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West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative, Cambuslang, Glasgow

West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative, Cambuslang, Glasgow

History

The Rochdale Pioneers, founders of the Cooperative Movement, had a goal to construct homes for their members. Prior to this, their first aim was to establish a store to provide basic necessities to members, which began trading on 21 December 1844. This date is now recognized globally as the beginning of the cooperative movement. The Rochdale Pioneer Land and Building Company built the first cooperative housing on Spotland Road in 1861. The central Rochdale Equitable Pioneer Society took over this property in 1869 and had already built eighty-four homes for members on Equitable Street and Pioneer Street in Rochdale in 1867.

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

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. The development of co-partnership housing was interrupted by the First World War. Following the war, legislation granted the co-partnership movement equal access to government aid as council housing. However, in the aftermath of the war, many councils opted to construct their own housing projects. The co-partnership movement eventually experienced a decline due to its reliance on funding from both tenants and non-resident investors. The involvement of the latter group resulted in pressure to sell the homes, leading to some instances of asset stripping.

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 2009, most people (69.5%) owned their homes and obtained personal mortgage loans to do so. A smaller percentage (12.4%) lived in the growing private rental sector, while 9.7% resided in council housing, which has decreased in size due to council tenants’ Right to Buy in 1980 and stock transfers. Another 8.4% rented homes from non-profit housing associations and less than 1% (around 0.6%) lived in homes owned or managed by cooperative or mutual housing organizations.

In the 1960s, a third wave of cooperative housing development emerged, with co-ownership housing being the main focus. This 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 members 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. More than 40,000 homes were constructed under co-ownership arrangements, but the majority 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 granted members the ability to dissolve their society and become individual homeowners. This policy frequently led to substantial financial benefits for the members who happened to be 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 cooperatives were established in the 1970s and 1980s with the help of government assistance programs. The 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 housing cooperatives came to a halt in the 1990s. However, some cooperative housing service agencies and registered providers who acknowledge the advantages of cooperative ownership and control are still constructing cooperative homes.

The housing coop movement is participating actively in the reorganization of the council housing stock through tenant management cooperatives and council housing stock transfer to community mutuals and housing cooperatives.

Measuring the size of the cooperative and mutual housing sector in the UK is not easy. There is no definitive list of all housing coops and for those where data is available, there are issues of consistency and accuracy of the data provided. In 2007 in England, there were 243 housing cooperatives registered with the Housing Corporation, the then statutory regulator with an average stockholding of 40 homes owned by the cooperative, showing the relatively small size of these tenant-ownership cooperatives.

At the last reliable count in 2002, there were 202 tenant management cooperatives managing a total of 84,000 homes owned by local councils.

These were spatially concentrated in 53 local authorities, mainly metropolitan authorities, in London (66%) the North West (18%) and the West Midlands (8%) a pattern not dissimilar to tenant ownership cooperatives. There are now also five community gateway resident-led mutual housing associations in England and four community mutuals in Wales which have taken over the ownership of their homes from the council. Tenants of Rochdale Council in Lancashire, the birthplace of the cooperative movement, and the council have voted in favour of transferring the council’s 13,664 homes to a multi-stakeholder cooperative of tenants and employees. The vote came just weeks after Rochdale was declared the World Capital of Co-operatives at the ICA General Assembly in 2011. The Rochdale transfer breaks new ground in cooperative housing development. Scotland also has over 20 cooperatives, the biggest being Tenant’s First based in Peterhead, and some very successful stock transfer cooperatives like West Whitlawburn outside Glasgow. There is only one small housing cooperative in Northern Ireland.

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

The Future of Cooperative Housing

Interest in the potential of cooperatives has stimulated the report of the Commission on Co-operative and Mutual Housing ‘Bringing Democracy Home’. As the report shows, the small cooperative housing sector in the UK is very successful. Housing cooperatives are generally robust and financially stable and perform, on all measures, better than other types of affordable housing providers. The future of this small sector seems secure. It is also being enhanced by the promotion of a governance and management accreditation programme developed by CCH in concert with the statutory regulator (now the HCA). This is aimed at ensuring good governance and sound management in all housing cooperatives.

