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Beginner's Guide to Housing Co-ops

Shop around? Or form one yourself?

understand

1. UNDERSTAND

right fit

2. THE RIGHT FIT?

tell others

3. TELL OTHERS

complex

4. IT'S COMPLEX

decision

5. DECIDE

understand

1. UNDERSTAND

Get Over the Stereotypes.

Co-ops are not communes. And they are not expensive east-coast high-rises. A cooperative is a financial model with shareholders. It can be custom-designed however the members want – single family homes, private apartments, townhomes, communes, and more. As shareholders in that corporation, members have a right to occupy space in the property.

A good place to stay updated with models that break the mold is our affiliated Facebook page or our Good Housing newsletter.

Customize to your heart’s content.

Given the customization potential of co-ops, the possibilities are endless. Some ideas include:

  • as much privacy as you want
  • architect-designed units
  • yard space
  • pet-sitters
  • car-sharing
  • a guest suite
  • co-working space
  • senior social space
  • retail space
  • real, live community

It’s simply structure.

A housing co-op is a corporation that exists primarily to provide housing and related services to its members, and its ownership and governance structure reflect this purpose. — Northcountry Cooperative Foundation’s “Guide for Successful Community Development”

Icon by Gilber Bages via The Noun Project

right fit

2. THE RIGHT FIT?

If you can relate to one of the following, a co-op could be ideal for you:

  • Frustrated with renting.
  • Frustrated with owning.
  • Dislike your neighbors.
  • Can’t get a traditional mortgage.
  • Desire to own property but can’t afford it yet.
  • Want a support network.
  • Want to keep your neighborhood affordable … or keep your rent affordable in a currently gentrifying neighborhood.
  • Rather not take part in the housing industry / real-estate market as it operates today.
  • Progressive developer who wants to make reliable investments in distressed neighborhoods.
  • Want to make your empty lot or vacant property productive again and have it benefit the neighborhood.

Use a Compatibility Tool for your Group

Make sure you and your group are a good fit for a housing co-op by understanding needs to be considered. A compatibility tool like Fireplace walks you through relevant topics (full disclosure: it’s a another project of ours). It weighs your own living preferences, values, and finances with others and creates a report to better move forward with your group.

Icon by Anton via The Noun Project

tell others

3. TELL OTHERS

Gauge others’ interest.

Mention this idea to others and gauge their interest. You never know, a friend might be thinking about this too. A colleague might have formed one. A family member could use another housing alterative.

We like to start the conversation with something like, “What’s your current housing situation? Are you happy with it?”

Feel free to share this guide with your friends or tell them about our Facebook page or to sign up for our Good Housing newsletter.

We're also a fan of the website: Cooperative Communities of Chicago.

You don’t need to have a meetup. Just bring it up in your next conversation – the next time you have lunch or next time you’re in the car with a friend.

At this point, keep it casual and fun.

Explaining co-ops to newbies can be difficult, but just keep it casual and focus on decent housing. We also recommend tapping into your primary network, or your 1st-degree connections. You can reach out to 2nd-degree connections only if you feel comfortable enough to get a cup of coffee with them. As a rule of thumb, you should have a good sense of 1) who is willing to put in time and effort to plan, and 2) who is just passively interested (including yourself).

Be warned: this process can take a long time. But afterwards, you can confidently say now that you’ve exhausted your primary network.

Icon by Mert Güler via The Noun Project

complex

4. IT'S COMPLEX

It could get complicated, and that’s ok.

Whenever you involve more than one person, things can get complex. Understanding your own finances and preferences is hard enough. Layering those of others on top of yours gets messy. Even coordinating everyone’s schedule to have a first meeting is a challenge.

Most of all, co-ops are still rare. Information is scarce and simple processes (like finding a bank that offers loans to co-ops) are not built up at all. Being pioneers means added scrutiny, questioning, paperwork, and figuring out many things on your own.

This complexity can be daunting … but the customization that emerges from that complexity is also what’s so exciting about co-ops. Accepting the challenge of exploring co-ops can lead to long-term housing satisfaction.

In fact, champions willing to take on this challenge are exactly the kind of people we need to help simplify the entire process. The more demand for co-ops, the more accessible its information and infrastructure will become. You’re making the road easier for others that follow in your footsteps.

Icon by Alejandro Capellan via The Noun Project

decision

5. DECIDE

Are you a shopper? Or a creator?

Clarifying whether you want to shop around for an existing co-op vacancy or form one on your own is a huge milestone.

Icon by Luis Prado via The Noun Project

1. Shop Around

If you have limited time or energy, connecting with an existing co-op might be a better choice for you. The pool of existing co-ops is not huge, but it’s getting better. And we’re trying to change that with our efforts.

For now, we recommend subscribing to our Good Housing newsletter to get notified of unit vacancies, and doing a basic search on Craigslist or FIC for cooperatives in your area.

Also, a future goal of the Fireplace Compatibility Tool (which is currently evaluates compatibility among groups of people) is to match people with existing co-ops. So start your profile to get notified when this feature is added!

2. Form a Co-op

We have a guide for forming co-ops! Visit it now!

Jump to Guide to Forming a Housing Co-op

Or go back to our project page.