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UK Urged to Embrace Co-operative Housing Inspired by Canada and Scandinavia

The Social Market Foundation, a cross-party think tank, has released a compelling paper urging the UK to take cues from Canada and Scandinavian countries to bolster its co-operative housing sector. According to the foundation, co-operative housing—where residents control and manage their living environments—represents a mere 0.2% of the UK’s housing stock. This is starkly contrasted by Canada’s 0.6% and an impressive 14.5% in Scandinavia, with Sweden alone boasting 23%. The think tank believes that adopting similar models could significantly mitigate the UK’s housing crisis.

Co-operative Housing: A Multitude of Benefits
The report underscores the advantages of co-operative housing, which include more affordable rents and a higher degree of resident satisfaction compared to traditional housing models. In Canada, for instance, co-op rents are on average two-thirds of those in the private sector and are subject to more stable rates of increase. Furthermore, co-operative housing in the UK has seen an 88% satisfaction rate among tenants, surpassing the figures for housing association or council housing residents. Beyond financial benefits, co-operatives are praised for fostering community engagement and personal development through required resident involvement.

Overcoming Barriers for Growth
Despite its potential, the expansion of co-operative housing in the UK faces several hurdles, including legal complexities, funding challenges, and competition for land. The Social Market Foundation points to international examples, such as the Co-operative Societies Bill 2022 in Ireland and the supportive policies in Canada during the 1970s, as models for facilitating co-op development. The paper calls for the UK government to adopt similar strategies, such as providing preferential treatment to co-ops in property acquisitions and establishing dedicated financial support mechanisms.

Niamh O’Regan, a researcher at the Social Market Foundation, highlights the evolving landscape of homeownership and renting in the UK, suggesting that co-operative housing offers a viable and underexploited alternative that could alleviate some of the country’s housing woes. Dr Catherine Dennison from the Nuffield Foundation supports this view, emphasising the cost-effectiveness and potential of co-ops as a solution worth exploring further.

The recommendations put forth by the Social Market Foundation include revitalizing the social housing sector with long-term funding plans and ending the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme, as well as enhancing legal rights and access to resources for co-operative housing projects. As the UK confronts its housing challenges, co-operative housing stands out as a promising avenue for sustainable development, offering benefits for individuals, communities, and the broader society.