A national movement born in New Hampshire

By the early 2000s, residents of close to 50 manufactured-housing parks had converted their communities to resident ownership, and we all had learned a lot of lessons along the way.

Twenty years’ experience had taught the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund staff that these resident cooperatives needed three things to be successful: the opportunity to buy the park (most park owners didn’t think of their residents as potential buyers), timely and affordable financing, and training in how to buy and manage their communities.

Most important, homeowners and nonprofits around the country were hearing that New Hampshire’s co-ops had made this concept work. They were eager to try it in their communities.

We thought our tested-and-true strategy for helping residents buy and manage their parks was very transferable. But when we began training nonprofits from other states, we saw that the strategy, like a jigsaw puzzle, contained a lot of interlocking pieces. Pieces of the puzzle kept being getting left out or lost.

A turning point occurred when George McCarthy at the Ford Foundation, a major supporter, asked, “If you’re successful, where will this be in 10 years?” His question made us consider whether the better strategy was for each state to create its own solution or to develop a national system that could attract bigger partners and offer better financing options, products and services to benefit all manufactured-home co-ops.

Finally, another friend and supporter, CFED President Andrea Levere, told us, “You just have to do it.”

So we did it, with a lot of support from Levere, McCarthy, and several national nonprofits. We decided to keep the Community Loan Fund based in New Hampshire and serving NH people, but created a new national organization, ROC USA®, to expand our model across the country.

ROC USA logoROC USA was launched in May 2008 with a celebration at Lilac Drive Cooperative in Raymond, N.H. The Community Loan Fund is a partner and co-owner, along with CFED, NCB Capital Impact and NeighborWorks® America. ROC USA’s network of nine state and regional nonprofits that provide on-the-ground assistance to homeowner groups includes our manufactured-housing program, ROC-NH.

The Ford Foundation provided the majority of the funding to launch ROC USA, with additional support from Fannie Mae and Bank of America.

Today, members of New Hampshire’s manufactured-housing cooperatives can say proudly that they lead a national movement. The ripples that begin with ideas and solutions created in resident-owned communities here are spread to other NH co-ops by the Community Loan Fund’s manufactured-housing program, ROC-NH, and then across the country by ROC USA. Likewise, because of its involvement in the ROC USA Network, ROC-NH brings to co-ops here the best innovations from communities in other states.

ROC USA has also invited leaders of their local communities to become leaders on a national scale. Lois Parris of Lakes Region MHP Cooperative in Belmont was on ROC USA’s founding board of directors. Several NH co-op members have attended ROC USA’s annual leadership institute, “Resident-Owned Community Leaders . . . Better Together” and returned with valuable skills and a hefty dose of inspiration.

The partnership with ROC USA will yield many benefits for NH co-ops in the near future. Very soon, we’ll make a marketing package available to any resident-owned community that has homes for sale or available lots. ROC USA and ROC-NH are working together to create an online community center that will include the management guide that is currently available only in print.

As every community volunteer knows, it’s a beautiful thing when a bunch of people see the value of your goal and pitch in to accomplish it.

But you can’t always count on that happening. Sometimes you need to roll up your sleeves and do it.

This article was originally published in the summer 2012 First 100 Commemorative edition of The Cooperator.