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.
Given the customization potential of co-ops, the possibilities are endless. Some ideas include:
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
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
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?”
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.
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
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
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
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.
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!
We have a guide for forming co-ops! Visit it now!