LONG ISLAND BUILDERSí CO-OP:
Where Time is Money and Workers are Capitalists
By Melissa Daniels
An Unusual Cooperative
Home Enterprise is a cooperative of individuals who contribute time, money and skills to refurbish below-market valued homes on Long Island, NY. In the process of updating the homes, our members can rent the home at reduced rents. Any hours spent restoring a house are "banked" to the individual memberís account for future withdrawals. Individuals may also invest cash which is converted to hours at a rate of $20 per hour. A database keeps track of all time logged and will be posted on our website for members to view at all times.
Our co-opís membership consists of anyone with any combination of effort, skill or capital to contribute to turn run-down houses into homes. No minimum amount of time, requisite skill, or initial cash investment is required. The only stipulation is that whatever resource is contributed be allowed to stay within Home Enterprise for a minimum of a two year period. To prospective members we say: "If you canít part with it for that long, donít part with it."
How does it work?
Through commitments of labor, money and materials, Home Enterprise buys, builds and rehabilitates homes that meet the strategic goals of the organization. Our House Selection Committee searches for houses that are fifteen percent below market value, are structurally sound, in desirable locations, and need repair in ways which best take advantage of the skill set of our members. Refurbished Home Enterprise houses are then sold or rented depending on the current goals of our co-op.
How we started this new kind of business
The motivation to create Home Enterprise started as affordable housing became an impossibility for many Long Islanders. To make mortgage payments, it is almost essential that there are two wage earners in the house. A loss of a job can become catastrophic. Single folks are staying at home, or are renting without saving. For many the choice of home ownership means trading a social life for a second job.
We want to be self-funded and to do so we will use profits generated by our organization. We will not be beholden to outside government agencies or charities. We will both survive and grow based on the viability of this organization or, if we cannot adapt, we will cease to exist.
Home Enterprise is a new kind of business Ė it reconnects the interests of capital and labor. No longer are these two forces in wasteful conflict. Our cooperative will have a transparency that will not hide the costs and profits from those whose effort secures such gains. Labor will look to conserve precious resources and seek ways to become more efficient, as a means to not only preserve capital, but to add to it.
What are the benefits to members?
Home Enterprise is an organization where we work together for common and individual goals. Members can withdraw shares for a down payment or withdraw banked time by using our team to work on their own below-market houses that may be affordable but need work.
Once the two year vesting requirement has been met, a member may withdraw their "hours" in any number of ways. They may rent or purchase one of the homes using their hours as rent, or even as a down payment. They could have other members refurbish their homes - our roofers can patch a roof, our plumbers and tilers can re-do an entire bathroom! Finally, and most simply, members can just take the cash. Profitable re-sale of refurbished homes will allow the organization to have cash distributions. Naturally, some advance notice or payment schedule will need to be set up for departing members due to the nature of the assets and legal commitments of the organization.
We are also trying to create a network of skilled resources of members within Home Enterprise as an alternative to taking the cash value of their shares. Some members have already traded their accrued hours to another member for in-kind services. A painter, who has hours credited to his account, may utilize the services of an accountant who is looking to log time. The possibilities are limited only by the skill and imagination of the individual members.
Our Guiding Principles
People are our greatest asset
We are more than our job title: a job should not diminish someoneís humanity, it should enhance and celebrate it.
We are a learning organization. Each can learn from any other. Anyone can teach to all.
We respect ALL contributions.
We TRUST in our team.
We strive to be a force in the marketplace.
Our creativity, enthusiasm, and our perseverance will solve problems.
The synergy of our individual skills, needs, and desires will create new future opportunities.
We are a company that will improve the community that supports us.
Through shared risks we share rewards.
Capital, Effort, and Skill Ė the three lynch pins of our organization
Having experienced trades people is essential for us to minimize costly mistakes and to guide and teach members with less experience. An important organizing principle for Home Enterprises is that no member be paid more or less for their skill level. The power of this organization will come from the participation of its members and the full gamut of their skills; memberís inputs are not reduced to a single skill or trade.
Our culture teaches us to get the highest dollar value we can for our time. So we specialize and work our 40 hours at that skill that will bring home the biggest paycheck. Our members feel that this thinking can kill our creativity and our sense of community. We become bored at work, weíre too afraid to learn new things and we loose respect for those outside our field of expertise.
We also believe that a skilled craftsperson can lead a group of enthusiastic workers who havenít grown bored with grunt work associated with any trade. Our hope is to capture the fruit of an esprit de corps that may offset most, if not all, of the loss in productivity due to inexperience.
Capital and/or Hours?
As with any business, Home Enterprise needed financing to get started. Our investors have become members whose capital has been converted to hours. Our idea was to put capital on an equal, not greater footing, than effort and skill. Typically in our economy, capital captures the risk/reward premium of most of our enterprises. Management utilizes outside capital to pay a wage to an employee and to buy whatever equipment is needed to do the job. If successful, profits leave the organization in the form of a dividend. The risk is that the venture is unproductive and more outside capital is required to sustain the enterprise.
Home Enterprise creates capital with its memberís time. Additional capital can be captured by creating a commitment to pay back with future time, not money plus interest. Thus capital has been stripped of an advantage it often receives to counteract the effects of inflation. Since time is not inflationary, there is no need to compensate it for this risk with an interest premium. This organization rewards time not money. The power of capital is put to use for, and the gains received will be allocated to, those with the most time committed.
Wage earners and/or Capitalists?
We consider ourselves a community of investors in our own skills and effort. Memberís time does not have the fixed value of a wage earner. The value of time committed becomes a function of how well we manage other resources, take advantage of opportunities, and minimize risks inherent to any ongoing concern. The net value captured by Home Enterprise will "float" depending on any number of factors. Our members, like prudent investors, realize this is why the market will pay a premium - for assuming risks over time.
Home Enterprise will assume this risk. We realize that some projects may be losers; that markets can drop rapidly; and organizations can be dragged into court for any number of reasons. Despite these pitfalls, we are a growing cooperative of 3 full time and 23 part time active members.
Melissa Daniels is a founding member of Home Enterprise and can be contacted at melissPro@aol.com
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