Definition and Types of Housing Cooperatives

There are two main types of housing cooperatives: share capital co-ops and non-share capital co-ops. In share capital co-ops, members own a share of the legal entity and have voting rights proportional to the number of shares they own. Non-share capital co-ops, on the other hand, grant fee-paying members the right to occupy a bedroom and share communal resources of a house owned by the cooperative organization, as seen in some student cooperatives in the United States. Both types of cooperatives aim to provide affordable and sustainable housing options for their members while promoting a sense of community and shared responsibility (ICA Housing, n.d.; Cooperatives Wiki, n.d.).

Legal Status and Structure

Housing cooperatives hold a unique legal status, typically operating as a corporation or a non-share capital co-op model. As a legal entity, housing cooperatives can enter into contracts with other companies or hire individuals to provide services, such as maintenance or management. Shareholders in a housing cooperative do not own real estate directly; instead, they own a share of the legal entity that owns the property. This distinct form of ownership is regulated by separate legislation in most jurisdictions, similar to laws governing companies, to ensure proper operation and protection of shareholders’ rights and obligations.

The structure of housing cooperatives involves membership, where each resident or household holds membership in the cooperative association. Members have occupancy rights to a specific unit within the cooperative, as outlined in their occupancy agreement or proprietary lease. Governance is typically managed by a board of directors, elected by the members, who are responsible for business decisions, financial requirements, and overall sustainability of the cooperative. The board may establish standing committees to handle various aspects of the co-op’s affairs, such as finance, membership, and maintenance (International Co-operative Alliance, n.d.; Cooperatives Wiki, n.d.).

Ownership and Membership

Ownership and membership in housing cooperatives are distinct concepts that define the relationship between residents and the cooperative organization. In a housing cooperative, residents do not own individual units or real estate; instead, they own shares in the legal entity (usually a corporation) that owns the property. This share grants them the right to occupy a specific housing unit, subject to an occupancy agreement or proprietary lease, which outlines the co-op’s rules and regulations.

Membership in a housing cooperative is granted to each resident or resident household, providing them with occupancy rights and a voice in the cooperative’s decision-making process. Members typically have one vote each, regardless of the number of shares they own, following the Rochdale Principles. They participate in electing a board of directors, which is responsible for the cooperative’s business decisions, financial requirements, and overall sustainability. By being both shareholders and members, residents in housing cooperatives have a vested interest in the cooperative’s success and are actively involved in its governance and management, fostering a sense of community and shared responsibility among its members.

Management and Governance

The management and governance structure of housing cooperatives is primarily based on democratic principles, with each resident or resident household holding membership in the cooperative association. Members typically elect a board of directors from among the shareholders at a general meeting, such as the annual general meeting. The board of directors is responsible for making business decisions, including financial requirements and the sustainability of the cooperative. They may establish standing committees from among the shareholders, who usually volunteer their time, to handle the business affairs of the co-op or make recommendations on issues such as finance, membership, and maintenance of housing units. In smaller cooperatives, all members may sit on the board. The board usually elects its own officers, such as a president, vice-president, and so on, who are either volunteers or receive an honorarium for their service. This democratic approach ensures that the interests of all members are represented and fosters a sense of community and shared responsibility within the cooperative (ICA Housing, n.d.; Cooperatives Wiki, n.d.).

Financial Aspects and Funding

Financial aspects of housing cooperatives primarily revolve around the collection of rents or fees from members, which are utilized to cover operational expenses, maintenance, and mortgage payments. As de facto non-profit entities, housing cooperatives aim to balance income and expenses without generating a significant surplus, ensuring that members’ rents are set at a reasonable level (ICA Housing, n.d.).

Funding options for housing cooperatives include obtaining mortgage loans from financial institutions, government grants, and subsidies. In some cases, cooperatives may also own revenue-generating assets, such as subsidiary businesses, to offset housing costs and reduce rents for members (ICA Housing, n.d.). It is crucial for housing cooperatives to secure reliable funding sources and maintain financial stability to ensure the long-term viability of the cooperative and the well-being of its members.

