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the benefits of housing co-operatives in comparison with other tenures

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Do housing co-operatives generate social and personal benefits that other forms of housing provision do not create? Are the additional benefits which housing co-operatives create real and sustainable, or are they achieved at high cost in comparison to other social housing providers?

Fortunately, these were precisely the questions which the last Conservative government asked international management consultants Price Waterhouse (now PriceWaterhouse Coopers) to research in 1992. Their brief was to look at the costs and benefits that arise from co-operatives and other forms of tenant control and whether the benefits were worth the investment. There was an assumption in the brief that, inevitably, co-operatives would cost more.

Price Waterhouse selected 9 case study organisations. 3 were tenant ownership co-operatives, 3 were tenant management co-operatives, and the last 3 were joint landlord/tenant management organisations. They paired the tenant controlled organisations with comparable housing estates managed by the best and most efficient of mainstream social housing providers. The study was in-depth and measured comparable performance in 1992 and again in 1994 to see how performance had changed and whether it had improved or worsened. The governments' Department of the Environment published the report "Tenants in Control: an evaluation of tenant-led housing management organisations" in 1995. Its conclusions were stunning. Page after page showed the benefits of housing co-operatives and other forms of tenant control. It also showed, to the immense surprise of many that co-operatives were more cost effective and provided better value for money than other social housing managers.

In drawing these conclusions, Price Waterhouse pointed out that it should be borne in mind that the co-operatives had deliberately been compared with the very best of mainstream social housing providers. Price Waterhouse concluded that:

  • co-operatives are the most effective form of tenant control and offer the best value for money - "they provide their members with the greatest control over their housing management, finances and environment",
  • co-operatives "are a flexible model capable of delivering housing services which compare with the best of mainstream providers",
  • "this research demonstrates that there are significant and worthwhile benefits associated with co-operatives. Some are quantifiable in financial terms… others are unquantifiable, but nevertheless real. While resources are required in the short-term for setting-up…..the savings and benefits... more than outweigh the set-up costs."

The findings of the Price Waterhouse report have been confirmed by three other related studies.

The first was research into the community ownership of housing in Scotland, most of which takes the form of housing co-operatives, which have taken over ownership of housing from Scottish local authorities. This study was carried out by researchers from three universities and was reported in the May 1998 issue of the Journal for Co-operative Studies. It concluded that:

"although a major programme in Scotland, the approach has not been adopted in England and Wales. The continued success of community ownership argues strongly for the model to be adopted more widely."
(Clapham, Kintrea & Kay, 3 University study 1998).

The second study was not directly related to housing or co-operatives but it showed why Price Waterhouse's study found that the personal and social benefits of housing co-operatives went beyond the simple provision and management of housing. The study was carried out by researchers at Nottingham University and published by NIACE the National Organisation for Adult Learning. It looked at what people gained from participation in a whole range of voluntary organisations, as diverse as pigeon fancying clubs, tenants' associations and church choirs. It concluded that:

  • "participation led to increased knowledge, skills and confidence and the ability to control one's own life"
  • there were two types of benefits and learning:
    • directly related to the organisation's purpose; and
    • indirect, unpremeditated and unexpected.

The reality of "unpremeditated learning" is very significant. It shows why Price Waterhouse found significant personal and social benefits arising from being a member of a housing co-operative.

The third is the report, Models of Resident Controlled Housing, prepared for the Housing Corporation by the Office for Public Management (OPM) and published in June 1999. The OPM report concludes that:

"Resident control brings clear benefits in terms of better housing management, capacity building and community sustainability".

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