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Beacon Hill Rejection Sparks Existential Co-op Debate

Co-operative housing is rare in Boston; rare in Massachusetts, in fact. We like our real-property condos and semi-detached and detached houses just fine, thank you. But a bill moving through State House committees would make it easier to buy into co-ops by removing any restrictions save financial ones.

The Globe, for one, is none too pleased. The Bay State's paper of record has weighed in heavily against the legislation, painting co-ops as irascible cauldrons of bubbling bigotry—or, at the least, snobbery, the kinds of places that keep kids' baseballs when they land on members' lawns and that restrict the size of Christmas wreaths to 2.12-feet in diameter (they probably do, what'd we know?). The paper also plays a reliable trump card for getting Boston's goat: It says that's how they do things in New York. Game on.

While co-ops are popular in a few places in the country, such as Manhattan, they haven’t taken root in Boston. There are good reasons: Unlike in a condominium, where owners hold the deeds to their own units and share responsibility for common areas, co-ops have collective ownership of the entire property. There is one mortgage, and co-op members divide up the costs.

This type of entanglement isn’t for everyone, and comes at some financial sacrifice: It’s more difficult to resell a co-op than a condo unit. That’s because the board must approve new owners - on the reasonable grounds that they’ll be sharing full responsibility for the property. Co-ops often involve historic or otherwise specialized properties, such as artists’ studios, that require a unique commitment from owners. The infighting that sometimes plagues condo boards would be especially damaging for a co-op.

Mostly, though, the argument rests on the idea that co-ops are for fastidious snobs. Making it easier for people to buy into them would encourage them. Boston doesn't need that, etc. The legislation was prompted by the complaints of a North Shore businessman who got bumped from a Beacon Hill co-op for reasons other than financial. Tough, sayeth The Globe:

He would have a stronger case if people were actually losing out on chances to move into certain neighborhoods or live in certain types of housing solely because of snobbery. But the vast majority of housing on Beacon Hill and in other Boston neighborhoods, and the vast majority of multi-family buildings, have no such restrictions. Buyers who don’t meet the approval of co-op boards can still find plenty of good housing options nearby. There’s no need for the Legislature to step in now and alter agreements that have been in place for decades.

There's always New York if you really want in.

· Snobbery or Not, Co-ops Are Rare; State Needn't Intervene More [Globe]

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