In upstate New York, migrant apple pickers in need of housing organize, lobby, fight legal battles and -- 10 years later -- break ground for Hope Village, a cooperatively owned group of prefabricated homes.

In Oakland, Calif., residents in the path of a planned freeway wheedle and threaten government agencies into moving some Victorian homes to a new site, where they are rehabilitated. A community is saved, and a new housing co-op is born.

In Manhattan, co-op apartment owners decide that the presence of a former U.S. president and his retinue of Secret Service agents would disrupt their lives. They take a vote and deny his application to buy a home there.

Richard Nixon is not the only one interested in housing cooperatives these days.

As mortgage interest rates poke through unimaginable ceilings, as energy and construction costs likewise head out of sight, as real estate speculators and condominium converts and rent-control battlers (pro and con) assert their self-interests, this old housing idea is being dusted off and given new scrutiny.

Cooperatively owned housing, many think, may be one significant way to tackle the nation's housing crisis, particularly for low- and moderate-income Americans who long since have been squeezed out of the ownership market and now find it increasingly difficult to rent decent housing.

In recent months federal, state and local government agencies around the country have made it easier for those of lesser means to cooperatively own their homes. And the trend continues as private lenders, see co-ops as a good way to answer charges that they have "redlined" neighborhoods.

In America today an estimated half-million families own co-ops, most of them in the Northeast. Like condominiums, co-ops usually are a part of multi-family projects. But rather than buying and selling a specific unit at escalating market rates (as in the case with condominiums), co-op owners hold a share in a cooperative corporation.

Shareholder/residents decide monthly charges (based on mortgage principal and interest, taxes and maintenance), and act as a "landlord by committee," so to speak, to maintain harmony in their community. This greatly alleviates the problems that speculators or absentee landlords can cause. "Cooperators," as they call themselves, also can deduct their share of interest and tax payments from taxable income.

As in the case with many of those in Manhattan, co-ops can be very expensive. But this need not be so. Increasingly, they are set up under limited equity arrangements. Buyers pay a small amount (often $500 or less) as down payments, then accrue equity at a rate set by their fellow shareholders that is well below what today's intense market might allow.

"Cooperative housing provides that continuity of availability to low- and moderate-income people that we're looking for," said Emma McFarlin, western regional director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In many cases, co-op owners qualify for federal housing assistance payments.

The Federal Home Loan Bank Board recently loosened its regulations to allow lending institutions to make loans up to 95 percent of the value of a single co-op, using a stockholder's share as security.