Tenant Management cooperatives in council housing are a well-established mechanism for tenant control, with the development of new tenant management cooperatives being encouraged by the government and by a simplification of the process for establishing them. Community Gateway (in England) and Community Mutuals (in Wales) are growing in number and success, with the cooperative Rochdale Boroughwide Housing transfer creating a new form of large-scale housing cooperative in which both tenants and employees providing the housing service have a stake as members. This sets a new precedent and standard for future council housing stock transfers which may be emulated by other local authorities where stock transfer remains an option.

The combination of the global financial crisis and the UK Coalition government’s austerity programme have combined to make the development of new, tenant-owned, affordable rental housing cooperatives significantly more difficult. They will only be developed where there is a combination of local support and an enlightened large registered provider housing association partner able to access the limited grant funding and use its financial capacity to help create a new cooperative.

But registered providers too are facing challenges. The new ‘Affordable Rent’ regime will consume their capacity to raise capital for investment; they are using up their asset cover for new investment at an increasing rate and will soon be borrowing at the limit of their financial gearing capacity. This, combined with the realization that more needs to be done to bridge the yawning gap between the scarcity of supply and the growing demand for affordable housing is renewing the interest in the potential of new forms of cooperative and mutual housing tenure as a means of leveraging new sources of long term finance, such as pension fund investment, into the provision of affordable housing. This is particularly the case in Wales where the Welsh Labour Party made the development of new forms of cooperative housing, such as Mutual Home Ownership in which members have an equity stake in their homes, a key 2011 election manifesto pledge. With Labour now in control of the Welsh Government the commitment to use public sector land for cooperative housing is a firm commitment of its post-election Agenda for Wales. The commitment in Wales is stimulating greater interest in the potential for housing cooperatives to develop alternative forms of tenure and financing in other parts of the UK.

Description

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

There are currently 5 types of housing cooperatives in the UK: ownership housing cooperatives, cooperative and community-led stock transfer organizations which have taken over the ownership of council housing in England, Scotland and Wales, tenant management housing cooperatives, short-life housing cooperatives, and self-build housing cooperatives.

  1. Ownership Housing Cooperatives

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 243 housing cooperatives registered with the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), the government agency responsible for regulating affordable housing providers in the UK. Because public funds were provided, the HCA 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 one member, one-vote basis. They elect a management committee (board of directors). The majority employ staff or buy operational services from 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 traditionally quite small (an average of 40 homes).
  • Independent research shows that they are the most successful housing providers in terms of performance and resident satisfaction (see ‘Bringing Democracy Home’ the report of the Commission on Co-operative and Mutual Housing). As a requirement, a portion of vacant units must be filled through waiting lists maintained by the local housing authority, usually a minimum of 50%.

Without government assistance

There is also a small portfolio (around 25) of ownership housing coops developed without public funding. These housing cooperatives are financed through mortgages and member loans. To that effect, they have set up a support network (Radical Routes) along with an investment tool (Rootstock) that every housing cooperative must invest in.

Key characteristics are:

  • They are fully mutual.
  • They are communal housing.
  • They have an elaborate recruitment process along with strict eligibility rules.
  • Low-income people are eligible for housing allowances.
  • Their investment tool can lend them around 20% to 30% of the purchase value.
  1. Stock Transfer Housing Cooperatives and 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 councils by the central 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 that are registered with and regulated by the government regulator, the HCA.

The selling formula of council housing properties to registered providers is 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 transfer of stock can be achieved through the Community Gateway Model, which was created by the cooperative housing movement. This model offers a systematic approach to help with the transfer of council housing stock. It could eventually result in the formation of a new not-for-profit organization known as a “community gateway association”. This organization would be controlled locally by the residents it serves, and they would all have the right to become members by paying a nominal fee of £1 for a non-equity voting membership share.

For more information about the Community Gateway approach to council housing stock transfer click here.

A similar approach to housing stock transfer in Wales leads to the development of Community Mutual stock transfer housing associations.

  1. Tenant Management Housing Cooperatives

Legislation adopted in 1994 gave all tenants of council housing the legal Right to Manage their cooperatives, giving tenants for the first time housing management and maintenance responsibilities.

Key characteristics are:

  • The actual ownership of the properties remains with the local council, but the management is done by the cooperative.
  • 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 agreement. The cooperative is formed by a majority vote.
  • A management agreement is signed between the local authority and the cooperative. The cooperative has the option to take on management responsibilities gradually through the Modular Management Agreement. The agreement also includes a financial arrangement (management allowance) to cover the costs of the transferred management activities. The management agreement is signed for 5 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.
  • Government grants are available to assist in the formation of these housing cooperatives. Evaluation reports point to the success of these cooperatives (tenants’ satisfaction, economic operating costs, building upkeep, rent collection, safety, community and resident services, etc.).
  1. Short-life Housing Cooperatives

Short-life 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 of time. The coop does not own the properties but has a lease 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.

