No man is an island
Contribute what you can, and take only what you need.
- Flynn Avenue Co-op
Co-op Housing Member
Housing co-ops can be perfect for individuals and families who want an affordable home, a diverse intentional community and to be our own landlords.”
CHT Board Member John Olson’s credo could very well be grounded in Marxism, or perhaps the New Testament: Contribute what you can, and take only what you need. This sums up his motivation not only for his volunteerism, but also other decisions in his life – such as living at the Flynn Avenue Cooperative.
John grew up in a large family with few resources in rural Minnesota. After college, he took a chance on a hotel career in Burlington when a former supervisor offered a job. That was 30 years ago. Despite only staying at that first job six months, he wasn’t ready to give up on Burlington yet. “I was falling in love with Burlington and Vermont,” he confessed, “the neighborhoods, the architecture, the lake, the mountains, and the community.”
Like many young adults he had few different jobs in his 20s – scooping ice cream, selling furniture, coordinating summer conferences. But this was home. In the 1990s, he led Vermont CARES’ HIV prevention work and collaborated on statewide education campaigns to prevent the spread of the disease. This knit him even more to the community.
Even back then, it wasn’t cheap to live in Burlington. In 2002, he moved into the Flynn Avenue Co-op, one of CHT’s five affordable housing cooperatives and has been an active member ever since. He has served on the Grounds committee, Legal & Finance committee, and on the Flynn’s board, as treasurer. “Housing co-ops can be perfect for individuals and families who want an affordable home, a diverse intentional community and to be our own landlords.”
Joining CHT’s Board in 2014 as one of five resident representatives was an eye opener. “The ongoing training, support and information we get from staff and management each month is amazing,” he said. “It’s an impressively functional operation and a joy to be involved.”
John’s understanding about real estate has expanded since joining the Board and his attendance at a recent national conference of community land trusts, like CHT. “I’ve learned a lot about the role that permanently affordable land and housing plays for a family and a community – whether it’s farmland in Georgia, co-ops in Vermont, abandoned neighborhoods in Pittsburgh or gentrification zones in California. CHT’s properties have a tremendous impact on the stability and wellbeing of local communities and our influence and reputation is known across the country. It’s a little mind-blowing.”
John’s work now at the Department of Health managing grants and programs dealing with cancer, rural hospitals and healthcare workforce has only deepened his understanding of the need for affordable housing. “Housing is healthcare,” he says.
John has embraced the role of a Board member who is fully engaged as an ambassador for the organization, including facing one of his fears: fundraising.
“I’ve never felt comfortable asking people for money, even for great causes. But, I asked myself, ‘Why not?’” he admits. “I decided I would invite people I knew to consider getting involved with issues I care deeply about. It fits my guiding philosophy that we should all give what we can so that others can have what they need.”
Living at the Flynn Co-op – 28 apartments in Burlington’s South End near the new City Market Co-op – also reflects this value. The housing, made affordable by CHT, is sustained by the residents. It is where they come together daily to work with and care for their neighbors and work towards building a strong, safe, diverse and affordable community.