What are co-operatives?

A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. (International Cooperative Alliance)

Who are Co-ops for? 

Co-ops are for anyone, regardless of age, sex, colour, religion, sexual preference, ability, marital status or race.

What is a housing co-operative?

A housing co-operative is formed when people join with each other on a democratic basis to own or control the housing in which they live. Housing co-operative members understand and are committed to the international principals of co-operation.

As a democratically controlled organisation, its members voluntarily unite to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations. Housing cooperatives are based on the values of self help, self responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. The cooperative principles assist housing cooperative members put these values into practice.

Housing co-operatives have a long history around the world and are part of a broader movement which encourages self help, mutual support and education of members and the community.

 What are the advantages of housing co-ops? 

There are many benefits of co-op housing; both for individual members and for the broader community. For the individual, some of the benefits include:

  • long term security of tenure in quality housing.

  • Affordable housing.

  • Being part of a supportive and friendly community.

  • The opportunity to choose where they wish to live and to contribute to the design of their home; including the provision of innovative design and construction.

  • The opportunity to benefit from education and training aimed at helping members to effectively run the co-op; and to gain confidence in their abilities and skills.

  • Escaping from the dependency on ‘others’ by running things for themselves.

  • Being part of a democratic and consensus-based organisation which values all members and their contributions.

  • For many individuals, co-ops bring the benefits of owning a home, without the financial burdens.

  • Co-op members have responsibility for the management of their homes which requires a commitment in maintaining the property.

For the wider community, co-ops can also be a benefit.

  • Co-ops seek to be community resources through community education, events and facilities. In many ways they contribute to a sense of community and to a balanced social mix in the area they are located in.

  • Many co-op members are involved in other activities such as community theater and environmental groups.

What sort of housing shall be provided by housing cooperative? 

Co-ops provide many types of housing, depending on factors such as:

  • What members want.

  • What housing needs are.

  • Availability of land or dwellings in the preferred location.

How does a housing co-operative work? 

Each housing co-operative is slightly different from another. However, they are generally not for profit, member-managed organizations. This means that all members of a co-op have equal rights and responsibilities in the management and operation of the co-operative.

Their primary aim is to provide secure and affordable housing to their members

They operate in accordance with the International Principles of Co-operation.

What are the Principles of Cooperation? 

These renewed Principles of Co-operation are taken from the International Co-operative Alliance Centennial Congress (1996):

  • Voluntary and open membership.

  • Democratic member control.

  • Member economic participation.

  • Autonomy and independence.

  • Education, training and information.

  • Cooperation among co-operatives

  • Concern for community.

How is a Co-op set up?

There are 6 stages in the setting up and continuing growth of a Housing Cooperative:

Stage 1 Coming together – a number of individuals come together and decide to set up a co-op. The group spends time on establishing agreed aims and objectives, and establishes the processes and procedures it will adopt in working together. This may involve doing a ‘feasibility study’ of what the cooperative hopes to achieve.

Stage 2 Formalising the co-op – The group formalises its agreed aims, policies and procedures by developing a constitution or memorandum of association. The co-op will then become incorporated as either a not for profit association or as a registered company, depending on the ownership model that has been agreed on. Decisions are then made regarding the type and location of housing.

Stage 3 Financing the Co-op – If the Co-op is applying for government funds, a submission for funding to Department of Housing lodged, including what type of registration process will be undertaken. If the co-op is developing its own financing options then the appropriate legal and financial structures would be developed at this stage.  

Stage 4 Building the homes – When the co-op is successful and receives funding approval or raises the necessary finance, the group will then focus on spending the funds. The co-op may buy existing homes, or purchase land and employ an architect and builder to construct new homes.  

Stage 5 Starting managing – Once the homes are built or bought, the co-op members move in and manage the properties. Systems for effective and efficient management and maintenance are established.  

Stage 6 New aims, new growth – After an initial inward-looking period of consolidation, the co-op will begin to develop projects and schemes aimed at the wider needs of the members and the community. This may involve going through the whole process again from stage 3.  