  1. Self-build Housing Cooperatives

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

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 organization representing housing cooperatives. Its membership is open to housing cooperatives, regional federations of housing cooperatives and tenant-controlled housing organizations. The Confederation’s objectives are to promote cooperative and tenant-controlled housing as a viable alternative form of tenure, to represent their interests and to provide a networking forum.

The General Council is the governing body of CCH. The election of the thirty-five board members is based on regional, special interest federations and at large representations. Meetings of the GC are held every six weeks and are open to the public. In recent years CCH has also developed a close working partnership with the National Federation of Tenant Management Organisations (www.nftmo.com)

For more information, visit www.cch.coop  You can download a presentation on the current state of coop housing in the UK here. 

Other coop housing membership-based organizations are very active in the UK providing support services to housing coops such as the Co-operative Development Society Limited (CDS Co-operatives) (www.cds.coop), and BCHS in Birmingham (www.bchs.coop).

The Co-operative Housing Finance Society (CHFS) is an independent financial intermediary organization that enables housing cooperatives to get mortgage financing by providing private lenders with a twelve-month mortgage interest guarantee. Although it issued guarantees for £14m of funding for new cooperatives between 1997 and 2002, with the changes in grant funding and decline in coop housing development its business has been limited to monitoring and renewal of guarantees. It is considering what role it can play in funding new types of housing cooperative.

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Promoting Cooperatives – International Labour Organization (ILO) Recommendation 193 on the Promotion of Cooperatives

The ILO views cooperatives as important in improving the living and working conditions of women and men globally as well as making essential infrastructure and services available even in areas neglected by the state and investor-driven enterprises. Cooperatives have a proven record of creating and sustaining employment – they provide over 100 million jobs today; they advance the ILO’s Global Employment Agenda and contribute to promoting decent work.Read More

Legal Global
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Profiles of a Movement: Co-operative Housing around the World – Volume One

This first volume includes the co-operative housing profile of 22 countries. This report presents the history and the current realities of co-operative housing around the world.  CHI is currently in the process of updating the ...Read More

Community Global
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The Cooperative Housing International Good Governance Test

The purpose of the Governance Test is to provide a means for housing co-ops affiliated with CHI to measure their standards of governance and to help them develop a good governance action plan to improve governance in weaker areas. ...Read More

Governance Global
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Students and Housing Cooperatives

Student housing cooperatives have become very popular in the USA and many of these housing co-operatives are members of organizations such as NASCO. Unlike a resident who acquires shares at market rates to earn the right to occupy ...Read More

Community Global
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Environment Sustainability and Climate Change Seminars

To further our commitment towards sustainable sources of timber and forest products and to provide co-operators more information on the certification programmes and successful sustainable initiatives, CHI organized a seminar on S ...Read More

Sustainability Global
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Housing Co-operatives and Climate Change

ICA members adopted a resolution at the 2007 General Assembly calling on the co-operative movement to do its share in combating climate changes. The resolution suggests three ways on how the co-op movement can act now: Measure and ...Read More

Sustainability Global
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Legal Frameworks for Housing Co-operatives: Seminars

As part of CHI's plan to map its activities to the International Co-operative Alliance's Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade, CHI held a seminar on one of the Blueprint elements:  Legal Frameworks for Housing Co-operatives. “Co ...Read More

Legal Global
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Good Governance Charter for Housing Co-operatives

 The Good Governance Charter for Housing Co-operatives was launched at the ICA Housing Plenary in Manchester in November 2012.It has three parts:A 10-point set of good governance practicesAn interpretive statement for each good p ...Read More

Governance Global
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Profiles of a Movement: Co-operative Housing around the World – Volume Two

Volume 2 of the Profiles of a Movement concentrates on the African continent. We are pleased to present the remarkable work achieved by the African co-operators, work accomplished in a very challenging environment. These profil ...Read More

Community Global
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Financing and Climate Change Seminars

Seminars about continued public sector investment in co-operative housing in Austria and Canada, innovative funding arrangements created by the co-operative housing sector in Italy and harnessing member investment through co-opera ...Read More

Financing and Development Global
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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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