NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. — I spoke with the Members of Wamsutta Residents Association yesterday. I was down for their Annual Meeting on a lovely Sunday afternoon.
First, I have to commend the Board of Directors for a well-executed Annual Meeting. It had all of the components of a great meeting: Catered lunch, a raffle of a gift certificate and a meaty agenda with elections and approval of the budget. And, no surprise then, a healthy attendance and quorum.
I urge Boards to make attendance at meetings both meaningful and fun. It cannot be all work. I was impressed. I am hopeful that some of the directors picked up some ideas from their participation in the Community Leadership Institute. We talk about these sorts of things there.
Second, the membership discussed the budget the most. After seven years without a lot rent increase, the members were being asked to pass a $12 increase. That’s an average increase of $1.71 per year if you look at over seven years. That’s about half the average experienced by all ROCs financed by ROC USA Capital that are five years or older. Better than average is great because the average of $3.38 (or 1 percent) per year is pretty good.
(There’s no single industry statistic on annual rent increases but I am confident that most homeowners have experienced higher annual increases that $3.38.)
But, it’s still an increase. Members asked questions. The Board responded I think very openly and non-defensively. It was a good exchange with two basic outcomes: 1. The budget was approved; and 2. An ad-hoc committee was established to look at refinancing to see if there are savings possible.
I was happy to answer questions about their financing with ROC USA Capital. Their TA provider, Cooperative Development Institute, will assist the committee in looking at options.
I answered questions and also spoke a bit about the history of co-ops and how co-ops bring benefits to their members. I told the story of the earliest food buying clubs in London in the 1840s, and the success of those clubs in bringing otherwise unavailable food products to the very poor.
I urge Boards to make attendance at meetings both meaningful and fun.
Cooperatives’ early roots are in low- and moderate-income people coming together to generate an economic benefit. That’s still true today and frankly we need more of it here and abroad.
In a co-op, members decide and members benefit. Sure, a rent increase may not feel like a benefit but it is reality. When you own something, you have to take care of it. Co-ops experience cost increases and are improving their communities. It’s not about fixed rents for life, it’s about ownership and control over priorities.
As one Member put it yesterday, “If we didn’t own it, this would not be our decision and the increase would not be re-invested in the park. We experienced what that was like before we bought the park.”
Better Together. Nice job, Wamsutta Residents Association. Thank you for the invitation.