Housing cooperatives

Housing cooperatives are or can become vital builders and maintainers of (small) housing complexes. The households, while cooperating in small groups, can be or become important players in house building, home renovation and the improvement of their residential environment. House building within a cooperative context has a number of advantages over individual house building. Participants in cooperatives regularly motivate one another, and mutual training can be delivered easily to a group. Cooperatives can organise their interests better, in order to negotiate as a strong community with local governments and utilities, and, in the end, the housing quality will be better than that of individual (self-built) houses.

A (starting) housing cooperative can be assisted by a (local) government, a specialized NGO, or a national organization, which can offer the following: legal and organizational knowledge, organizational capacity building, possibilities for financial and technical training, and possibilities for future economic follow-up activities.
One can find various types of housing cooperatives, such as cooperatives with collective land and housing property, cooperatives with collective land but individual housing properties, cooperatives with eventually individual properties, and cooperatives with additional productive targets. Cooperatives that have successfully built a number of houses can later attempt to develop other (economic) activities in order to increase the incomes of the households.

Housing cooperatives with collective land and housing properties can build their housing cluster effectively because every household has the same interest and must contribute equally with savings, knowledge and labor. They commonly can purchase the land, the building materials, and hire skilled laborers for specialized works. Low-income households can benefit from the advantages of housing cooperatives, especially if they pursue construction through mutual help in order to lower construction costs.

The following are some of the aid organizations that support the establishment and the management of housing cooperatives:
 FUCVAM: the Uruguayan Federation of Housing Cooperatives for Mutual Help. See: www.fucvam.org.uy
 The Swedish Cooperative Centre ‘We Effect’ promotes housing cooperatives in 25 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America (See below).
 The National Cooperative Housing Federation of India (NCHF) is a nation-wide organization that takes the lead in promoting, coordinating and facilitating the development of housing co-operatives, along with providing guidance to housing co-operatives and their federations. See: www.nchfindia.net

Ganapati S. (2014). Housing cooperatives in the developing world, in: J. Bredenoord, P. van Lindert and P. Smets (eds.): Affordable Housing in the Urban Global South. Seeking Sustainable Solutions, pp. 102-116. London: Earthscan/ Routledge. Download

We Effect

The vision and working methods of We Effect, the Swedish Cooperative Centre, are of importance concerning housing and habitat. This international aid-organization works in various countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. It’s working areas are rural development, housing and habitat, land, gender equality, and financial services. The main goal of We Effect regarding housing and habitat is to empower organizations that support the right of all people to adequate housing. On the organization’s website one can find information on the work of We Effect in Latin America, especially concerning the support for housing cooperatives with mutual aid in various phases of the construction of the houses.

We Effect supports the growth of self-managed cooperative housing associations. Cooperative housing models require the active participation of the members in the construction and maintenance of buildings and also in the management of the housing cooperative itself.
We Effect supports organizations that defend and demand people’s right to housing. Through cooperative housing solutions, people build their own houses and the cooperative then manages the houses and the living environment. The partner organizations lobby those in power, demanding that the State takes responsibility for the practical application of this human right.

Information on the work of We Effect can be found at: www.weeffect.org

The work of We Effect is strongly influenced by the cooperative housing movement in Uruguay.
Information can be found on the website of FUCVAM, the Uruguayan Federation of Housing Cooperatives through Mutual Help: see: http://www.fucvam.org.uy

South-South Cooperation enabled the transfer of the FUCVAM model of mutual aid housing cooperatives – to other countries through peer exchange:

The Research Project (2016) on housing cooperatives was executed by Jan Bredenoord in close cooperation with We Effect. The title is: ‘Evaluación del Programa Regional Vivienda y Hábitat”, We Effect, América Central. (Avances del movimiento cooperativo de vivienda por ayuda mutua en Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua y El Salvador). 

The results of this research project will be accessible in the course of 2017. It shows the advances of 20 housing cooperatives and communities in Central America that use the FUCVAM model of mutual aid in housing in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Below, one can find descriptions of the advances of five cooperatives. 

Cooperative ACOV INDEPENDENCIA (visit July 26, 2016)

Location: Historic Center San Salvador, El Salvador. President: Alejandra Navarrete.

