Introduction to co-operative housing

All the residential accommodation so far built on the Coin Street site is social housing, available at affordable rents to individuals and families in housing need. Priority is given to certain groups such as those working in low-paid jobs in central London or those living in housing co-operatives who need transfers.

There are currently four housing co-operatives: Mulberry (1988), Palm (1994), Redwood (1995) and Iroko (2001). These co-operatives manage 220 high quality, affordable new homes.

All four housing developments are run by ‘fully-mutual’ co-operatives. A housing co-operative is a group of people who jointly own the houses or flats they live in and control the way their housing is run. The properties belong to the co-operative as a whole. Co-operative members do not individually own the houses and flats they live in but are tenants and pay rent to the co-operative. They do not have a right to buy. Every adult tenant must be a member of the co-operative and is expected to take an active part in running it – all decisions in the co-operative are taken by its members on the basis of one member, one vote. Each co-operative elects its own officers to represent its tenant/members.

The tenants become shareholders in a company that owns the lease on the building and is responsible for maintaining its properties, collecting rents and selecting new tenants.

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This model was chosen for a number of reasons: it is democratic; residents have a greater stake in their homes and tend to take more time and effort to ensure their properties and gardens are well maintained; and because the leasehold is owned jointly by all co-operative members, individual tenants do not have a ‘right to buy’ their own homes. This means that the housing will remain available at reasonable rents to those in need.

Each co-operative allocates at least 50% of its properties to the local council; Mulberry is entirely filled by applicants via the local council. People applying for housing are not expected to have any previous knowledge or experience of
co-operatives but it is a condition of being accepted as a member and being allocated housing that every adult has attended the eleven 3-hour sessions which make up their training programme. The aim is not only to pass on essential information needed to run a co-operative but also to develop communication and group working skills in an inclusive and enjoyable setting.