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West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative, Cambuslang, Glasgow

West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative, Cambuslang, Glasgow

History

The Rochdale Pioneers founded the Cooperative Movement with the objective of building homes for their members. However, they initially established a store to provide basic necessities to members. This store started trading on 21 December 1844 which is now recognized globally as the beginning of the cooperative movement. The Rochdale Pioneer Land and Building Company constructed the first cooperative housing on Spotland Road in 1861. In 1867, the central Rochdale Equitable Pioneer Society had built eighty-four homes for members on Equitable Street and Pioneer Street in Rochdale and had already taken over the property built by the Pioneer Land and Building Company in 1869.

In the early 1900s, the tenant co-partnership movement brought about the second wave of cooperative housing development. Ealing Tenants Ltd, founded in 1901, built the first tenant co-partnership cooperative at Brentham Garden Suburb in Ealing. The cooperative was named after pioneering architect Ebenezer Howard and was closely linked to the Garden City movement.

Other well-known examples of co-partnership housing are at Hampstead Garden Suburb, now one of the most expensive parts of London, and Letchworth Garden City. However, the development of co-partnership housing was interrupted by the First World War. After the war, legislation granted the co-partnership movement equal access to government aid as council housing. Nonetheless, many councils decided to construct their own housing projects instead. The co-partnership movement eventually declined due to its reliance on funding from both tenants and non-resident investors.

The inter-war decades of the 1920s and 1930s saw the growth of the two dominant forms of tenure: council housing for working people and the emergence of homeownership for sale to the emerging middle classes. From the end of the Second World War to the mid-1970s, UK public housing policy was dominated by the encouragement of individual home ownership through tax relief on mortgage interest and the creation of a large portfolio of council housing (public housing) which at its peak in the 1970s provided homes for 31.5% of the population.

In the 1960s, a third wave of cooperative housing development emerged in the UK, with a focus on co-ownership housing. This form of housing allowed residents to genuinely own and manage their homes through monthly rental payments, which covered the costs of servicing the mortgage taken out by the cooperative to build their homes. The government also provided tax relief on the mortgage loan to make it more affordable. When residents left, they received a premium payment based on a formula in the lease. However, in the late 1970s, co-housing became less affordable due to rising interest rates and market house prices, which affected member premium payments. Over 40,000 homes were built under co-ownership arrangements, but most of these societies were dissolved in the early 1980s. This was due to a policy introduced by the Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, which allowed members to dissolve their society and become individual homeowners, often resulting in substantial financial benefits for those residing in the homes during the dissolution.

Compared to other European countries, the UK’s small fourth wave of housing cooperatives is relatively young. These ownership cooperatives were established in the 1970s and 1980s with the help of government assistance programs or through local action by small groups of cooperators. The government-funded programs were aimed at providing homes for low and mid-income families through not-for-profit housing associations, some of which were utilized to create housing cooperatives. In addition, a small group of housing cooperatives were developed without government assistance using member loans and mortgages to raise funds and growth. The political agenda changed in the 1990s favouring large-scale housing associations as the social housing delivery mechanism over housing cooperatives. Due to this, the creation of new ownership housing cooperatives came to a halt in the 1990s.

The UK’s fifth wave of cooperative housing started in the late 1980s with the establishment of estate management boards on local authority housing estates; the development of these early management cooperatives was further encouraged by the creation of a statutory Right to Manage for local authority tenants in 1994. There are currently 230 tenant management cooperatives managing a total of 87,000 homes mainly managing homes owned by local authorities although there are about 20 such cooperatives managing homes owned by housing associations.

The UK’s latest wave of cooperative housing started in 2010 when the government began creating funds to enable development, initially for conversion of empty properties and then through new build. The first new build cooperatives of this wave were developed in Wales where the devolved government created its programme for housing cooperative development 2 years before the English Community Housing Fund. This latest wave has seen a move to create a more diverse mix of cooperative housing schemes with varying tenure and pricing mixes and new legal frameworks such as mutual home ownership societies, community land trusts and cohousing schemes.

A fuller history of the development of housing cooperatives in the UK can be found in the report Forging Mutual Futures – Co-operative & Mutual Housing in Practice; History and Potential’ published by Birmingham University and in ‘Bringing Democracy Home’ the report from the Commission on Co-operative and Mutual Housing. Further historical detail can also be found in ‘Common Ground for Mutual Home Ownership’ published by CDS Co-operatives.

