The Grand Street Co-ops flip their lids:Onetime socialist enclave enters the free market
New York Magazine
By Carl Swanson
Published June 14, 2000
Ain't It Grand?
Workers' utopia goes market-rate. Built by unions after world War II, the Grand Street co-ops were a middle-class housing project with socialist pretensions, complete with agitprop murals of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt surrounded by children of all races. Until recently, it remained a fairly closed loop of mostly elderly Jewish owners, who got apartments cheap -- often for about $3,000 a room -- and were required to sell them back to the co-op for the same price when they left. On June 12, that egalitarian system was overthrown, meaning the development's 4,500 apartments, many with views of the East River, can now be sold at market rates. Already Jacob Goldman, a resident who set himself up as a real-estate broker, is hawking a three-bedroom for $1 million. "It's better than investing in Microsoft in the beginning," he says of the jackpot residents gave themselves by voting to lift the restrictions. Unfortunately, socialism always lost points on aesthetics -- one resident describes the brick towers as "very utilitarian," with brown tile floors in the hallways. That old look may be purged: With the revenue generated by the "flip tax," the co-op is upgrading the lobbies (the murals were in danger, but they'll stay). Also, "it caters to Orthodox Jews," complains one Reform resident, to the point where an elevator in each building stops on every floor on the Sabbath so the observant don't have to press a button. The new residents are "lawyers and professionals and single moms -- yuppies," says Goldman. "Would it make the socialist founders of the area turn over in their graves? Sure. But the grandchildren are reaping the rewards."