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Housing Cooperatives

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live with a whole bunch of other people? No, not like your dorm room days in college when the guy down the hall absolutely refused to shower, shave or commit to any personal hygiene. But living together, making decisions together and sharing resources.

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What is a Housing Co-op?

Housing cooperatives are a form of housing not often discussed in our housing-ownership crazy time, but for many people, particularly the elderly, cooperatives can ensure a safe, high quality residence and the opportunity to be part of a community. Now don’t get confused between cooperatives and condominiums, or even communes! In a condominium, people own each unit and are relatively immune to changes in the other owners. In a commune, most or all resources are shared, no one owns anything personal, or at least very little.

A Housing Cooperative on the other hand, is a legal entity that can interact with other companies, employ and hire people, and owns real estate. Shareholders are granted the right to live in one housing unit, under the co-ops rule, and members work together to ensure the upkeep of their individual and common properties. Many older apartment buildings have been converted to co-ops once their usefulness or profitability as rental stock decreases. Interestingly, from the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC website, “There are more than 255 non-profit housing co-ops comprising 14,300 units in British Columbia.”

To compare different options for housing, check out the following chart…

At a glance comparison of different types of housing in BC – From Co-operative Housing Federation of BC

Co-op

Private Rental

Ownership

Other non-profit*


Who decides what monthly payment should be?

Members vote (except subsidized units**)

Landlord

Owner covers cost

25 – 30% of income


Who gets profits?

There is no profit

Landlord

Owner

There is no profit


Is a down payment necessary?

No, but you must buy member shares

Yes (damage deposit)

Yes

Sometimes


Who is responsible for maintenance?

Co-op, usually with member involvement

Landlord

Owner

Landlord or Society


What do you do when you leave?

Give notice subject to occupancy agreement, usually 60 days

Give notice subject to lease

Sell

Give notice subject to lease


* Co-ops are only one form of non-profit housing.
** Usually 25 – 30% of income.

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Co-ops are a sustainable for of housing and living, where resources are shared and pooled, low income or subsidised housing can be provided to a few, decisions can be made by the majority. Community services can include bicycles, shuttle buses, shared cars, car pooling, care services, (child or elderly) and recreational facilities. Under this model, you can live in your dwelling until you choose to leave, or until you decide that the co-ops rules are not what you are after.

We don’t/can’t all buy houses, under this model, typically not for profit groups provide funding and infrastructure for themselves and others that want to be part of it all. There is no developer getting a handsome profit, the housing is affordable, the community is real.

Now this isn’t for everyone, but it’s a model that has it’s merits and should be considered as a viable option for community. Cities looking to sell land for residential property should consider the availability of affordable housing or alternative options from the fee-simple lot, single family dwelling. Proposals should be sought from developers, tenderers, community grounds and assistance should be given to those non-profit groups looking to create an open cooperative community.

For more information:
The Co-operative Housing Federation of BC
Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada

Coops aren’t the only form of sustainable or shared housing, but it is something that interests me…
Do you have any experience with co-ops? Leave a comment with your thoughts!


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Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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