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What is a Housing Cooperative?

What is Cooperative Housing?

Every co-op housing community is different. Some are large apartment complexes, others are townhouses, and others are single-family houses. Some are rental, others are owner-occupied. Co-op housing models vary from country to country. But they all have one thing in common — they’re focused on community.

In rental co-ops members sign an agreement to rent their unit from the co-op. Alternatively, in the ownership model, members are shareholders with exclusive use of their housing units. Together, members collectively own the common spaces. They also share operating and maintenance costs. In addition, members make decisions democratically about how to run their housing co-op.

Watch the video to find out more.


Why Become a Member of Cooperative Housing International?

CHI is a mutually supportive community of cooperative housing federations and associations in over 70 countries.

Our members join CHI to gain knowledge about good practices and principles of good governance. Additionally, they are interested in fostering partnerships and collaborations among leading and innovative stakeholders in the co-op housing sector. Moreover, you can increase the influence of housing cooperatives at the global, regional, and sectoral levels.

Visit the Benefits of Membership section to learn more and watch the video for more details.

How Housing Co-ops are Mitigating Climate Change

Housing cooperatives are leading the way with sustainability initiatives by using smart building practices for new construction and refurbishments of older buildings to reduce energy and water consumption.

To lower CO2 emissions, co-ops are using strawbale insulation, passive solar heating, district heating, and cooling from renewable sources. They are also using less water by installing low-flow toilets, rain barrels, slow drip irrigation and planting native plants that are hardy and low maintenance.

Want to make your housing co-op greener? Start by adopting an environmental sustainability policy. It will help guide your co-op’s procurement practices, operations, and member education.

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Housing Co-ops for Sustainability

Co-op housing communities worldwide are building a more sustainable future by working towards meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This blueprint sets out targets for achieving a more equitable and sustainable future.

The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) has made it a strategic priority to engage cooperatives worldwide in helping meet the United Nations Sustainable Goals (SDGs) for 2030.  The role that cooperative housing plays in relieving poverty, inequality and insecurity of tenure, among other challenges is important in meeting many of the SDGs.

CHI has identified which SDGs housing cooperatives can meet and which targets the sector can set in order to achieve the goals. You can find the SDGs and targets we’ve identified listed here.

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What's the Legal Framework of Cooperative Housing?

A cooperative is a legal entity owned and democratically controlled by its members. Each housing co-op must register or incorporate in order to operate within the legal guidelines of its region or country.

Every co-op has its own rules or bylaws. If you’re considering joining a housing co-op, read their rules carefully to ensure that it’s a good fit for you.

Because of the pandemic, some co-ops have updated their bylaws to holding online meetings. Democratic governance is a key part of how housing cooperatives work.

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How Do Housing Co-ops Keep Rent Affordable?

Cooperative housing is designed to keep housing affordable and operates on a not-for-profit basis.

In some countries, housing co-ops offer housing to people with low incomes as part of their social purpose. Sometimes co-ops get assistance from the government whereas, in countries with limited economic resources, people organize themselves to provide adequate homes for their families.

Moreover, housing co-ops are independent associations. They follow the laws that apply to them and their agreements with governments or other organizations.

In the Global South, some people pool their resources and work together to build and manage their housing co-op. These are called mutual-aid self-help co-ops.

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How Does Cooperative Housing Compare with Other Models?

When you join a housing co-op, you become part of a democratic community. You become a member of a housing co-op by purchasing shares of the co-op that owns the property.

You either rent your unit from the co-op or you are a shareholder with exclusive use of a housing unit. In contrast, condominium owners own their properties directly. Together, co-op housing members collectively own common spaces. They also share operating and maintenance costs.

Different laws regulate housing co-ops, and these vary from region to region and country to country. Co-ops are often more affordable than condominiums and rental housing because co-ops operate on a not-for-profit basis.

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Benefits of Cooperative Housing

Housing co-op members have greater control over their living environment. This form of housing also fosters a strong sense of pride and community. Higher member satisfaction also means members tend to stay long-term, which leads to reduced operating expenses and a more stable community.

Unlike regular renters, co-op members have the security of tenure. This means they can call the co-op home as long as they follow the co-op rules and pay their housing charges in full and on time.

Because cooperatives operate on a not-for-profit basis, housing remains affordable for future generations. In some countries, housing co-ops provide subsidized rent, supporting members with lower incomes.

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Who is Cooperative Housing for?

Cooperative housing is great for people who want to take an active role in their community. Everyone is welcome in cooperative housing. Some co-ops are focused on providing housing for lower-income individuals, some are family-oriented, whereas others are focused on seniors. In addition, housing co-ops welcome a wide range of members of different ages and diversities.

People live in cooperative housing in more than 70 countries, and the living experience is very different depending on the co-op. However, all co-ops are guided by cooperative identity, values and seven principles agreed upon by the International Cooperative Alliance. For example, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others.

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How Do I Start a Housing Co-op?

So, you want to start a housing cooperative? Where do you begin? First, gather your core group of members and define your goals. Then decide which co-op model is best for you. Different models are available depending on the country you are in.

Choose a name and decide who will take on which roles on the board of directors. Additionally, you’ll need to agree on your rules and develop your policies and procedures.

The process can be complex, but you can find lots of support along the way. A critical part of getting started is gathering a team of experts who can advise you along the way. Talk to lawyers, accountants, and organizational and property development professionals who specialize in co-op housing. And talk to your regional cooperative housing federation.  They can point you in the right direction or may even have the technical resources that you’re looking for.

Watch the video to find out more.

Advantages of Being Part of the Wider Global Movement

Cooperative Housing International (CHI) is one of the eight sectoral organizations of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA). By being part of the ICA you gain access to CHI membership.

Tap into a worldwide support network, accessing news, research, global best practices, education, expertise, and advice.  Not to mention being part of a community of over 3 million cooperatives representing over 1 billion members! In addition, be represented globally in multilateral organizations such as the United Nations, the G20, and the International Labour Organisation.

As a member of CHI, you’re a part of something bigger. Read more about the benefits of membership here and watch the video for more details.

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