Rekindle Co-operative Housing

Let’s rekindle co-operative housing with tax incentives now, so as to stabilize family and community life!

A lady at church who was raised near the lake in Oakland MI told me of her housing-co-op where she living from 1929-1939. The land was donated to the Housing Authority at the beginning of the Great Depression. The authority built perhaps as many as 150 houses on concrete slabs each situated on an acre of land. My friend at church and her husband were about to buy a house when they lost all their money in the bank closure caused by the depression. So they purchased a share in this particular Co-op.

Co-op housing originated in the 1800’s and was gradually legalized and loosely organized in non-profit corporations. Around the time of the 2nd World War, they received special tax incentives, and offered housing to families and individuals little regard to family income. Labor unions organized many housing co-ops that survived the ups and downs of the private market, and provided shelter not otherwise available. Up until the Nixon administration in the 2970’s, Co-ops received development assistance from the Federal Government.

Cooperative members own a share in their corporation that owns or controls the building(s) and/or property in which they live. Each shareholder is entitled to occupy a specific unit and has a vote in the corporation. Every month, shareholders pay an amount that covers their proportionate share of the expense of operating the entire cooperative, which typically includes underlying mortgage payments, property taxes, management, maintenance, insurance, utilities, and contributions to reserve funds. The benefits include personal income tax deductions, lower turnover rates, lower real estate tax assessments, reduced maintenance costs, resident participation and control, and being able to prevent absentee and investor ownership. Co-ops can belong to the National Association of Cooperative Housing.

In Oakland during the depression, the tenants shared the food they had with those who had little or none. They organized games for the children who attended the local public school. They played bingo for food, even whole chickens, rather than chips. Those were sometimes labeled “communists” in an ugly sort of way by their neighbors. After 10 years or so, the economy recovered, and people were able to live more independently. Eventually the Oakland Housing Authority sold the land.

The Co-op movement foundered after President Nixon cut tax incentives in the 1970’s. Presently, there are many informal groupings of family members struggling to live together in housing with one member, who has a housing voucher. I know of a grandfather, grandmother and Aunt living with a daughter who had a voucher and three children. The daughter held three jobs, and the older people had part-time work and cared for the children. The apartment burned down leaving all six homeless. The daughter moved into a homeless shelter with the children, and the others lived in their cars until they could find another home with friends or relatives.

It’s time to rekindle Cooperative Housing and support community living among larger family units. Then people could share child care, food and the cost of their housing.


Posted: December 26, 2013 in: Child Poverty

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