Housing Cooperative

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1. Mira Luna:

"Housing cooperatives are defined primarily by their legal structure: coop members own the housing collectively through shares in an organization, rather than individually, as with a condo. Residents also govern the housing democratically, either directly or through elected representatives. Not just for students, coops can be home to support groups of low income families, artists, elderly, disabled, and people with a common purpose. Over 1.5 million homes in the US are part of a cooperative housing organization." (http://shareable.net/blog/how-to-start-a-housing-coop)


"Housing Cooperatives are houses or apartment complexes that are owned and democratically controlled by their residents. Members of “limited equity housing coops” purchase a share of the coop and, upon leaving, sell that share back to the coop at the same price they originally paid. This de-links the value of housing from the capitalist market, allowing the coop to remain affordable."[1]

"A housing cooperative is a legal entity—usually a corporation—that owns real estate, consisting of one or more residential buildings. (This is one type of housing tenure.) Each shareholder in the legal entity is granted the right to occupy one housing unit, sometimes subject to an occupancy agreement, which is similar to a lease. The occupancy agreement specifies the co-op's rules. Cooperative is also used to describe a non-share capital co-op model in which fee-paying members obtain the right to occupy a bedroom and share the communal resources of a house that is owned by a cooperative organization. Such is the case with student cooperatives in some college neighborhoods in the United States."[2]


Housing Cooperatives as organizations express themselves in a number of different ways.

The typologies listed here are very general and not every housing cooperative fits into each or any of them.

Housing tenure
Housing cooperatives differ by how the occupant makes the financial and legal agreement for accessing the use of the property. In a limited equity housing cooperative the residents may be mutual owners but the ownership they enjoy has little marke value. They are, in effect, renters, though the residents often enjoy a great deal more control over their residence. In a full equity cooperative
Orientation towards community
some housing cooperatives are attached to other activities like a Worker Cooperative or a pension plan. In these cases candidates for housing must also be a part of some other plan or system in order to gain access to housing. This typology loosely describes housing cooperatives that are designed to serve the needs of specific populations like singles, elderly, or families with children.

2. Mira Luna:

"There are several different kinds of coops:

  • Rental or leasehold coops are democratically run organizations of tenants that equitably share costs of renting or leasing a building owned by someone else. Rental coops may share part of the management responsibility and often have more power collectively than single renters leasing from a conventional landlord. Nonprofits can also buy a building and rent it out to lower income folks who might not be able to afford shares. Sharing a house can offer big savings and can help people avoid foreclosure.

  • Market rate coops are houses, apartment buildings or other groups of housing units that are organized under a democratically managed corporation in which residents purchase shares at a market rate. Shares cover the costs of a blanket mortgage, rainy day reserves, maintenance and other operating costs, insurance, tax, etc. Units are resold at market rate.

  • Limited- or zero-equity affordable housing coops receive grants and government subsidies to make coop shares more affordable to low-income people. They keep the housing permanently affordable through legal restrictions on the amount of gain on a future sale of the coop share. Often these are organized groups of low-income tenants that agree to collectively buy the building they already rent through a nonprofit, usually a land trust that holds title to the land and takes it off the speculative market. It’s a great way to make permanent gains in the fight against gentrification."



Evaluation of Housing Cooperatives

Additional criteria can be used to examine and compare housing cooperatives. In some cases these criteria might constitute a typology in itself, and in most cases these criteria are up to the choice of the community itself, as opposed to being an aspect of the environment.

Freehold (UK)
In the United Kingdom a cooperative that owns a building may have a leasehold, but not the freehold. The leasehold might be for 75 years, more or less, but once it expires, the building and everything else on the property reverts back to the ownership of the council that owns the freehold for the property. This can be an important point for examining the financial arrangements of a UK housing cooperative. Banks are not typically inclined to lend on properties with leaseholds of less than 75 years.
Depending on your situation you may be interested in evaluating what type of governance is used to manage the day to day operations of the housing cooperative. In some cases the governance may be highly participatory and democratic, or you may find that the board operates in secret and only publishes the minimum of information about the goings-on of meetings.
Cooperation with other groups
Cooperative organizations often adopt the ICA Co-operative Principles. Depending on the cooperative, this may or may not be indicative of how effective the housing cooperative under examination is at working with other cooperatives.
Cooperative principles
Many housing cooperatives may find cause to write and demonstrate exactly how their organization fulfills the ICA Co-operative Principles. This can often be a quick way to get a bird's-eye-view of a cooperatives organization and to compare the organizations intentions with its actions.



