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Page last updated on May 5, 2023 at 2:20 pm

In this week’s video update, Mayor John Hamilton and Bloomington Cooperative Living (BCL) Board Member Hugh Farrell discuss affordable housing and the BCL. 

 

In 2020, the City of Bloomington and CDFI Bloomington invested a total of $528,000 in Bloomington Cooperative Living’s 921 Project to construct 18 new affordable housing units at 921 West 9th Street, now called The Trellis. It was BCL’s first major construction project.

 

Bloomington Cooperative Living was founded in 2007 to foster vibrant, affordable housing opportunities in Bloomington that contribute to the establishment of local neighborhoods with a strengthened sense of community. Since its founding, BCL has grown to about 60 members and 5 properties, each maintaining the accessibility and affordability promised in the organization’s mission. Learn more at: bloomingtoncooperative.org

 

About CDFI Friendly Bloomington

CDFI Friendly Bloomington is an innovative organization working to increase access to flexible, affordable financing for community development. Formed in 2018, CDFI Friendly Bloomington is a nonprofit focused on connecting local investment opportunities with regional and national community development financial institutions (CDFIs). CDFIs are private financing entities that specialize in markets and populations that often cannot qualify for traditional financing. CDFI Friendly Bloomington promotes local projects, facilitates deals, and offers financing alongside CDFIs to incent their participation or bridge an asset gap in the project. More information can be found at: cdfifriendlybtown.org

 

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Each week, Mayor Hamilton and Deputy Mayor Carmichael provide video updates on recent news and key initiatives. Access all of the weekly video updates at bloomington.in.gov/videoupdates.

 

 

 

Transcript

John Hamilton:
Hello, it's Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton again. Glad to be with you. I'm with a guest today Hugh Farrell from Bloomington Cooperative Living. Hugh, thank you for being here.


Hugh Farrell:
Thanks for having me.


John Hamilton:
We wanted to talk today. This is about affordable housing in Bloomington. And one of the really cool entities, organizations that does that is Bloomington Cooperative Living. So Hugh, why don't you just tell us a little bit about what BCL or Bloomington Cooperative Living is?


Hugh Farrell:
Yeah, so Bloomington Cooperative Living is affordable housing project. It's democratically controlled by its residents who are its members. It's been around for about 15 years. And our goal is to create super affordable housing permanently. And so basically all of our rooms are not rented out per se, it's a membership agreement that people-


John Hamilton:
You belong.


Hugh Farrell:
... you belong, and that gives you not just residency, but voting rights and that the rooms basically work out to being about $550 a month, but that includes both utility and a cooperative food purchase. So we end up with a real rent cost that's closer to $250 or $300 a month.


John Hamilton:
In downtown Bloomington.


Hugh Farrell:
In downtown Bloomington.


John Hamilton:
You know, we learned about this and worked with you on a first project a few years ago. I remember. And it's creating a unique opportunity for people in Bloomington. And we helped, I think with Middle Earth, the old Middle Way House on Kirkwood, to refinance it. Tell me how many people live there and what's that like.


Hugh Farrell:
Yeah. I would just say that for us it's a really beautiful, not just starting point, but a model because, as you mentioned, it's in the old Middle Way house, we could not have done that without the support of the city. Also the support of Middle Way House. So it was a partnership with a couple different nonprofits as we were just getting going. This was 15 years ago, was kind of the origins of BCL.

But then also we were able to do that project more recently with the support of the refinance by the city, but then also at the beginning with 50 micro loans of $1000 each from Bloomington residents.


John Hamilton:
From people.


Hugh Farrell:
And so what we were able to do is sort of show to lenders there was a real support and a real demand for this kind of housing.


John Hamilton:
Yeah, it's a great story. And the financing came from the CDFI Friendly Bloomington, which is a whole other complicated story, which we won't get into, but bringing all the financing together. And that's what 21 bedrooms, you told me?


Hugh Farrell:
That's it. 21 bedroom project.


