I Exist Because of Co-ops.

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By: Kurt Nordback – BHC Board Member.

My parents grew up poor in Michigan: my dad, Orval, in the mining country of the upper peninsula; my mom, Nina, near Detroit. During World War II, Orval was in the army in the Philippines, and Nina worked in a factory. After the war, both enrolled at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor — the epicenter of housing co-ops in the US — and both looked for affordable housing.

Nina joined a co-op first, I believe. Orval got a job washing dishes in a fraternity house, and in exchange lived in a mostly unheated room in the attic, where (so the story goes) he covered himself with newspapers at night because he couldn’t afford a blanket. But he eventually joined a co-op as well.

In the co-ops they found affordable housing. They found community, including friends they stayed in touch with for decades afterwards. And they found each other. I don’t know the exact story, but I imagine their eyes locking during a 1940s version of a BHC Board meeting, losing concentration during a dry discussion of budgets or chore assignments or the like. They were married within a couple of years, and I came along quite a while later, after many older siblings

The purpose of co-ops lies in the convergence of affordability and community and sustainability. But occasionally there are ancillary benefits, including romance. And I’m sure grateful for that.


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