Edward Henry House - Tenants of the community campaigning for co-operative housing on the Southbank of the Thames, Central London circa 1983

Edward Henry House – Tenants of the community campaigning for cooperative housing on the Southbank of the Thames, Central London circa 1983

Context

For a number of years, the country has been facing major housing challenges. Housing supply simply does not meet demand, a situation made worse by demographic changes and population growth. As a result, the UK is facing serious problems with housing supply and affordability both for low and middle-income families. Council housing underwent significant investment in major capital repairs after years of underinvestment from 1979 to 1997. During the Labour government’s tenure from 1997 to 2010, government investment focused primarily on this issue. The present Conservative-led coalition has abandoned the last government’s target to build three million new homes by 2016 to meet demand and, as part of its austerity drive to reduce government debt, has cut investment in the national affordable housing programme over the next four years by 63%. All new homes built under the programme will be let at ‘Affordable Rents’, which will be up to 80% of market rents. In many places these rents will not be affordable to working households.

In this context, the coop housing movement, in collaboration with other housing organizations, is proposing several innovative initiatives such as Community Land Trusts, Mutual Home Ownership and the Community Gateway and Co-operative stock transfers. Issues such as availability of land and financing, appropriate legal framework, sustainable development and community engagement are being addressed by these initiatives, particularly in Wales which has a supportive Labour and Cooperative-led national government. However, like the US and other western economies new housing starts have fallen rapidly in the wake of the global financial crisis to the lowest number ever in peacetime since 1924, with just an estimated 120,000 new home starts last year in comparison to the previous government target of 246,000.

Ironically, the financial crisis may prove to be a stimulus for new housing cooperative development. Large housing associations, the main developers of new affordable housing in recent years, can no longer cross-subsidise development from profits on homes built for sale. Also, cooperatives have a unique status in UK law which should enable them to access investment from long-term investors, which may lead to the development of a new wave of cooperatives in which members have an equity stake similar to the co-ownership societies of the 1960s and 70s.

Perryview Housing Co-operative Limited, Crayford, Kent

Perryview Housing Co-operative Limited, Crayford, Kent

Types of Housing Cooperatives

There is no specific legal structure for housing cooperatives in the UK. However, the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 (formerly the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965) under which all cooperatives are incorporated contains statutory protection of the cooperative principles and requires cooperatives to comply with the seven internationally adopted Co-operative Principles. 

There are currently eight types of housing cooperatives in the UK:

  • Ownership housing cooperatives;
  • Tenant management cooperatives;
  • Co-operative and mutual stock transfer organisations;
  • Shortlife housing cooperatives;
  • Self and custom build housing cooperatives;
  • Student housing cooperatives;
  • Mutual home ownership societies;
  • Cohousing organisations.

1. Ownership Housing Co-operatives 

With government assistance 

Most ownership housing cooperatives were developed in the 1970s and 1980s with government assistance in the form of capital grants to make rents more affordable. Today, there are 223 housing cooperatives registered with the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH), the government agency responsible for regulating affordable housing providers in the UK. Because public funds were provided, the RSH regulates the operations of these cooperatives. 

Key characteristics are:

  • They are fully mutual (i.e. members must be tenants, and tenants must be members);
  • They are owned, managed and controlled democratically by the members/tenants on a one-member, one-vote basis. Most elect a management committee (board of directors) although the smaller ones are run by general meetings. The majority employ staff or buy operational services from specialist agencies or housing associations;
  • The members/tenants collectively own the property but each member/tenant does not have individual equity in the property;
  • They are typically quite small (an average of 40 homes) although some are as large as 400 homes.

Without government assistance 

A small portfolio of around 50 ownership housing cooperatives was developed without public funding. These housing cooperatives are financed through mortgages and member loans. The most effective enabling structure for these cooperatives is Radical Routes which along with an investment tool (Rootstock) has enabled most of this type of housing cooperative to develop. 

Key characteristics are:

  • They are fully mutual;
  • They are communal housing used based within five or less houses;
  • Their investment tool can lend them around 20% to 30% of the purchase value.