John Hamilton:
21 people or couples or whatever, 21 bedrooms.


Hugh Farrell:
Yeah.


John Hamilton:
So it's pretty big for that kind of place. And then second ... And really loved your model, what you're doing. We're like, can we do more? And you guys then bought another significant property on 9th Street, right?


Hugh Farrell:
Yes. That's right across from Reverend Butler Park, 9 Street Park. For us, that was a really important exercise and partnership with the neighborhood. We were able to work with a range of folks from around the neighborhood as well as the CDFI Friendly in the city in order to make that happen. Basically it was a house that really was at risk of not being able to be renovated. It didn't fit within the easy models.


John Hamilton:
Yeah. It wasn't moving right? It wasn't getting bought. It was a little bigger than others.


Hugh Farrell:
It's 7,500 square feet all told. 7 times larger than the rest of the neighborhood. But for us, we looked at it and we said that obviously this is a place that could become a co-op and that co-op could be plugged into the community.


John Hamilton:
And you did.


Hugh Farrell:
Yeah. So we were able to convert it to 18 bedrooms. For us, that represented a couple different experiments. We installed two kitchens, one on each floor.


John Hamilton:
Oh, okay.


Hugh Farrell:
That was an effort to give residents more flexibility. But we also started experimenting with suites, because our model is based in a cooperative housing movement that has both been residential co-ops in that are famously present in places like New York.


John Hamilton:
All over the place, right.


Hugh Farrell:
Yeah. All over. And then also student cooperatives. But we're very committed to diversifying and not being caught in a sort of student coop model ongoingly.


John Hamilton:
Permanently.


Hugh Farrell:
So we've been working for the past seven years on systematically diversifying. We think that affordable housing should be made available to everyone who needs it.

That also provides a really interesting kind of model for meshing between campus and town.


John Hamilton:
Gown and town.


Hugh Farrell:
Exactly.


John Hamilton:
Yeah. Do you have that mix happening-


Hugh Farrell:
Exactly.


John Hamilton:
... where you're finding it?


Hugh Farrell:
Yeah. We're already finding it in, for example, Middle Earth, the 21 bedroom that's on Kirkwood. But we wanted to do a couple of experiments, so one of the things we did was we introduced suites.


John Hamilton:
Nice.


Hugh Farrell:
Some of the bedrooms in that house are two bedroom suites with a bathroom and either a play area or a study. And what we want to do is create a situation for a family. What we said was, anyone can qualify who is in a caring relationship, so parents and children.


John Hamilton:
Interesting.


Hugh Farrell:
Or family members or caretakers of elders.


John Hamilton:
Great.


Hugh Farrell:
That we wanted to create a situation where people could benefit from all the cost saving that happens when you live cooperatively, you have a shared kitchen, you have shared maintenance, you benefit from sort of all the sets of connections and democratic decision making that's happening, but you have a little bit more private space.


John Hamilton:
Yeah.


Hugh Farrell:
And it doesn't look anything in that way like a dorm. Already, I think, our membershipping procedures have been able to pull in more and more folks from the community over the past seven years. But the suites have, I think, been a real success.


John Hamilton:
I didn't even know you had suites there. That's awesome.
Look, this is ... What you're doing. And I know we've been working with you on a third site now at West Kirkwood, and we're also trying to help just the organization strengthen and grow, and I'm so proud of what you're doing. I think it's an awesome expansion of opportunity in Bloomington for affordable housing. It's a model that's really important. Congratulations to you and what you all are doing.


Hugh Farrell:
Thank you.


John Hamilton:
I know there'll be more information on the screen about those organizations and Bloomington. Hugh, you're a board member, I guess, right?


Hugh Farrell:
Yes.


John Hamilton:
That helps steer all this. And with the members. We love the partnership.


Hugh Farrell:
Thank you so much.


John Hamilton:
You can get more information about them. It's a great example of Bloomington moving into the future with permanently affordable, really affordable ways to live right in downtown. Awesome. Thanks a lot.

 

 

 

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