The Cooperative Model

There is a broad spectrum of co-operative housing arrangements; from a condominium, to a kibbutz, to that co-op you lived in when you were a student.

Where do UUCC houses fit in?

Generally speaking, a co-operative is any arrangement in which people voluntarily work together for their mutual and/or shared benefit. There are at least two structures we can look at when considering a housing co-op. The first is the Ownership structure – i.e. how the property is owned, managed, operated. The other is the Community or Living structure. This aspect includes how people in the co-op interact, how often, in what ways, and what the social norms are in the living arrangement.

For example, in a condominium, persons or families own individual, private units in a larger association of three or more units. Generally, they are a co-operative in the sense of working together to pay common bills, and managing shared property. But units are privately owned and inhabited, and community structure and norms, while varied, are essentially like any private neighborhood.

Below is a summary of some different types of co-operative housing arrangements and the types of structures they typically exhibit. The Lucy Stone and Margaret Moseley Cooperatives are Group Equity co-ops. This means that we will own our house in common through our non-profit organization and its Board of Directors. As individuals, however, we will pay rent, and not gain private equity. Additionally, we will have a moderately communal living structure, sharing common spaces, chores, and regular meals.

  Community/Living Structure Ownership Structure
Condos Varied, though essentially private. Private. Some limited common space (e.g. hallways, lawns).
Co-housing More emphasis on communal living – typically some shared meals, community activities. But private units. Private units with buy-in to common spaces (e.g. kitchen/dining room, play area, etc.).
Limited Equity Co-ops Varied. Like condos, can be very private, or fairly communal in nature. Private (limit on equity gained over time keeps units affordable – typically restricted to low to moderate income people).
Group Equity Co-ops(including Lucy Stone Co-op) Shared chores and living space, private rooms. Typical to share a large house with common kitchen/dining space, share several meals per week and regular house meetings for fun and co-op business. All property owned in common through non-profit org, run by member-elected Board of Directors. Individuals rent rooms from non-profit, and do not accrue private equity. Equity is accrued over time to create more co-ops and to keep rent affordable.
Student Co-ops Shared. Typically similar to Group Equity Co-op (see above). Varied (can be group equity, or owned by school or other entity).
 Commune (e.g. a Kibbutz) Highly shared. Often very entwined socially & organizationally, including meals, chores, and shared economic activities. Varied, but typically shared in very interwoven ways. Members often have shared economic activity (e.g. farming, manufacturing, income pooling) and sometimes personal belongings.
Because the Group Equity model owns property through a non-profit organization, it can create affordable, plentiful, and sustainable housing options over the long term. Group Equity Co-ops have existed in the U.S. since the mid 1800s. Some of the oldest and largest organizations have thousands of beds and exist throughout the country; though almost all of them began with a single household!

International Cooperative Alliance 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 organisations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

2. Democratic Member Control

Co-operatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. People serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organised 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. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

4. Autonomy and Independence

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

6. Co-operation among Co-operatives

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

7. Concern for Community

Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.

For further information please visit our list of resources.

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