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The Alku Toinen Nonprofit Housing Cooperative, A Place that Matters

Alku Toinen Nonprofit Housing Cooperative

New York has always been an immigrant city. Every year, immigrants come from around the world to simultaneously make New York their home and to bring a part of their home to New York. But in 1916 when the Finnish Home Building Association built Alku (Finnish for ‘beginning’) in Sunset Park, they created an entirely new kind of home never before seen in the United States, a non-profit housing cooperative.

A few years later, Alku Toinen (Alku II) was completed and by the late 1920s, Sunset Park – Brooklyn’s “Finntown” – had become home to over 25 housing cooperatives.

Nonprofit “limited equity” co-op buildings are owned collectively by their residents, known as co-operators and selling one’s share of the co-op for a profit is not allowed, effectively prohibiting real estate speculation. Though the government, as well as labor unions, have since built co-operative housing, Alku is a rare example in the history of housing co-operation of a non-profit co-op centered around clear ethnic affiliation. The Alku co-ops thus had a particularly strong sense of community, even of family, and former residents recall the unspoken set of rules and social guidelines that governed the behavior and relationships of the co-operators and their families.