Monday, November 28, 2011

UN - 2012 International Year of Cooperatives

The UN has proclaimed 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives.

This is a huge subject encompassing so many aspects of housing, political, social, sustainability, ecological and economic existence that to try and cover it all in one blog entry is well nigh impossible. All cooperatives are democratic, owner-operator ventures.

But ... the cooperative movement is hardly a new phenomenon. One of the most successful business models for a cooperative is Mondragon located in the Basque region of Spain. Internationally, farmers co-ops, business co-ops, website co-ops, medical & health co-ops, banking & insurance co-ops are proving to be models for sustainable, long-term social and economic success. Food co-ops buy in bulk, sell to co-op members and distribute excess to those members in various ways, from a cheque in the mail to deeper discounts the following year. The Co-operators is Canadian insurance co-op that is one of the most successful businesses in Canada.

Co-ops also support other co-ops in the form of charitable work and are deeply involved in international development projects.

In Canada, not-for-profit housing cooperatives provide housing for a tremendously diverse population:
"Across Canada, over 2,100 non-profit housing co-ops are home to about a quarter of a million people in over 90,000 households. there are housing co-operatives in every province and territory"  CHF Canada
I live in a co-op in Vancouver. I own one share in the co-op. This entitles me to live here, have a democratic say in how the co-op operates, spends it's money - BUT the most important factor for me is that I don't just live here, I live in a village in the middle of a large city. I know my neighbours. We volunteer our time and whatever expertise we have to help run our organization and help make it one of the most successful co-ops in the country. None of us receive financial compensation but the benefits are huge in social interplay and security. 

Co-op members come from all walks of life - some are high income earners, some middling and some on fixed income from pensions or other government sources. We are governed by various government acts and we develop our own internal rules and policies. Our co-op is large enough that we hire a management company to handle day to day financial matters. The final decisions are made by the members.

We do not own our units so we pay a percentage of our total income as a monthly housing fee. And considering the larger global financial situation, home ownership is not all it's cut out to be! The rate is fixed annually after we work on our budget needs for the following year and then vote for it. Currently, our housing fee rate is a little over 30 per cent of our total earnings. There is a cap on fees based on market rent for this area of the city - and a minimum as well.

Many housing co-ops assist lower income earners in the form of partial subsidy. As most Canadian co-ops will have paid off their mortgages by 2020, the small percentage of subsidy provided by the Canadian government will end. By continuing to carefully balance our resource, co-op members will continue to live here and contribute financially to the physical, social and economic well-being of the co-op as a whole.

I will blog more about cooperative choices. And in the meantime please spend a few minutes checking out the links provided. It just might change your life - for the better.

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