What are housing Cooperatives?

Housing cooperatives are federally or provincially incorporated organizations that own real estate/property consisting of one or more residential buildings. The residential units within these buildings are offered to individual “members” in exchange for membership fees (instead of rents). Together, the members of the housing cooperative control the day to day operations of the building and oversee its management, maintenance, and development. Like most cooperatives today, housing cooperatives operate under the Rochdale Principles of Cooperation, and they are a unique alternative for providing affordable housing to individuals that relies on membership participation to guide housing decisions and the maintenance of the cooperative.

Housing cooperatives were amongst the first cooperative models ever created, and they were originally intended to meet the housing needs of women who were beginning to attend college in greater numbers after the Civil War and had difficulty finding a place to live in predominantly male rooming houses. The majority of these early efforts were University-owned or sponsored in some way and the word "cooperative" meant shared work, instead of user control (as we know it today).

By lowering the cost of housing, and democratizing its ownership, housing cooperatives are an integral part of a grassroots strategy for making post-secondary education more accessible, keeping central neighbourhoods accessible to lower income community members, and providing experiential education on business or nonprofit management and community activism. They are a vital component of the social and solidarity economy, acting as sites for community events, cooperative education, and community-based organizing.

Non-profit housing cooperatives are also a part of the community housing sector, meaning that their members gain access to unique funding opportunities that can’t be found in the private sector. Unlike their for-profit counterparts, non-profit housing cooperatives are about people, not profit. This means that members work collaboratively to address their housing needs, whether it be doing laundry, cooking meals, community gardening, washing dishes, mowing the lawn, or cleaning up after community events!

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