Housing Co-operatives are organisations controlled by their members whose aims include the provision of housing for their members through building, renovating or managing property. When registered, they are registered as Industrial and Provident Societies, and do not trade for profit.
The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.
1. 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.
2. Democratic Member Control
Co-operatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. People serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. Members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote).
3. 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. Each member has a £1 share in the Society, allowing them equal access to the Society’s benefits. 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.
4. Autonomy and Independence
Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organisations or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.
5. Education, Training and Information
Co-operatives provide education and training for their members so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public about the nature and benefits of co-operation.
6. 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.
7. Concern for Community
Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.
Addressing housing need
Co-operatives can and do meet a wide range of needs, usually housing people from a variety of disadvantaged backgrounds. A co-operative’s membership will usually contain a cross-section of people with different skills and abilities who help and support each other to achieve both personal empowerment and strong self-sustaining local communities. While existing and new co-operatives can play a significant role in particular neighbourhoods or in relation to defined groups, co-operatives are not exclusive organisations; they appeal to both ‘community builders’ and to people who have not been involved in any community activities before, and both groups are enriched by working together.
Housing co-operatives have often formed out of specific community housing needs, such as communities threatened by clearance; minority-ethnic groups excluded from other forms of housing; young homeless people and private tenants living in squalid accommodation. Housing co-operatives may be able to address the need for self-contained accommodation for single parents and families on benefits or low incomes, and are also well-placed to address the increased demand for shared accommodation as a result of the changes to housing benefit, which have resulted in many more people under the age of 35 being unable afford to live in self-contained accommodation.
Co-operative members are typically offered the opportunity to live in shared houses and flats. Communal living, with the use of shared kitchen and bathrooms, keeps tenants’ living costs down, enabling those on low incomes access to decent housing. Sharing also brings the benefits of the company of others, enabling members to feel supported and a sense of belonging and community spirit.