This housing cooperative is located in one of approximately 100 ‘mesons‘ that are located in the historic center of San Salvador. A meson is a residential area in the historic city center, where very miserable housing situations can be found. This concerns sometimes old buildings in disrepair or abandoned land, now giving home to thousands of poor people who try to survive by working in the informal sector in the city center. These mesons can be found in closed areas, that often are invisible from the road. A study by the Ngo FUNDASAL on the characteristics of the housing component in the historic center of San Salvador led to an intervention with the population of the mesons. We Effect was and is interested in in the conclusions of the study and, starting from 2004, began to work with the families of 28 mesons while promoting the cooperative model of FUCVAM from Uruguay. The 21 families of the housing cooperative ACOV Independence live in this meson in temporary and miserable shelters that were auto-constructed. They used, among other things, plates of zinc and waste of plastic and wood. It concerns a site in bad condition that is undetectable from the street. One says that the number of settlers by housing is 6-7 that means that this meson has near to 120 residents. In August 2016, there are only two drinking water taps for the whole site. In addition, there are only 4 bathrooms and their use is assigned to groups of 5 families. Personal privacy on the site is very limited. The majority of the residents works in the informal economy. In 2008, a process of training the group was started, with the support of FUNDASAL. This process still continues; there are, among other things, an education committee and a financial committee. The cooperative has retrieved the status of legal entity. The land was purchased by FUNDASAL and disposed to the housing cooperative. This was made possible by a fund for ‘land for housing’ by FUNDASAL. The residents of the cooperative have available a construction plan for the building of 24 apartments. There are four blocks of each 6 apartments, in three levels. In 2017 the construction of the dwellings in this meson will start. The surface of 21 apartments with three rooms is 51 m2, and three are apartments of two rooms (42 m2). The time of construction will be 18 months and the heads of families must participate in the construction works – with 24 hours of labor per week. Normally, the group will prepare and execute its own housing project, and in addition, they will move temporarily to an another site where they can live during the construction. The municipality is busy helping to find a temporary location. Future residents want to make a real community, to live there after the construction phase and to create jobs together. Since they began the training of the cooperative model, the coexistence in the meson was substantially improved. It is expected that after the construction period, a better and more intensive coexistence will occur. In January 2017, this group of residents will be the first in starting construction works; which is part of the reconstruction program of the historic city center, that is approved by the government. There will be built 420 houses in several cooperatives in the historic center. This has been made possible thanks to the efforts of FESCOVAM, making possible that the loan granted by the Italian Cooperation to the Government of El Salvador, is focused completely on the cooperative housing program for the historic center.

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Photo left: poor housing situation in 2016.          Photo right: Alejandra Navarrete, and Oscar Membreño (vice president)

Cooperative ACOVICHSS (visit: August 18, 2016)

Location: Barrio San Esteban, Historic Center San Salvador. El Salvador. President: Maria Adriana Gonzales.

The members of the housing cooperative ACOVICHSS in the barrio of San Esteban, have constructed their homes in two locations in the city center of San Salvador; one of 12 houses and another nearby of nine houses. In August 2016, the first project has 12 houses. Four heads of families are men and eight are women. Most heads of households work as vendors in the informal market. The cooperative began in 2001 and is a legal entity from 2004 on. The first project was carried out in 2008/2009 and the second one in 2009/2010. During the construction period, each partner of the cooperative had to contribute with their own hands (or by the hands of a family member) 24 hours per week. It was said that it lowered the building costs with 40 percent. The Ngo FUNDASAL offered training and technical assistance for the project formulation, the management, the gaining of funds and the solidarity necessary for the execution of the mutual project. During the construction phase, FUNDASAL provided a team of four technicians. The municipality of San Salvador stimulated the project, as consequence of its policy of “the rescue of the residential function of the historic center of San Salvador”. The housing project was realized with funding from the Spanish aid agency (AECID), We Effect (Sweden), MISEREOR (Germany) and Cordaid (Netherlands). The families must pay monthly US$57 for their homes. The housing complex is built in two floors and the dwellings are nice apartments (36 – 47 m2). The residents are happy with their homes and maintain properly their housing complex. The patio of the complex is developed as a garden with various trees, plants, and herbs. After the completion of the housing project, the municipality of San Salvador has realized a square nearby, and modified the adjacent street, in favor of the residents of the cooperative and the surrounding area.

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Photos taken during construction in 2008

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Photos taken during research visit in 2016

Cooperative El ESFUERZO SOLIDARIO (visit: August 13, 2016)

Location: Municipality of San Miguel Petapa, Guatemala City. Guatemala. President: Teresita Fuente.

