Co-operative solutions to housing problems
This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published in New Sector magazine, 2008. It forms part of the forthcoming report Meeting Housing Needs the Co-operative way.
Britain has a housing problem: the country needs more good quality homes for its people, at purchase prices or rent levels that everyone can manage.
Co-operative models offer innovative and affordable solutions which can help the country meet these challenges. The different forms of co-operative housing outlined in this brochure are there to meet different needs, but they have one fundamental thing in common: they put democracy and community ownership at the heart of housing. At a time when neighbourhoods are polarised by the stigma which still attaches to social housing, and when housing associations are merging into larger and more remote bodies, co-operative housing offers a refreshing alternative vision: a model that's in line with the natural instincts people have about the ownership and management of their homes.
Several hundred housing co-operatives in Britain provide quality social housing for their tenant-members, often taking a lead in the provision of high energy efficient housing. The co-operative housing movement has created other models, too: recent years have seen, for example, the development of the Community Gateway and Community Housing Mutual models applicable for large scale housing stock transfers, the pioneering work of Tenant Management Organisations (which in some cases have moved on from tenant-run property management to actual ownership) and creative new ideas for affordable housing such as Community Land Trusts and Mutual Home Ownership. Co-housing schemes are developing, too, giving their members the advantages of living in strong communities whilst enjoying the benefits of owner occupancy.
Britain led the world a century and a half ago in the development of co-operatives, and this was as true in the housing field as it was in the consumer co-op movement. The housing co-op movement can trace its origins back to inspiring examples of collective action for decent housing in the early nineteenth century. The garden city idea developed at the very start of the twentieth century by Ebenezer Howard was another practical example of successful co-operative housing. So it's perhaps ironic that, today, co-operative ways to meet housing needs aren't as well known in Britain as they might be. Despite their proven track record, co-operative housing organisations don't make the headlines – and this means that they can be overlooked when public policy is created.
It's an omission which people in other countries would find hard to understand. In Sweden , for example, co-operative housing occupies a central role in the country's overall housing sector: two large co-operative organisations together provide over 750,000 homes. In Canada and Norway , co-operative housing is seen as a highly important when housing strategy is debated. And it's a similar story in many other countries worldwide.
Co-operation not only gives people decent houses to live in. It also enables them to participate fully in the management and control of their houses, playing their part as members of democratic organisations dedicated to serving the needs of all. For co-operative housing, tenant engagement isn't just an add-on - it is central to everything they do.
Return to my home page