Roles and Responsibilities of Shareholders

Shareholders in a housing cooperative play a crucial role in its overall functioning and success. They hold membership in the cooperative association and have occupancy rights to a specific suite within the housing cooperative, as outlined in their occupancy agreement or proprietary lease. Shareholders are responsible for electing a board of directors from among themselves, typically during an annual general meeting. This board is accountable for making business decisions, including financial requirements and the cooperative’s sustainability.

Furthermore, shareholders may volunteer to serve on standing committees established by the board, which handle various aspects of the cooperative’s affairs, such as finance, membership, and maintenance. By actively participating in the decision-making process and contributing their skills and expertise, shareholders help ensure the cooperative’s efficient operation and long-term viability. In addition, they are expected to adhere to the cooperative’s rules and regulations, as stipulated in the occupancy agreement, and pay their share of the cooperative’s expenses, usually in the form of rent or maintenance fees.


  • (ICA Housing, 2021; Cooperatives Wiki, n.d.)

Benefits and Challenges of Housing Cooperatives

Housing cooperatives offer numerous benefits, including affordability, community involvement, and democratic control. As they are typically non-profit entities, housing cooperatives often provide more affordable housing options compared to traditional rental or ownership models (ICA Housing, n.d.). Additionally, members actively participate in the management and decision-making processes, fostering a sense of community and shared responsibility (Cooperatives Wiki, n.d.). However, housing cooperatives also face challenges, such as limited availability, complex legal structures, and potential conflicts among members. The legal status and regulations governing cooperatives can be intricate, which may deter potential members or investors (Cooperatives Wiki, n.d.). Furthermore, disagreements among members regarding management, finances, or other issues can lead to conflicts that may impact the cooperative’s overall stability and success (Cooperatives Wiki, n.d.).

Housing Cooperatives in Different Countries

Housing cooperatives exhibit diverse characteristics across different countries, reflecting variations in legal frameworks, cultural contexts, and housing needs. In Canada, housing co-ops are primarily non-profit organizations, providing affordable housing options to low and moderate-income households (CHF Canada, 2021). In contrast, Finland has a well-established cooperative housing sector, with around 15% of the population living in co-op housing, often characterized by high-quality construction and strong resident involvement (Co-operative Housing International, 2015). In India, housing cooperatives are more prevalent in urban areas, catering to middle and upper-middle-class families, with a focus on promoting self-help and mutual aid among members (Mathur, 2012). The Nordic countries, particularly Sweden and Norway, have a long tradition of cooperative housing, with a significant proportion of the population residing in co-ops that emphasize democratic governance and environmental sustainability (Co-operative Housing International, 2015). In the United States, housing cooperatives are more common in major cities like New York, where they provide an alternative to condominium ownership, with residents holding shares in the cooperative corporation rather than owning individual units (National Association of Housing Cooperatives, 2021).


  • CHF Canada. (2021). About co-op housing. Retrieved from
  • Co-operative Housing International. (2015). Profiles of a movement: Co-operative housing around the world. Retrieved from
  • Mathur, O. P. (2012). Housing cooperatives in India. Retrieved from

Student Housing Cooperatives

Student housing cooperatives are a unique form of housing arrangement, primarily designed to cater to the accommodation needs of college and university students. These cooperatives function as non-profit, member-owned organizations, where students collectively own and manage their residential properties. The primary objective of such cooperatives is to provide affordable and quality housing to its members, while fostering a sense of community and shared responsibility.

In a student housing cooperative, each member holds a share in the legal entity that owns the property, granting them the right to occupy a specific unit or bedroom within the cooperative. Members are typically required to pay a monthly fee, which covers expenses such as mortgage payments, property taxes, maintenance, and utilities. The governance and management of these cooperatives are carried out by the members themselves, who elect a board of directors from among their ranks. This board is responsible for making key decisions related to the cooperative’s finances, membership, and property maintenance. By pooling resources and sharing responsibilities, student housing cooperatives offer an alternative to traditional housing options, often resulting in lower living costs and a more supportive living environment for students.