Genossenschaft Kalkbreite Housing Cooperative in Zurich


"Zürich is, like New York, a prosperous and expensive city, an international banking center with an ample share of the global 1 percent. Yet unlike New York, it has sought successfully to maintain a range of residential options: since the early ’90s, the municipal government has been promoting mixed-income housing — especially large apartments suitable for families with children — in the formerly industrial west side. Cooperatives are particularly popular, and they are being founded by diverse groups — building trades interested in generating work, artists seeking to convert former factories into long-term creative communities, activists intent on keeping neighborhoods diverse. Cooperatively owned non-profits now constitute 22 percent of housing in the Swiss city; and while the majority were built from the 1920s to the 1970s, approximately one-third — about 5,400 apartments — have been constructed just since 2000.

The Kalkbreite cooperative, which opened to residents in spring of this year, is a recent and remarkable example. Located in central Zürich, the 1.5-acre parcel in Kreis 4 — bounded on two sides by busy thoroughfares and on another by below-grade train tracks — had been occupied by a tram depot, and had long been considered too noisy for housing. But in 2006 a group of activist citizens and housing experts held a series of public workshops, and together they took a new look at the old site. Soon the Cooperative Kalkbreite was incorporated, and by 2007 the group had submitted a proposal to the city. This time the authorities were convinced; and what persuaded them was the broad and generous vision. As presented by the cooperative board, Kalkbreite would encompass 54,000 square feet of commercial space and 80,000 square feet of residential space. The project would feature 97 apartments and would accommodate 250 residents of diverse income, ethnicity, and age; it would include a new tram depot with a public park on its roof; it would be socially inclusive and environmentally sensitive.

The residential options were breathtakingly intricate and innovative. The cooperative design responded to changing demographics and the need for multiple household configurations. There were apartments with two, three, four, or five bedrooms for traditional nuclear families; apartments with up to seventeen bedrooms for extended households; and studios with bathrooms and kitchenettes grouped into larger “clusters” with shared common space and a communal kitchen. There would an extra-large group of twenty apartments for fifty residents who would together fund a staffed kitchen; and to allow for the usual household flux — e.g., a grandparent arriving to help the parents of a newborn, a visiting professional in town for a project — there would be nine “jokers,” small units (about 290 square feet) with private bathrooms but no kitchens, distributed throughout the project and available for temporary rental for residential use.

This programmatic mix is an achievement in itself. Within a single building it addresses the kind of demographic diversity and programmatic flexibility that U.S. municipalities have struggled to foster across entire cities — with only fitful success — through initiatives that encourage accessory dwellings, shared housing, or micro-units. 4 And at Kalkbreite the social vision is complemented by a commitment to resource conservation. To this end the cooperative made several key decisions: to optimize the excellent on-site transit connections and forego car parking entirely, instead providing ground-floor storage for several hundred bicycles; to adhere to Switzerland’s rigorous Minergie-P-Eco standards for passive housing construction; and to limit the floor area per resident to 344 square feet, much lower than the 485 square feet now typical in Swiss housing. This last decision allowed Kalkbreite to offer an unusually large number of multi-bedroom apartments — a notably family-friendly approach compared with the current trend toward pod-like micro-units in many high-priced cities.

To propel the project from concept to reality, the municipal authorities granted the Kalkbreite cooperative a 95-year lease on the city-owned land (which enabled the cooperative to qualify for private construction loans). Meanwhile the city council approved 3,25 million Swiss francs (approximately the same amount in U.S. dollars) for a feasibility study, predevelopment costs, and an architectural competition. The competition — standard process for projects with public involvement in Europe — yielded 55 proposals; Müller Sigrist Architekten, along with landscape architects Freiraumarchitektur, were the winners. Construction of the 63-million-Swiss-franc project began in early 2012 and was completed, on schedule, in late summer of this year.

Demand has been strong. By spring 2014, almost 900 people had paid the refundable membership fee of 1,000 CHF (again, about the same in U.S. dollars) and joined the cooperative — the first step in applying for residence. Res Keller, a member of the development team, described this to me in a phone conversation, with obvious satisfaction, as “an ur-form of crowdsourcing.” 5 When I visited the nearly completed project, earlier this year, the first residents had been selected according to criteria stipulated in the cooperative’s statutes — an ethnic, gender, age, and income mix. A glance at the overview of apartments and prices on the walls of the management office — where I saw, for instance, that a three-bedroom, 1,020-square-foot unit required an equity deposit of 25,000 CHF and monthly payments of 1,854 CHF — made it plain that Kalkbreite is indeed meeting the goal of providing below-market-rate housing. And it is attempting to advance broader ideals of social inclusion: while the majority of apartments are targeted to middle-income occupants, the statues allow 20 percent to be rented to high-income residents and permanently reserve eleven units for low-income households. All are full members of the cooperative." (https://placesjournal.org/article/housing-and-the-cooperative-commonwealth/)



