What is Co-op Housing?
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What is a Housing Co-op?

Many Canadians have turned to housing co-ops for a secure, affordable home in a community setting. It doesnít matter who you are: if you want to live in a co-op and are ready to accept the terms of membership, youíre welcome.

Housing co-operatives exist for their membersí common benefit. Like other co-operatives they promote individual responsibility, mutual help, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-ops try to embody the ethical values of honesty, openness and concern for others and for the wider society. Housing co-operatives pursue their aims and give expression to their values by acting on seven principles. These principles date back to the 1840s and the Rochdale Pioneers, but they were last revised in 1995 by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA). They guide the co-operative movement throughout the world.

From the outside, a housing co-op looks like any other apartment building or townhouse development. However, a housing co-op is different, here's how:

Member Ownership

Co-ops are controlled by their residents, who are members with a voice and a vote in decisions about their housing. There is no outside landlord. Co-op housing offers a home, not an investment. In a typical Canadian co-op, from one-quarter to three-quarters of households pay a reduced monthly charge, based on their income. The others pay the full monthly charge set when the members approve the co-opís yearly operating budget. Housing co-ops operate as close to cost as possible. The full monthly housing charge rises only as the co-opís costs increase.

The residents of a housing co-op are members of the co-operative corporation which owns the whole co-op. The co-op leases each unit to a member household. Members do not own their units.

Management by Members

All members have an equal say in how major decisions are made: "one member, one vote". Members attend General Membership Meetings to elect a Board of Directors, to approve operating budgets and pass by-laws governing the operation of the corporation. All major decisions regarding the co-op are made at these meetings. Board members are elected from within the membership and are responsible for the day-to-day management of the co-op.

Members also work on committees to help with the workload involved in running their co-op. Many co-ops hire staff who administer the daily functioning of the co-op under the direction of the Board.

Member Involvement

Members are responsible for the management of their co-op. They must volunteer time to participate on the Board, a committee, or in some other way. No special skills are necessary to get involved. Members are usually required to participate a minimum of 4 hours per month. The key difference between other forms of non-profit housing and co-ops is the active involvement of the members. In other forms of housing, residents are tenants and do not have the same vested interest in the functioning of their homes.

A housing co-operative is more than just a place to live. It is a legal association formed for the purpose of providing homes to its members on a continuing basis. A co-op is different from other housing associations in its ownership structure and its commitment to co-operative principles.

In a housing co-op you have the right to:

vote on the annual budget, which sets the monthly housing charges and affects the quality of your housing Ė for example, how much the co-op will spend on property upkeep
elect a board of directors made up of people who live in your co-op
run for the board of directors yourself
receive audited financial statements that show how the co-op spent your money
pay only a limited portion of your income for your housing, if you meet certain eligibility rules.
live there for as long as you like, if you keep to the by-laws you and your neighbours have put in place.

Who Can Live In a Housing Co-op?

Anyone can apply to live in a housing co-op. People of all backgrounds and cultures help to maintain the diversity often found in co-ops. Most co-ops have no maximum or minimum income levels to qualify. Co-ops can usually accommodate people with physical disabilities and special needs.

Co-ops select their members. New applicants are interviewed and their rights and obligations are explained to them. If no units are available, approved applicants are placed on a waiting list.

How Do I Apply?

Many co-ops hold information meetings for those interested in learning more about a particular co-op and co-op living in general. Membership criteria is similar for all co-ops. There is more information on finding housing elsewhere on this site.


The Co-operative Principles

The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.

1. Voluntary and Open Membership

Co-operatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership without gender, social, racial, and political or religious discrimination.

2. Democratic Member Control

Co-operatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Members serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives, members have equal voting rights and co-operatives at other levels are organized in a democratic manner.

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. They usually receive limited compensation, if any. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes; developing the co-op, benefiting members, supporting other activities by the membership.

4. Autonomy and Independence

Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, 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.

5. 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-operatives.

6. Co-operation Among Co-operatives

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

7. Concern for Community

While focusing on member needs, co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members.