Comparison with Other Housing Models

Housing cooperatives differ from other housing models in several ways. Firstly, they are based on a collective ownership structure, where members own shares in the cooperative rather than individual units, as seen in condominiums or single-family homes (Curl, 2010). This fosters a sense of community and shared responsibility among members, as they collectively manage and maintain the property (ICA, 2015). Secondly, housing cooperatives often prioritize affordability and accessibility, making them an attractive option for low-income households and marginalized groups (Novy, 2012). In contrast, traditional housing models may prioritize profit and market value, potentially leading to gentrification and displacement of vulnerable populations (Lees et al., 2008).

However, housing cooperatives also face challenges, such as limited availability of funding and complex legal frameworks (Sazama, 2000). Additionally, the democratic decision-making process in cooperatives can be time-consuming and may lead to conflicts among members (Birchall, 2012). Despite these challenges, housing cooperatives offer a unique and viable alternative to conventional housing models, promoting community engagement, affordability, and sustainability.


  • Curl, J. (2010). For All the People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America. PM Press.
  • ICA (2015). Guidance Notes to the Co-operative Principles. International Co-operative Alliance.
  • Lees, L., Slater, T., & Wyly, E. (2008). Gentrification. Routledge.
  • Novy, A. (2012). Inequality, Democracy and the Welfare State in the European Union. European Urban and Regional Studies, 19(3), 213-228.
  • Sazama, G. (2000). A Brief History of Affordable Housing Cooperatives in the United States. University of Connecticut.
  • Birchall, J. (2012). The Potential of Co-operatives during the Current Recession; Analyzing the Experience of Deliberative Democracy in Housing Co-ops. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Development and Formation of Housing Cooperatives

The development and formation of housing cooperatives involve a series of steps, beginning with the identification of a group of individuals who share a common interest in cooperative living. This group then establishes a legal entity, typically a corporation, to own and manage the real estate. The legal entity is responsible for acquiring the property, either through purchase or construction, and securing the necessary financing, which may include mortgage loans, government grants, or member contributions.

Once the property is acquired, the cooperative’s bylaws and occupancy agreements are drafted, outlining the rights and responsibilities of the members, as well as the governance structure. Members elect a board of directors, who are responsible for overseeing the cooperative’s operations, including financial management, maintenance, and membership decisions. The board may also establish committees to handle specific aspects of the cooperative’s affairs, such as finance, membership, and maintenance.

Throughout the development process, housing cooperatives often collaborate with external organizations, such as cooperative development agencies, legal advisors, and financial institutions, to ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations, as well as to secure necessary funding and expertise. The formation of a housing cooperative is a complex process that requires careful planning, collaboration, and commitment from its members to ensure its long-term success and sustainability.

Case Studies and Success Stories

Housing cooperatives have demonstrated success in various countries, providing affordable and sustainable living options for their members. One notable example is the Champlain Housing Trust (CHT) in Vermont, USA, which has over 600 cooperative homes and has helped more than 3,000 families secure affordable housing since its inception in 1984 (Champlain Housing Trust, n.d.). In Sweden, the HSB Living Lab, a cooperative housing project, focuses on sustainable living and smart technologies, offering valuable insights into the future of cooperative housing (HSB Living Lab, n.d.).

Another success story is the Kalkbreite cooperative in Zurich, Switzerland, which has transformed a former industrial site into a mixed-use, eco-friendly housing cooperative with 97 residential units and various commercial spaces (Kalkbreite, n.d.). In Canada, the Toronto-based Windmill Line Co-operative Homes has provided affordable housing for over 40 years, with a strong focus on community engagement and environmental sustainability (Windmill Line Co-operative Homes, n.d.). These case studies demonstrate the potential of housing cooperatives to address housing affordability, sustainability, and community-building challenges in diverse contexts.


Category: Legal