In major cities, housing co-ops empower people with shared ownership and responsibility in their housing community. More than 1.5 million families, students and seniors in America benefit from the housing cooperative business model.
A housing co-op can be an apartment complex, a neighborhood of single-family homes, mobile home parks or student housing. Regardless of location, cooperative housing residents enjoy affordability, financial stability and collective ownership.
Members of housing cooperatives focus on the needs and interests of the group. Each resident is a shareholder in the building or land. They oversee and operate the co-op as a collective unit, not an individual real estate owner.
All residents contribute to decision-making in the community based on the seven cooperative principles, particularly a democratic ownership structure. Housing co-ops offer families limited liability, lower costs and a more empowered way to live as a community.
Key Facts About Housing Co-ops
Cooperative housing gives residents a greater stake in their neighborhoods. Here are a few key facts about housing cooperatives:
- Co-op City in The Bronx, New York, is home to more than 15,000 families in 35 buildings, making it the largest housing cooperative in the world
- Cooperative housing provides more than 1.5 million families with financially stable housing
- More than 20 universities offer student housing co-ops near campus, reducing yearly room and board expenses by 50%
How Do Housing Co-ops Work?
Housing co-ops began in the late 1800s in cities like New York and Chicago, offering the perks of homeownership without the responsibilities.
In today’s cooperative housing communities, residents buy shares to acquire a home, which remains an asset of the co-op. A proprietary lease or occupancy agreement gives the resident the right to occupy the home. Each member’s monthly payment contributes to the co-op’s property expenses.
Since residents share ownership of the co-op, taxes are also shared. Each member pays a small portion of the building’s taxes, while enjoying the same federal income tax deductions as a typical homeowner.
All housing co-op residents have a democratic say in which new members can join the community. Prospective residents undergo an extensive evaluation process to ensure they are financially responsible and care about the co-op’s interests.
Co-op Associations in the Housing Sector
As economic development organizations push for more housing cooperatives, many U.S. and international associations work to advocate for and promote cooperatives, such as:
- National Association of Housing Cooperatives
- Resident Owned Communities, ROC USA®
- Co-operative Housing International
- International Co-operative Alliance
- Cooperatives for a Better World
A Voice for Cooperative Enterprise
A better world starts with empowering people to contribute to shared prosperity. At NCBA CLUSA, we create collaborative partnerships through advocacy, public awareness and representation for the entire cooperative movement. This has been our sole mission for more than 100 years.
The ABCs of Housing Co-Op Impact
Housing co-ops are a proven way to expand access to affordable housing, particularly for limited-income residents. Because housing co-ops are one property, they can access a single underlying mortgage. This means that housing cooperative units can be financed collectively, individually or through some combination of the two. Improvements and repairs can also be financed collectively through funds borrowed by the cooperative, rather than assessed individually to homeowners. Housing co-ops operate at cost, so buying power is leveraged and monthly carrying charges only increase if actual underlying expenses do. In this way, cooperative homeownership presents fewer risks to a household than conventional single-family homeownership, and offers more control than rental housing.
Cooperative housing, in particular LECs, is a stable and effective means of low-income housing, proving resilient in the face of economic cycles that often negatively affect real estate investments. In comprehensive studies, cooperatives performed equally or better than nonprofit housing, with better overall survival rates. Housing cooperatives were also found to have lower operating costs when compared to nonprofit-owned developments, yet also be conservatively managed and well-reserved for future capital needs.
As member-owners work together on issues of common concern, they generate both individual and communal benefits. Data shows that LEC residents participate in neighborhood organizations more and live in neighborhoods longer compared with low-income renters. A survey of almost 500 buildings in NYC found higher levels of social capital in the co-ops than in any other form of affordable housing. Even within the same geographic neighborhoods, the housing cooperatives in the study were consistently found to have the safest, highest-quality housing, and resident participation in community groups was key to that finding.
Democratic Governance and Empowerment
As their democratically-elected representative body, cooperative housing boards of directors have a much greater ability to make and enforce house rules than do tenants associations of renters or even condominium association boards. This democratic influence—and, ultimately, collective control over the details of ones living situation— has proved meaningful, especially for low- and moderate-income residents for whom control or even influence over their housing situation is often quite limited.
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
Affordable housing co-ops in the U.S. have a long history of providing access to high-quality homeownership for members of all races and ethnicities. The 30,000 units of aff ordable housing saved and reorganized as resident-owned cooperatives by the Urban Homestead Assistance Board (UHAB) in New York City, for example, serve almost exclusively Black and Latino households. Despite being lower-income households in some of the lowest income neighborhoods in New York City, these cooperative members govern some of the city’s most successful affordable housing projects, providing high-quality, affordable resident-controlled housing for decades.
Financial Security and Advancement
LECs limit the speculative gain that residents can make when selling their home, but they deliver other financial gains that increase financial security for co-op members. Because housing cooperatives operate at cost, residents always know that their monthly housing costs will be kept in check. Lower housing costs and shared risk together allow low- and moderate-income families to confidently shift funds to other areas, such as education. Increased stability enjoyed by co-op residents also plays a direct role in their financial well-being. It has been established by numerous studies that housing stability plays a clear role in educational achievement. Housing stability has also been linked directly to job tenure and success.
Housing cooperatives contribute to the growth and economic well-being of their neighborhood. LECs provide a bulwark against gentrification and displacement, allowing residents of modest means to remain in place, even as surrounding property values increase. This makes economic growth more equitable for everyone.
Case Study: ROC USA ®
A More Equitable, Inclusive, and Affordable Model for Ownership of Manufactured Homes
Manufactured, or “mobile,” home communities are an essential part of affordable housing in the U.S. There are about 37,000 such communities in the country, ranging in size from a couple of lots to several hundred.8 While people own their homes, they do not own the land beneath them, making them vulnerable to displacement. Not owning the land can leave them subject to substandard infrastructure and unreasonable rent prices, and with no say in community rules.
To combat exploitation, residents have banded together to form ROCs, or Resident-Owned Communities. Zoning laws typically prevent the purchase of individual parcels of land, so residents need to form an association to buy the property jointly.
Community ownership has significant advantages. For instance, in a long-term study done by ROC USA®, co-ops raise lot fees an average of one percent annually, while commercial communities raise fees three percent on average.
Cooperative communities also benefit homeowners when they sell their homes. Data from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire show manufactured homes in cooperatives sell for 16 percent more per square foot than comparable homes in comparable commercial communities. Homes in cooperatively owned communities also sell more quickly compared to homes in investor-owned communities. Since 2008, co-ops connected to ROC USA® have invested over $50 million in health and safety improvements, including water and sewer systems, roads, drainage and storm shelters.
After 25 years of co-op development work in New Hampshire by the Community Loan Fund, ROC USA® was formed in 2008 to scale co-op ownership nationwide. ROC USA® today represents 240 co-ops in 16 states. Nearly 16,000 homes have been secured to date, and that number is expected to double in the next ten years.