The ArkFab Innovation Foundation in Atlanta, GA is a worker owned appropriate technology development collective. Housing was endowed to the foundation by a private donor. The nonprofit provides the co-housing space as part of their employee's compensation package. This model provides a low-cost opportunity to reduce risks for innovators who wish to work outside of the capitalist system. (http://arkfab.org/)


"A successful limited-equity model is Columbus United Cooperative, a 21-unit apartment building in San Francisco. The San Francisco Community Land Trust (SFCLT) worked closely with the low-income, Chinese-American family tenants who were fighting eviction and demolition. With public subsidy, tenants purchased their units as part of a coop for little more than their controlled rent in an area where home ownership is half the national average due to cost. In Los Angeles, Comunidad Cambria went from a gang war zone and drug supermarket slum to a model of peaceful, affordable cooperative housing with the help of coop housing activist Allan Heskin and several Latina women in the complex. The community rallied to protect its new coop against threats from gangs and drug dealers to burn the building down, remediated a toxic dump in its basement, and created a vibrant community center. Sunwise Coop is a rental cooperative, owned by Solar Community Housing Association, with a mission to provide eco-friendly, low-income housing in Davis, CA. The house uses solar water heating, photovoltaic panels, passive solar design, and composting to reduce their ecological footprint. They also grow their own veggies for shared vegetarian/vegan dinners and raise chickens and bees. Monthly shares or rental costs at affordable housing coops are often half or less of the market cost." (http://shareable.net/blog/how-to-start-a-housing-coop)



1. Central Europe

"Siedlungen, of the early 20th century. From the distance of decades, it seemed practically an historical inevitability that no matter the style — from the traditional garden cities of Paul Schmitthenner to Mies van der Rohe’s variations on the international style — many of the settlement houses were developed as Genossenschaften, or cooperatives. As such they were common interest and non-profit: each resident purchased a share; participated in decision-making on the basis of one vote per household; and paid monthly fees to support both regular maintenance and periodic capital investments. The resale value of a share was determined by the cooperative’s statutes and adjusted for inflation; but it was not subject to market speculation — the whole point of the cooperative model was to keep costs reasonable and housing affordable. Which it did; and at the turn of 21st century, in post-Wall Berlin, I discovered that non-profit cooperatives continued to flourish. As they still do; some are municipally supported housing corporations, which often take the form of high-rise versions of the early modernist housing estates, and others are smaller upstart projects, some organized by architecture students who claimed formerly state-owned tenements in order to secure their affordability and have a say in their redesign." (https://placesjournal.org/article/housing-and-the-cooperative-commonwealth/)

2. Uruguay

"the Federación Uruguaya de Cooperativas de Vivienda por Ayuda Mutua, or FUVCAM, Uruguay’s national association of mutual aid housing societies. There I discovered a cooperative tradition which had emerged in the late 1960s, and, with the backing of labor unions, produced some of the best-designed housing on the urban outskirts — low-rise brick and concrete residences, similar to contemporary projects in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, in which future occupants invested sweat equity rather than capital. As in Central Europe, I found in South America a cooperative movement that combined social and architectural experimentation. (And also as in Europe, it was a tradition with a distinct political orientation — just as the early era of reform housing in Germany ended with the rise of National Socialism, so too the construction of cooperatives was halted during Uruguay’s military dictatorship of the ’70s and ’80s.) By the time I arrived, in the late ’90s, FUVCAM was back to full speed, now working primarily with impoverished households, focusing on the rehabilitation of historic inner-city buildings and the organization of illegal squatters on the city’s periphery— further evidence that the cooperative model was vital and adaptable" (https://placesjournal.org/article/housing-and-the-cooperative-commonwealth/)

3. NYC:

"Co-op City — that rampart of 35 residential towers in the Bronx, begun in the late ’60s along Interstate 95 — was a functioning non-profit development, and in fact the largest in the world, with more than 15,000 households owning shares in a limited-equity cooperative and thus agreeing that apartments could be resold only at a set price, not at market value. Only in time did I learn that many tenements on the Lower East Side and in the South Bronx were also limited-equity co-ops, owned by their former tenants; the city, which had repossessed numerous tax-delinquent properties in the recessionary ’70s, had been eager to sell them back to occupants, and it even established the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board to facilitate the self-help process. And only in time did I learn that the mysterious term “Mitchell-Lama” — which you often hear when someone confesses to a miraculously low rent for a spacious apartment in a nifty postwar high-rise — was a state and municipal program launched in 1955 for the construction of middle-income rental and cooperative housing." (https://placesjournal.org/article/housing-and-the-cooperative-commonwealth/)

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