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the origin of housing co-ops

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Equitable Street

Provision of housing for members has always been a concern of co-operatives. In 1861 the Rochdale Pioneer Land and Building Company provided the first co-operative housing on land in Spotland Road, Rochdale. In 1867 the Rochdale Equitable Pioneer Society was directly building and providing housing and, by the end of the century had built 300 houses for rent. The Pioneers had also set up the Co-operative Building Society, later to change its name to Nationwide Building Society.

The first example of housing co-operative movements independent of retail co-operative societies were in Austria and Germany in the 1880s and1890s. In Germany housing co-operatives were established by the Bismarck Government to improve living conditions of workers to help prevent revolution. Housing co-operatives in Germany, in common with the rest of the co-operative movement, were abolished by the Nazi's in the 1930's. In Austria the early housing co-operatives were associated with the emerging trade union movement, which promoted their development to provide housing for their members.

From Germany the concept moved to Scandinavia. Today in Norway, if you are not an individual homeowner, you are more likely to occupy a housing co-operative home than any other form of housing. 14% of their total housing stock of 1.7 million dwellings is co-operatively owned and managed under the umbrella of the Norwegian Federation of Co-operative Housing and Building Organisations (NBBL). NBBL are responsible for 15-20% of total housing production in Norway each year. Sweden has two major co-operative housing organisations. The largest HSB Riksforbund manages over half a million homes.

With the persecution of the Jewish Race in Europe during the first decades of this century, housing co-operatives spread to the new world. The East River Co-operative in New York was set up by the immigrant members of the Garment Workers Union in 1927. When I last heard of it in the late 1980's it was still going strong.

From Scandinavia and the USA the idea of housing co-operatives was imported into Canada. Today housing co-operatives are the largest not-for-profit housing sector in Canada, housing over 250,000 Canadians. Housing co-operatives are truly an international phenomena. Throughout the developed and developing world they provide decent homes for their members. The largest co-operative housing complex in the world is the Kent-Koop in Batikent, Turkey where over 250,000 households live in co-operatively provided and managed homes.

In the early 1970's from Scandinavia and Canada the concept of co-operative housing returned to its roots in the UK, re-imported by the late Harold Campbell, the then Secretary of the Co-operative Party. Harold Campbell was the Founder Chair of CDS Co-operatives.

 

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