Greenfield Gardens is a co-operatively run housing complex about a mile away from downtown Greenfield, Massachusetts. The Pray Street complex of 202 units is set off from a main thoroughfare and has a road winding through it, grassy areas, and a new community center.
Greenfield Gardens provides permanently affordable housing (many residents qualify for section 8 subsidies) as well as some market rate units. Many residents are single-parent families from diverse backgrounds- Russian, Latino, African-American, and white.
I visited Greenfield Gardens on an afternoon just before Thanksgiving, when I met the Crafts family sitting outside and enjoying their holiday lights. Other neighbors were leaning out their doors chatting.
Originally owned by lawyers from out of town, Greenfield Gardens tenants were given an option to buy the property in 1994. The tenants joined the Springfield based group Alliance to Develop Power (ADP), making it possible for them to purchase the housing complex with loans from HUD. With ADP’s support, tenants formed a non-profit called the Homesavers Council, which now owns the property and embraces co-operative principles. Decisions are made by nine elected volunteer board members, all of whom are residents of Greenfield Gardens.
Whereas before 1994, tenants paid rent to private owners who made all of the decisions about the property, residents now pay rent to the non-profit Homesavers Council and resident-Board members make the decisions. The Board has chosen to work with a specific management company, Mt. Holyoke Management, on the condition that they hire people from four sister housing complexes in the Valley to do all of the maintenance and real estate management for the four sites. (All of these housing complexes are co-operatively run and share a close affiliation with ADP –two are in Springfield and one is in Westfield, representing a total of 770 households.) This is a wonderful benefit that enables residents at the four sister housing complexes to get living wage jobs and viable opportunities for career advancement.
I met with Andrea Goldman, Board President of Greenfield Gardens and a resident there since 1997, who mentioned that before it was tenant run, Greenfield Gardens had a “bad name.” Once it was owned by a non-profit and co-operatively run by an elected board, the culture shifted and residents “cleaned it up.”
Andrea is also Co-Chair of the Board of ADP, which continues to build alternative economic institutions (community owned and cooperatively run housing complexes, a Worker Center, and a worker-controlled business called United for Hire) around the Valley. ADP is currently developing worker-run “bodegas” that will connect with local farms and sell healthy produce in areas that need it. One of these bodegas is being planned for nearby Turners Falls, Massachusetts, a town next to Greenfield. ADP also does Saul Alinsky-style community organizing, which has politicized ADP members, helping them develop leadership and public speaking skills as they build collective power.
As I participate in Occupy activities, bearing witness to widespread financial abuses, I am continually refreshed by innovative community economy projects like the work of ADP. Greenfield Gardens and ADP are more examples of economic solidarity, the slow and steady work of beloved community.