Two young Boston ministers on a mission to build cooperative housing in the city were competing for a big boost this week: a $500,000 prize from Forbes.
The pair are co-founders of a nonprofit that runs an 11-room property in Roxbury’s Dudley Square called the Lucy Stone Cooperative, where the garden is communal, everyone takes turns making dinner and rent most recently was $505, much less than typical Boston rates.
The idea, said co-founders the Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen and the Rev. Heather Concannon, came from Boston’s tight-knit Unitarian Universalist community.
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There is a strong religious component to the co-op — residents sometimes hold hymn and folk song sing-alongs after meals. But they said people of all faiths are welcome, and said demand for spaces in the co-op since its founding in 2011 had been strong.
“We know that more people are hungry for this type of community than are able to be housed in it,” Concannon, 27, told Metro. She lives at Lucy Stone.
The business magazine giant picked six finalists for the competition, called the “Forbes Under 30 $1 Million Change the World” competition, which organizers say highlights “disruptive,” socially conscious ideas.
As finalists, the pair had already been awarded $100,000 — a win would net them another $400,000.
They are set to compete on Tuesday, pitching their idea to judges in Philadelphia on behalf of their Roxbury-based organization called Unitarian Universalist Community Cooperatives, which has seven co-founders.
“These young superstars were chosen as finalists in this historic competition because they have the ability to solve problems, scale solutions and change the world,” said Forbes Editor Randall Lane in a statement about the six finalists.
The pair of ministers told Metro that what caught Forbes’ attention was the way they collected funds to pay for the Lucy Stone house by seeking low-interest loans from 13 like-minded investors.
“A key piece of that is people are increasingly looking for ways to live their values through their investments,” said Nguyen, 28.
The opportunity to inject $500,000 into affordable housing came as low-income Bostonians were routinely being priced out of their homes, and as local organizers sought ways to combat rising rents.
There are a handful of co-ops in Roxbury that are part of that picture, said Harry Smith, director of sustainable development at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Roxbury.
“The co-operative model that they’re using is not the only strategy, obviously, but it definitely is a strategy that could help keep families in Roxbury,” Smith said. “We definitely admire what they do.”
If they win the competition this week, the co-founders said they would consider hiring paid staff.
Regardless, they said they were in negotiations to buy a second property, also in Roxbury, to start a new co-op aimed at housing adults with children.
And whether they win this week or not, Nguyen said there is a lot of value in recognition from Forbes, who picked them from a crop of more than 2,500 applicants.
“We’re trying to hold up a model that says that the bottom line is access and affordability and spiritual wellness, not profit,” Nguyen said.