Rent it like you own it: Strategic overview

Housing co-operatives are community housing providers that provide renters with a home as if they own it. Co-operatives provide community housing in the way that people want to live.

Australia’s affordable rental housing co-ops (ARHCs) present a real opportunity to develop an expanded and diverse housing co-op sector in Australia, to deliver housing stability and dignity to more Australians.

A housing co-operative is a legal association formed for the purpose of providing housing to its members on a continuing basis. It is owned and controlled by its members. A co-operative is distinguished from other housing associations by its ownership structure and its commitment to co-operative principles.

Housing co-operatives exist for their members’ mutual benefit. They share with other co-operatives the values of individual responsibility, mutual help, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. (Source: CHI)

Simply put, people like to live in housing co-operatives.

Many people will choose to stay in their co-operative through various life changes. There is an intentional mix of people in housing
co-ops, which contrasts with many types of community housing. From a first home through to retirement, co-operative communities remain a popular choice for long term residents.

The way that co-operative housing is different from other types of community housing is the key to its popularity with residents:

  • Co-operatives mean you can rent as if you own.
  • Co-operatives are mixed communities that reflect how people like to live.
  • Co-operatives are proven effective managers of housing.
  • Co-operatives build personal responsibility and skills.
  • Co-operatives contribute to the diversity of the housing sector in Australia by operating a different model community housing ownership and management.

Members have a say ...

Co-operatives are uniquely defined by the active participation of their members and the ‘one member, one vote’ principle, which ensures all members can have a say in the organisation and operations of their co-op. In housing co-ops, this unique attribute of member-tenants having a voice drives a range of beneficial outcomes. 

Stability and agency...

In some cities and countries, housing co-ops are a large and diverse part of the housing system, offering the stability and agency of ownership without the financial burden. There are 245 rental housing cooperatives in Australia. Between them they manage nearly 5,000 houses. Housing co-operatives make up 3.5% of the social housing sector in Victoria and about 1% nationally.

Part of the broader community ...

Australia has a longstanding housing co-operative sector. Australia’s AHRCs are part of the broader community housing (CHP) component of the social housing sector, providing housing to people on very low through to moderate incomes.

There are ARHCs in metropolitan and regional areas of the ACT, NSW, Qld, SA, Tas, Vic, and WA. Many Aboriginal service providers are also incorporated as co-ops and include housing within a broader service delivery portfolio.

Some ARHCs are themselves registered as CHPs, while others are under the umbrella of a CHP with which they have a service agreement, such as Common Equity Housing South Australia (SA), Common Equity Housing Ltd (Vic.), Common Equity NSW (NSW), or Co-operation Housing (WA). The Australian Co-operative Housing Alliance (ACHA) is the peak industry and advocacy body comprising co-ops and CHPs.

New research funded by ACHA and the Australian Research Council has found that active participation in co-ops is correlated with a range of beneficial outcomes for their members, including:

  • A sense of agency, voice, and empowerment
  • Health and wellbeing, including that of children
  • Skills development, employment, and education
  • A strong sense of community, social networks, mutuality and reciprocity, and trust

The above outcomes are strongest when member-tenants actively seek to join housing co-ops due to their focus on participation, in co-ops that have clustered homes such as apartment or cohousing complexes, and in co-ops that have additional purposes, such as housing a particular social or demographic cohort (e.g., single parent households, Filipino families, artists, Vietnamese elders, etc.)

Active participation in their co-op is a key driver of beneficial outcomes for members.

The ARHC sector is diverse. Individual co-ops have differing levels of responsibility 
for aspects of management such as tenancy, repairs and maintenance, and finances. There is demonstrable value to this diversity, as the above outcomes are found in co-ops across all levels of managerial responsibility.

A positive vision for co-operative housing in Australia

A positive vision for co-operative housing in Australia would mean more social housing focused on its communities and greater social responsibility engendered among residents. It would deliver real value to the rented housing sector in Australia by offering a truly diverse choice of housing services with accountable and trusted co-operatives available to more people

What is needed to deliver this vision?

Co-operative housing comprises approximately 1 per cent of social housing nationally and it is in a unique position to grow.

  1. Aim for co-operative housing as at least ten percent of social housing stock by 2033, achieving sustainability in each jurisdiction, by identifying and removing barriers.
  2. Re-instate a stream of funding dedicated to rental housing co-operatives, as was the case in the 1990s when most of the existing housing co-operatives were formed.
  3. Ensure that at least ten percent of funds such as the Social Housing Accelerator and the Housing Australia Future Fund and the expanded National Housing Infrastructure Facility go to increasing the co-operative housing sector.

Co-operative housing is good for communities and for ordinary people. They are a key component of a diverse and rich housing sector. Australia will benefit from more housing co-operatives.