About housing co-operatives

What is a housing co-operative?

A housing co-operative is a community of people who voluntarily work together to meet their common need for affordable, sustainable housing. Members live in separate dwellings but actively participate in the management of the housing co-operative as a whole, and enjoy the many benefits this type of housing offers.

Membership to a housing co-operative requires significant commitment, including attending meetings and participating in the management and everyday running of the co-operative.

Each housing co-operative is slightly different, but they all share the following features.

  • Their primary aim is to provide affordable and socially, economically and environmentally sustainable housing to their members.
  • They are managed by their members, and all members have equal rights and responsibilities in their management and operation.
  • They operate according to the principles of co-operation.

A housing co-operative is a legally incorporated entity. There are three main models of ownership.

  • Under the common equity (or non-equity) model, the property is owned by the housing co-operative as a whole, or by some other central body. Individual members do not own their dwelling, but rent it from the co-operative or other central body.
  • Under the shared equity (or limited equity) model, ownership of the property is shared between the housing co-operative or other central body, and the individual members. Individual members may own all or part of their dwelling.
  • Under the full equity model, individual members each own their own dwellings, but share a desire to live as part of an identifiable community according to the principles of co-operation.

All of Co-operation Housing’s current member housing co-operatives are based on the common equity model. All properties are owned by the Housing Authority. Individual members pay rent to live there, and have no personal ownership of the home that they rent. They put no money in when they join, and they take no money out when they leave.

All member households must meet income eligibility requirements. The rent each household pays is based on their household income. Under current policy, rent is no more than 25 per cent of household income.

What are the benefits of housing co-operatives?

Housing co-operatives offer a number of benefits, both to their members and to the communities in which they are located.

For members, the benefits include:

  • access to affordable and socially, economically and environmentally sustainable housing that they can manage and control themselves
  • a feeling of ownership and long-term security of their housing situation
  • a sense of belonging to a community based on mutual co-operation
  • the safety and security of living somewhere where there are always other familiar people around
  • opportunities to gain training and experience in roles such as chairperson, secretary, treasurer or maintenance officer
  • ongoing opportunities to develop and share skills, practical help, support and encouragement
  • access to education and skills development
  • access to other support.

For the community in which it is located, benefits include:

  • a positive contribution to the social balance and cultural diversity of the community
  • the addition of a number of socially, economically and environmentally responsible members to the local community
  • enrichment of the social and co-operative atmosphere of the community
  • overall strengthening of the local sense of community.

In addition, because housing co-operatives are managed by their members, they tend to be better maintained than other types of rented dwellings whose tenants feel less sense of ownership. Research has found that they also tend to have better security, lower crime rates and a higher overall quality of housing than either privately or publicly managed rented dwellings.

What are the challenges of housing co-operatives?

Living in a housing co-operative suits some people very well, but will not suit everyone.

There are two main features of this type of housing that some people might find challenging.

Firstly, every member of a housing co-operative is required to actively participate in its management and operation. This involves a significant commitment of time and energy. Requirements include:

  • attending and actively participating in regular meetings, where members collectively make decisions regarding the management and operation of the housing co-operative
  • taking on an official role such as chairperson, secretary, treasurer or maintenance officer, for a particular period of time, and carrying out the duties that role involves
  • being willing to learn how to undertake one of these roles as required
  • attending training to develop and maintain skills in areas relevant to the management and operation of the housing co-operative
  • actively participating in scheduled working bees.

Secondly, living in a housing co-operative offers somewhat less privacy and personal autonomy than living in other types of housing. This is because it can involve living quite closely together with other members, actively participating in the management and running of the co-operative as a whole, and reaching and respecting collective decisions relating to issues of management and operation. Requirements include:

  • being able and willing to get along well with many different types of people all living quite closely together
  • being willing to truly listen to and respect the opinions, needs and wishes of all members
  • being willing to participate actively  and respectfully in collective decision-making processes
  • being willing to live according to the rules decided collectively by all members
  • being willing to live according to the principles of co-operation.