professional career to homeowners and resident-owned communities, my passion for resident ownership is great and long-lasting for many reasons.
My commitment was – as I look back now – baked in from the start.
I grew up in the Penacook, New Hampshire. Penacook was an active mill town when I was growing up; there’s not much of that left now aside from two electric meter manufacturers. Gone is the large leather tanning plant that dominated downtown and, for now, still scars it.
Growing up, I just somehow knew what people thought of Penacook; I think everyone just knew it. My most striking memory of actually hearing evidence was when I overheard a real estate agent advising someone, “You don’t want to buy a house in Penacook.”
I remember thinking how unfair that was and about the people I knew in town – good, hard-working people. It made me mad.
That feeling still boils in me. It’s formed my love for the underdog; how I root for sports teams and when I play basketball still. Nothing satisfies me more than motivating an over-matched team to win. I am the guy who works extra hard on defense, claps loudly, plays unselfishly and encourages teammates to put out the extra effort that wins games. It doesn’t always work but when it does, the satisfaction is better than any other kind of win.
My enthusiasm for the underdog demonstrated itself in college, too. I did not follow my business school peers into private business; I wasn’t interested in working to make an owner richer, and maybe myself in the process. No, I fell in love with the idea of cooperative ownership as a source of community wealth-building where members are owners and everyone is better off.
In my junior year at UNH, a recruiter said to me, “It sounds like you’re more interested in peace than business.”
To this day people will ask me, “You know a lot about mobile home parks, why don’t you buy one?” There’s just very little recognition of “better together” in the world. Ugh.
Two years after graduating – having held jobs in accounting and construction and traveling a lot – I was hired by Julie Eades at the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund and began working with homeowners in manufactured home communities.
Early on, the obvious dawned on me: These hardworking homeowners faced even more severe and unfair judgment based on where they lived than I ever had. And, to make matters worse, they faced unbelievably weak protections and control over their homes. Community ownership was so clearly the best solution.
I was taken — the commitment that homeowners demonstrated in voluntarily improving their communities inspired me through and through.
The truth is, resident ownership has inspired a lot of people and rightfully so. Mature adults taking responsibility for their communities in the spirit of making it more secure and a more mutually supportive place is a universal feeling, something for which all societies strive.
And, in the process, community leaders are reshaping how local communities react to them and their communities. Time and again, people share stories about how the co-op’s purchase was a powerful turning point. It’s powerful because you’re dealing with basic elements of the American ideals of ownership and responsibility.
How have local people and local officials reacted to your co-op’s purchase? What words do they use to describe it?
The Duvall Riverside Village purchase in Washington last week offered another powerful example of how what you’re doing resonates widely. The community owner’s broker showed up at the community after the purchase with a banner that read, “This land is your land, this land is our land.”
It’s this economic and social injustice that motivates all of us in this field – and the power and potential we have to change it. And change it we are, today and long-term. As a one-of-a-kind Network of Resident Owned Communities, we are focused on building a powerful economic engine to compound the impact of the community-by-community victories.
We exist to help resident-owned communities be successful long-term because unlike in basketball where victories are short-lived and easily overturned, these victories reshape communities by making homeowners community owners and putting responsible community leaders in charge forever.