Incorporated under Article XI of the Private Housing Finance Law, Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC) cooperatives are partnerships between public and private interests that help the tenants of city-owned residential co-ops – often in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods – purchase their buildings and become self-sufficient cooperative corporations. While not without their critics, in a New York that has become increasingly expensive, HDFCs infuse the city, and Manhattan in particular, with socioeconomic diversity.
Some HDFC History
It’s hard to imagine now, but back in the early 1970s, during the nadir of the John Lindsay mayoral years and into the terms of Mayors Abe Beame and Ed Koch, there were blocks and blocks of vacant buildings in New York City. This was the age of graffiti-coated subway cars; the infamous New York Daily News headline ‘Ford to City: Drop Dead’; and swaths of the South Bronx quite literally on fire.
Today the city landscape looks very different indeed—even in neighborhoods most blighted during those dark days. The evolution of these vacant buildings to functional housing cooperatives owes no small thanks to HDFCs.
Andrew Reicher, executive director of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB), recalls that when landlords in the late ‘70s had abandoned buildings, neighborhood residents took it upon themselves to save the buildings, rehabilitate them into acceptable housing, and serve administrative functions. “In the early days when there were lots of vacant buildings, it was homesteaders who said, ‘We want to renovate that building,’” Reicher says. “They would take on a building, and invest sweat-equity. There was no heat, no hot water, and the roof was leaking, so they went up on the roof, they patched it, they made a contract with Con Ed for their gas and paid the oil bill and did all that, and they started running their building.”
HDFC programs allowed these collectivized tenants to take control of their buildings and form co-ops. “They were the foundation on which the redevelopment of these neighborhoods has happened,” says Reicher. “When you look at the photograph in the Bronx when [then-President Jimmy] Carter came to visit in those days, there are a number of buildings that are just bombed-out, empty shells, but the ones that had the lights on, some of those were HDFC co-ops.”