The formation of co-operative housing societies in Ireland dates back to the 1950s. These were local, self-help, home ownership building co-operatives providing affordable homes for their members. In the 1960s and early 1970s, the growing number of young couples seeking access to home-ownership in the expanding rural towns and new suburban areas resulted in more co-operatives of this type.

Some 3,000 homes were built in the 1970s and 1980s by these types of co-operatives in various parts of the country. These projects generally comprised 10 to 60 houses.

Co-operative Housing Ireland (formerly NABCO) was formed in 1973 by representatives of local housing co-operatives as the national representative, promotion and development federation for the co-operative housing movement in Ireland. The allocation of some state financial assistance in 1979 enabled the Association to open an office and to expand its promotion, information and other support services for housing co-operatives.

Changing housing needs and the identification of gaps in housing service responses resulted in governmental policy adjustments in the 1980s. A diversification of public spending to support the provision of rented housing by not-for-profit approved housing bodies was made in 1984 with the introduction of the Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS). This enabled Co-operative Housing Ireland to commence the promotion of the first rental housing co-operatives in Ireland. In the early 1990s, a Capital Loan and Subsidy Scheme (CLSS) for the co-operative and the voluntary housing sectors allowed them to expand their roles.

As a result of the global economic downturn, government funding for new housing developments decreased dramatically, in 2012, the CLSS scheme was stood down. However, a new funding scheme, the Capital Advance Leasing Facility (CALF), was introduced in 2011. The CALF is a facility which is exclusively available to AHBs to assist them in accessing private or Housing Finance Agency (HFA) finance for the purchase, construction or refurbishment of social housing units that will then be made available under the Social Housing Current Expenditure Programme (SHCEP). Essentially, the facility works by providing AHBs with a capital advance (up to 30%) in the form of a loan, that is made available by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government through Local Authorities to AHBs.

Since 1973, Co-operative Housing Ireland has provided more than 5,700 homes through home-ownership, shared ownership and social rented co-operatives and currently owns and manages more than 2,400 social housing units. Co-operative members are represented on Local Area Boards and have the opportunity to become members of the CHI National Board, something which is unique among the larger AHBs.