2. Tenant Management Co-operatives

Legislation adopted in 1994 gave all tenants of council housing the legal Right to Manage their homes and estates collectively, giving tenants management and maintenance responsibilities for the first time. In addition, some housing associations have agreed voluntary management arrangements with their tenants.

Key characteristics are: 

  • The ownership of the properties remains with the local authority or housing associations, but the management is done by the cooperative through a legally framed Management Agreement;
  • A feasibility study is carried out as well as an assessment of tenants’ interest as a first step. A proposal is presented to the tenants, which includes the feasibility study and the management functions that the cooperative will provide; the cooperative is formed by a majority vote;
  • The cooperative has the option to take on management responsibilities gradually through the Management Agreement which also includes a financial arrangement (management allowance) to cover the costs of the transferred management activities;
  • The Management Agreement is signed for five years after which tenants are asked to evaluate the arrangement to determine whether they wish to maintain the agreement;
  • Tenant management housing cooperatives democratically elect the board of directors or management committee, which is entirely composed of tenants. 

 

3. Stock Transfer Housing Co-operatives, Community Gateway and Community Mutual Housing Associations 

Stock transfer of council housing to non-governmental housing associations was introduced in 1988. The impetus behind the initiative was the need to renovate the housing stock under the control of local councils and the borrowing limitations placed on them by the UK government. Improved governance was also another factor in the transfer from local government to non-government management. 

Stock transfer is a voluntary process and the tenants are involved in the decision-making process. The transfer is done to a registered low-cost rental housing provider – a status given to organizations registered with and regulated by the government regulator, the RSH. 

The selling formula of council housing properties to registered providers was complex and based on a “discounted cash-flow model of valuation deriving from income and expenditure projections over a thirty-year period.” Sometimes, the cost of repairs and outstanding debts create a negative equity and the transfer is done at no cost, plus a grant to the not-for-profit registered provider or housing cooperative. When the value is positive, the registered provider borrows money to finance the transfer from the private finance market, although this may now be hard to come by for future transfers. 

The stock transfer is achieved through the Community Gateway and Mutual Models, pioneered by the Confederation of Co-operative Housing. These models offer a systematic approach to help with the transfer of council housing stock.

4. Shortlife Housing Cooperatives 

Shortlife housing cooperatives, most of which are in London or the South of England, take over properties that are not commercially rentable, for a limited period. The cooperative does not own the properties but has a licence or tenancy with the landlord. The tenant members are responsible for keeping the property in good order and carrying out minor repairs. 

Like ownership housing cooperatives, short-life cooperatives are registered as cooperative societies under the provisions of the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2104, with members having a ‘par value’ nominal £1 non-equity share in the cooperative. Short-life cooperatives have declined in numbers in recent years because landlords, mainly local councils or other public bodies have been taking the housing back for improvement or sale. 

5. Self and Custom Build Housing Cooperatives 

Self and custom build housing cooperatives are housing organizations where the members are involved in building some or all of their properties. The labour that they put into building their properties gives them “sweat equity” in the form of a percentage of the property. They also pay rent for the operating costs. Only a small number of self and custom build housing cooperatives exist and each has different arrangements, mainly in partnership with a registered provider of low-cost rental housing (a housing association). 

6. Student Housing Cooperatives

In the 1970s, the UK saw the formation of its first student housing cooperatives. However, by the 1980s, many of these either converted to standard ownership housing cooperatives or ceased to exist.

The current wave of student housing cooperatives is small but growing, with the first one being developed only in 2014. At present, there are five student housing cooperatives in the UK, providing accommodation to over 130 student members.

The unique feature of a student housing cooperative is that once a property is secured, students can live in the housing cooperative for the entire duration of their studies, plus an additional year after graduation. This offers long-term tenancies, which minimizes the usual transitory nature of the student community. It also enables mixed-year groups to cohabit, learn, and share skills.

7 Mutual Home Ownership Societies

Mutual Home Ownership Societies (MHOS) is a new affordable cooperative equity-based model. This model, first proposed by the New Economics Foundation and CDS Co-operatives in the early 2000s, lays out the case for intermediate housing that guarantees affordability in perpetuity for its members. The model represents a significant departure in terms of mainstream tenure types currently available. The MHOS is owned and managed by its members; each member has a lease which gives the right to occupy a specified house or flat owned by the MHOS. Under the terms of the lease, each member makes an initial deposit payment which is converted to an equity stake and they make monthly payments to the MHOS which will pay the MHOS’s management costs, finance costs and loan repayments and build the member’s equity stake to a maximum value of the property they occupy. The value of the equity stake is pegged to ensure ongoing affordability for future generations of members who buy into the MHOS over time.