How long is the wait for a house? 

This is always the most difficult question to answer. Some people may wish to join an existing co-op and may be able to move into a house quite soon (although the small number of co-ops means this is unlikely). On the other hand, people may wish to set up a new co-op this can be long and sometimes frustratingly long but ultimately rewarding process.

How do people become members of a co-op? 

Established co-ops have their own procedures for new members. People are usually asked to attend some meetings and after some time talk about why they want to join. Co-ops are keen to get new members who want to contribute to the growth of the co-op and who agree with the broad aims of the co-op. In addition, co-ops may have tenancy selection criteria which are based around housing need.

Starting a co-op is a big commitment, but is a lot easier if it starts out with a group of people with similar aims. 

What skills are needed? Everyone has skills which will benefit any co-op they join. Things like childcare, typing, knowledge of building construction, facilitation, bookkeeping, and gardening are just a few examples of useful skills in co-operative housing management. A good co-op will help people use their existing skills as well as develop new skills.

The most important attributes required of members include:

  • The ability to co-operate.

  • A willingness to learn new skills.

  • A willingness to share and teach others their skills.

  • The ability to listen to other peoples views.

  • Flexibility.

  • A willingness to admit mistakes.

  • A sense of humour, patience, creativity and imagination all help!

How much time do I need to commit in running the cooperative? 

This depends on how involved in co-op housing people want to become, and on the expectations the co-operative has of its members. Fundamentally, there is an expectation that co-op members will participate in the life and the work of the co-op. Some of the areas in which members can become involved are:

  • Taking turns at facilitating, minute taking, timekeeping etc.

  • Being an office bearer in the co-op (e.g. secretary or treasurer).

  • Being on a sub-committee in the co-op.

  • Representing the co-op at external meetings.

There are many opportunities for involvement within co-ops and beyond. It takes a lot of effort to set up a co-op, and an ongoing effort is required to keep a co-op running. The individuals within a co-op need to decide on a fair way of dividing the workload.

How will membership of a cooperative affect my life?

Housing co-operatives operate according to the principles of co-operation. This means that housing co-operatives, and the sector as a whole, are committed to the practices of co-operation, education and development. Members are thus part of an international movement committed to sharing and community building. Co-ops provide a framework for the development of community. There are opportunities to create a sense of belonging, community spirit and togetherness when you are involved in a housing co-operative.

Being involved in a housing co-operative requires a commitment of time, energy, and patience. It can be hard work! It can be challenging! It can also be great fun, exciting and interesting! Many co-op members grow as individuals in terms of confidence, skills and knowledge. Co-ops offer the opportunity to meet people with similar aims, have fun and feel part of a wider community.

Co-operatives: values and principles

The International Co-operative Alliance has undertaken three reviews of the Co-operative Principles in 1937, 1966 and 1995. These reviews modernised the idea of Co-operation, maintained its relevance and provide an up-to-date test of whether an organisation qualified to call itself a co-operative. The definition of a co-operative as established in the 1995 Co-operative Principles has been included in a number of policy documents including the United Nations Guidelines, the International Labour Organisation Recommendation 193 on the Promotion of Co-operatives, the European Co-operative Statute and a number of national laws.

The values and principles are an indispensable guide for what is often a diverse group of individuals coming together to make beneficial contributions to their communities, their families, and themselves. When the going gets tough these are reminders of the bigger picture at the heart of the enterprise or undertaking. We are in it for everyone, and that is not an easy aspiration to achieve always.

Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.
1st Principle: Voluntary and Open Membership Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination. 
2nd Principle: Democratic Member Control Co-operatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner. 

3rd Principle: Member Economic Participation Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership. 

4th Principle: Autonomy and Independence Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members. If they enter to agreements with other organisations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy. 

5th Principle: Education, Training and Information Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of co-operation. 

6th Principle: Co-operation among Co-operatives Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures. 

7th Principle: Concern for Community Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members. 
Source  http://www.ica.coop/coop/principles.html