Uruguayan Federation of Housing for Mutual-Support Cooperatives

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Description

Michael Fox:

"It's a social movement and a housing cooperative. A massive self-help program for the poor and a new way of life for thousands. With 20,000 member-families living in cooperatively owned homes in 400 communities across the country, it is one of the largest and most radical housing cooperative federations in the Americas.

The Uruguayan Federation of Housing for Mutual-Support Cooperatives (FUCVAM) is also one of the most organized social movements in Uruguay." (http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/liberate-your-space/building-autonomy-one-co-op-at-a-time)

Discussion

Michael Fox:

"The homes are owned by the cooperative, not by individuals or families, but each family has the legal right to use their home. That right can be passed down to future generations, or exchanged for the money and work hours they put into the community, but it cannot be sold.

Cooperative members aren't just workers and residents. They are also administrators and organizers. All decisions are made in democratic weekly meetings that continue even after construction has finished.

The idea of cooperative housing might seem unusual elsewhere, but not here in Uruguay. Ramirez lived in the same co-op since he was seven. Now that he's starting his own family, he's building a home in the Housing & Family Cooperative (COVIFAM), a cooperative not unlike the one he lived in as a child. Both co-ops are members of FUCVAM, which is at the heart of one of the most important, democratic, and autonomous housing cooperative experiences in the Western Hemisphere." (http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/liberate-your-space/building-autonomy-one-co-op-at-a-time)


History

Michael Fox:

"The cooperative housing movement got a start in Uruguay in reaction to a growing housing crisis. Grassroots pressure resulted in the passage of the 1968 National Housing Plan, which opened new housing opportunities for Uruguayan citizens. The plan provided the legal framework for cooperative ownership of property, and created the National Housing and Urbanization Fund by taking 1 percent out of every Uruguayan paycheck, with a mandate for employers to match the figure.

The new fund opened the door for some workers to get loans to purchase their own homes. But with unsteady employment during difficult economic times raising the threat of default, many Uruguayans risked losing their newly-acquired homes and ending up right back where they started. The answer: housing cooperatives, that could take out loans collectively, minimizing the individual risk while building solidarity among members.

“Collective property functions as an umbrella under which members can take cover in stormy weather,” says FUCVAM President Mario Fígoli metaphorically. “If I lose my job, and for a few months I don't have the funds to pay off my monthly share of the loan, … my fellow cooperativistas will pay for me until I have a job again. Then I will pay them back.”

FUCVAM was born less than two years after the passage of the Housing Plan. It grew out of a well-organized Uruguayan labor movement and a quickly growing cooperative movement, in order to help provide the means for low-income, working-class families to acquire their own homes.

Each affiliated cooperative receives support from the Federation and a technical advisory team. “No co--op has ever failed,” says Fígoli. “It is not easy for a group of humans who have just met each other to develop a project through autogestión, because we are taught to value individualism. … But that is the richness of the housing cooperative model, to transform the individual into a citizen.” (The term “autogestión” has no direct English counterpart. It embodies self--management through autonomous, grassroots, and demo-cratic decision-making.)

“We each come to the co-op for just one reason. We need housing,” says Fígoli, who has himself been a resident of a Federation-affiliated cooperative since the late 1970s. “But once we get involved in the process, the dynamics of autogestión create a cultural change in people.” (http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/liberate-your-space/building-autonomy-one-co-op-at-a-time)