8. Cohousing Organisations

Cohousing organisations are intentional communities, created and run by their residents. Each household owns, rents or builds equity in a self-contained, private home as well as shared community space and will have access to the communal (common) house. Residents to manage their community through a collective structure (a cooperative or company structure), share activities and regularly eat together.

Financing

Under the Coalition government’s new ‘Affordable Rent’ regime, government grants from the government’s Homes and Communities Agency are only available to registered providers of affordable housing that have the assets to raise substantial sums of private finance. Given the shortage of funding available from commercial banks, registered providers are turning to the bond markets to raise funds through long-term bond issues. The level of grant funding has also been reduced because of the higher ‘Affordable Rents’ (up to 80% of the open market rent for similar properties) which registered providers bidding for grant funding are now required to charge for new homes. This makes it very difficult for small housing cooperatives to arrange funding for rental housing. The only new cooperative rental housing that is likely to be produced under this new ‘Affordable Rent’ regime will be where a registered provider uses its financial capacity to develop a cooperative. The Confederation of Co-operative Housing is working with the HCA to encourage registered providers to consider developing cooperatives where there is support for them from the local authority, but only a small number of registered providers have indicated an interest in this initiative.

The future financing of housing cooperatives in the UK is currently the subject of much research and debate. A report on the future funding options for housing cooperatives produced by the finance working group of the Commission on Co-operative and Mutual Housing can be found at https://www.housinginternational.coop/resources/financing-co-operative-and-mutual-housing/

Legal Framework

The legal instruments for the coop housing sector are:

Industrial and Provident Societies (IPS) Act 1965 – it is specifically designed for coops and societies set up for the benefit of members (a cooperative) or for the benefit of the community.

Cooperatives can also register as non-profit companies limited by guarantee. (A number of cooperatives, particularly ones financed by members without government grants, have chosen this registration option because of easier administration available under Companies Act legislation, although this advantage has been largely removed by improvements in the arrangements for the administration of Industrial and Provident Societies).

Housing cooperatives do not have their own special legislative framework in housing or property law and operate, like other landlords, under landlord and tenant legislation. The special democratic nature of ‘fully mutual housing cooperatives – (legally called ‘cooperative housing associations’) is recognized by their exclusion from statutory forms of tenancy and the statutory protection of tenant rights. A fully mutual cooperative is one where the rules of the cooperative require that all tenants be members and that only members can be tenants. Ownership cooperatives and short-life cooperatives tend to be registered as fully mutual cooperatives. Members of tenant management cooperatives have statutory secure tenancies because they remain tenants of their council landlord. Community Gateway associations are registered under rules that do not require all tenants to be members, so their members have statutory assured tenancies, like the tenants of other registered providers of low-cost rental (housing associations) registered with the HCA.

All cooperatives that have provided housing with grant funding from the government must be registered with and regulated by the HCA.

The Cooperative Housing Movement

Founded in 1993, the Confederation of Co-operative Housing (CCH) is the UK organisation representing housing cooperatives. Its membership is open to housing cooperatives, regional federations of housing cooperatives and resident-controlled housing organisations. 

CCH promotes the excellent work done by cooperative housing organisations. It fosters communication between its members and serves the sector, campaigning for quality cooperative solutions to meet the housing needs of communities across the United Kingdom. 

The Co-operative Development Society Limited (CDS Co-operatives) is a cooperative housing membership-based organization that provides support services to housing coops.

The Co-operative & Community Finance offers democratically owned funds providing loan finance to create social benefit.

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The Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade and its Special Application to the Housing Sector

The Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade is a worldwide campaign to “take the co-operative way of doing business to a new level”. The five key elements of the Blueprint are participation, sustainability, identity, legal frameworks and capital. The Blueprint is particularly relevant to co-operative housing and the Blueprint interpretation for co-operative housing below explains how.Read More

Governance Global
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