The members of this housing cooperative came from several colonies. In 2016, the group consists of 14 families, and there are 14 houses built. Still, six houses can be added. The preparation of the site lasted a long time due to the difficult circumstances of the area with huge differences in height. The partners have begun economic activities to earn family incomes. All the women of the cooperative are involved in the production and the sale of chocolate. This colony is located on the fringes of Guatemala City, far from the central area, but it is not an isolated place. It is located in a quiet and wide street, and there are other urban functions in the vicinity, such as schools. The training process with the families began in 2005, with a group of people that got contacts with the NGOs IDESAC and We Effect. The group already had saved money with the objective to buy land for housing. Starting from 2006, the cooperative obtained the status of a legal person. In December 2006, it could proceed with the purchase of the land. The surface of the land is approximately 0.7 hectare. The households began to clean the site and to make retaining walls of armored concrete, and a great staircase to resolve the differences in height. Then, they began with the construction of the community facility that is located at a lower situated place. At that time, the families had already worked two years on the preparation of the land for construction, which had been finished in 2009. The search for housing finance was difficult. At the end, an agreement between Habitat for Humanity and We Effect resulted in a credit for housing, at an interest rate of 10 percent on the sum, at a yearly base, with a period of 10 years. In 2010, the families have started to build 14 houses, which lasted 1 year and 4 months. The families built the homes of 54 m2, which have two bedrooms. The plots are 6 by 14 m, with a total surface of 84 m2. Later, they expanded the houses with an extra bedroom with funding from We Effect, with a soft loan of 2 percent interest and a 10 years period. Now there are about 55 inhabitants. The central area is wide, and the children can play there, where residents can meet each other. It’s a square really with a slim line water tower in the center. There is drinking water, electricity, and sewage. Sewage water is cleaned organically, and the rest flows into a garden where one can find banana trees. Raining water is collected for the cooperative’s own use. It is a well-designed complete housing project. IDESAC offered technical assistance. The families pay about US$100 each month for their housing. In 2016 the focus is on the construction of 6 more houses. In the lower located part they want to create a children’s playground. The activity of producing and selling chocolate started in the year 2015 and at the end of 2016, they produce 120 bags per month. For this, they have obtained a credit of US$2000 by a fund of We Effect. They want to increase the production of chocolate, to expand sales and to obtain a production space.

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Photos taken during research visit in 2016: 1) the central square, 2) the houses, 3) members of the cooperative and two representatives of NGOs.

Cooperative COVICHOLUMAR (visit: July 29, 2016)

Location: Choluteca, Honduras.  President: Sarahi Carranza.

It concerns a completely new peri-urban land development, which in the end will contain 558 houses. The community is located at a distance of 8 km from Choluteca. In the surroundings, one can find mainly rural functions, but at the other side of the regional road a large solar power plant is located. The site is connected to a regional road that gives commercial opportunities. The new residential site has all the necessary services such as drinking water, connection to the electrical network, and a sewerage system with a waste water treatment facility. The streets within the urbanized area are only paved with selected materials. The cooperative’s members have formed a first group in 2010, and in 2012 they obtained the status of a legal entity. The members of the cooperative have bought the project’s terrain with the money they obtained through jointly executed commercial activities. Funding for housing was made possible by a subsidy (US$3000 per house) and a loan – the two were granted and facilitated by the national government. At the end of 2015, the first phase of the housing project was realized, with 173 dwellings. The cooperative has a loan of 10 percent on a yearly basis, with a term of 20 years. The residents have several internal working committees, such as the committees of support, surveillance, education, environment, and water management. Initially, they have built mutually a community facility. Within the first urbanistic plan for the 173 homes, all are single family houses. This is expected that within the subdivision plan for 558 plots for housing, the second and third stages will contain also single family houses. The total project is equipped with roads, drainage, and green spaces. Additionally, an area located beside the main road, is reserved for the commercial functions and for production and education. This gives good opportunities for employment creation in the vicinity of the residential area. Later, other facilities can be added, such as a playground for children and parks. The dimension of the plots is 12 by 18.5 m; the surface is 222 m2. Initially, only single-family houses were built with a surface of 42 m2. Some residents have mentioned that they want to add one extra bedroom to their house. The residents have to pay monthly around US$115 for their houses. The members of the cooperative have several ideas for the future, mainly concerning the creation of labor. For example, some women cook meals that are sold in the area. Others opened a shop or offer personal services. Several housewives make tortillas and sell them in the streets. Another promising activity is the cultivation of vegetables, among other things beans. The majority of the heads of households (80 per cent) have their work in Choluteca or in its vicinity. Some have a permanent job and others a temporary one, for example in sugar cane plants, during the harvest of melons, or with a shrimp packing company. The offer of work is fluctuating and therefore the cooperative’s member give priority to the creation of mentioned new labor opportunities. This cooperative is the biggest housing cooperative in Central America; in the end, they expect to have between 2500 and 3000 residents in the 558 houses that are planned in the neighborhood.

