In the United States, more than 1.2 million families of all income levels lived in homes owned and operated through cooperative associations. The first housing cooperative in the nation was organized in New York City in the late 1800’s. Today, many co-ops are located in major urban areas including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Minneapolis, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC.
A housing co-op is people who together own and control the building(s) in which they live. Instead of buying real property, residents buy stock, or a membership, in a cooperative corporation. The corporation owns the land, building, and any common areas.
Think of a housing co-op as three cohesive, integrated segments, each with a unique function:
The residents of the cooperative (the members) collectively own the building and the property through their shares in the corporation. Members are entitled to occupy a specific unit. Members democratically govern the cooperative and elect a board of directors to oversee operations.
Members agree to the cooperative’s by-laws, which stipulate a monthly fee each member must pay for the operation and maintenance of the entire building. Monthly fees are determined by each unit’s square footage, which also determines the amount of stock members own in the corporation.
The cooperative corporation is the collective, legal body made up of the members of the co-op. The corporation owns all the real estate- the land, the building, and any common areas.
The board of directors is elected from the membership to manage the co-op. Some co-op boards hire a professional management company to oversee the operations, while other co-ops self-manage and set up committees to help run the co-op. In most co-ops, the board of directors interviews and approves prospective purchasers for membership.
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