Places that Matter
Alku and Alku Toinen Finnish Co-ops
Place Matters Profile
Sixteen Finnish families founded the Finnish Home Building Association in 1916, and their first cooperative apartment building, Alku (Finnish for "beginning"), was the first such building in the United States. A few years later, Alku Toinen (Alku II) was completed. A decade later, Brooklyn's "Finntown" was home to 25 other housing cooperatives, complemented by a cooperative shopping complex including a restaurant, meat market, bakery, and grocery, but almost none of the apartments in these simple looking brick buildings are occupied by Finns today.
Alku I received its building permit on May 16, 1916, and became the first non-profit housing cooperative in the United States. The concept was so new to America that these early co-ops had to be classified by the state not as housing, but under the Department of Agriculture, which regulated cooperative farms.
Non-profit “limited equity” co-op buildings are owned collectively by their residents, known as co-operators. Selling your share of the co-op for a profit is not allowed, effectively prohibiting real estate speculation. It is not surprising that non-profit collective ownership of housing would first arise in New York City, a metropolis with a chronic shortage of adequate living space and a real estate market renowned for speculation. A cooperative housing manual succinctly expresses the difference between cooperative housing and all other housing: “True cooperative housing [is] a housing unit composed of people who unite to secure attractive homes; homes built and run, not for profit, but for the service of the occupants.”