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Photos are taken during research visit 2016. Housing and beginning economic activities. Right below: Sarahi Carranza.

Cooperative JUNTANDO MANOS (visit: August 8, 2016; February 10, 2018)

Location: Reparto Mariana Sansón, León, Nicaragua.  President: Faniz Jirón Valenzuela.

The housing cooperative through mutual aid ‘Juntando Manos’ is located in the urban expansion project León South East, in the municipality of León. The cooperative was founded in 2004 and in 2007 the members began the building of the houses. This housing cooperation was the first in Nicaragua, together with the cooperative ‘Lomas de Pochocuape’ in Managua. The two were built according to the principles of FUCVAM and We Effect. The land of Juntando Manos was purchased from the municipality, within the framework of the León South East expansion plan. The neighborhood is called ‘Mariana Sansón’. Most of the heads of households who live here have jobs in the informal and formal economy. Most of them work in the city of León, a few kilometers away. Faniz Jirón Valenzuela is the president of the cooperative ‘Juntando Manos, and for some years she is also the president of the Nicaraguan umbrella organization of housing cooperatives for mutual aid (CENCOVICOD). She told that the experiences of the cooperative ‘Juntando Manos’ in León have influenced very much the development of the movement of housing cooperatives through mutual aid in Nicaragua. During the initial processes, they have been successful in attracting financial support from financial aid organizations. In the vicinity of the cooperative Juntando Manos, nine other locations for housing cooperatives are prepared for mutual housing. One is realized (‘Los Volcanes’) and 8 other housing cooperatives – all located in the nearby neighborhood ‘Utrecht’ are preparing the house construction, but in seven cases the housing finance is not yet arranged. For large meetings, a large communal facility is built in 2015 to serve for all the cooperatives that are located and planned in this area. When the houses were built, the families had already purchased the land with a loan from the municipality of León. This loan has been fully paid off. Residents have obtained much support from the NGO We Effect, with the construction of the buildings and also during the consolidation process. Often, assistance was given in the form of advice and organized training. In 2016, the residents of Juntando Manos only have a credit from We Effect for the houses, at annual interest rate of 2 percent. The national government should give the credit by the institution INVUR, but unfortunately, that was not effectuated. The duration of the credit is 20 years (still to go 12 years). Families must pay monthly US$31 to pay off the credit. The 36 houses of Juntando Manos, were built around a courtyard where a communal space is. The houses have a floor space of 42 m2. The surface of the plots is 160 m2. There are several individual extensions of houses. The surroundings of the houses are green. The cooperative houses are painted in different exterior colors and this gives extra quality to the housing complex. It is not a boring residential area, as is sometimes the case in other new neighborhoods. In the near future, the residents of this cooperative want to continue the consolidation process of the area. Among other things, they want to create a facility for the guidance of small children. Special is the aspect of the design of the subdivision around the internal patio; this gives a variation of colors while the architecture and urban design are attractive. It is special that this cooperative was the first one in Nicaragua. It obtained very much attention, nationally as well as internationally.

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Photos of the housing cooperative just after the construction in 2008

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The housing cooperative in 2016 (first two photos), and in 2018 (four photos, last one is the community house)


Cooperative MANOS AMIGAS (visit: February 10, 2018)

Location: Reparto ‘Utrecht’, León, Nicaragua. Resident: Emma Martinez Martinez, member of cooperative.

The cooperative has 20 members, of which 20 women and 20 men as heads of households. Manos Amigas became officially a housing cooperative in 2008. They built the houses in 2016 and finished the houses in December of that year. They have two housing types: of 42 m2 (with two bedrooms; building costs US$9800; monthly costs for every household US$75); and of 39.9 m2 (with one bedroom, building costs US$7800; monthly costs for every household US$60). The housing cooperative sought after regular finance from the government and the municipality, but met various difficulties. At the end, the housing cooperative has obtained a loan from the Association Roncalli-123 Juan XXIII, with a duration of 20 years. One septic tank was realized for two adjacent houses. There is a community building, adjacent to the location of the cooperative; which can be used by all 10 realised and planned housing cooperatives in León Southeast that work with the principles of We Effect. The community building can also be used for meetings of other communal activities and groups in the neighbourhood.

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The houses of Manos Amigas and the community building.