Why Ireland should make better use of co-operative housing

 There is no doubt that Ireland is facing some serious challenges when it comes to housing provision. A number of stakeholders are working to address this challenge, but with regard to Ireland, it’s important to take stock of the approach of our peers in Europe. In doing so, we can perhaps learn how we can provide quality housing here in Ireland.

Across Europe, since the end of the Second World War, the countries of Europe have taken a number of different approaches in provision of housing to citizens. The make-up of housing provision offers an insight into these societies. We have seen this too in Ireland – with its primary focus on a form of asset-based welfare, which encouraged people to purchase houses as a form of investment. This approach, however, is not universally applied across Europe, with many states, particularly in the north of Europe having integrated a co-operative ethos. The effects of such an approach have been nothing short of incredible, as viewing housing through the prism of provision of a social good, rather than as an investment provides long term stability to people, allowing them to feel secure in pursuing more socially-beneficial aims in society. We in Co-operative Housing Ireland are firmly of the belief that co-operative housing and co-operatives, more generally, are people-centered. We remain committed to representing a movement driven forward by our values and the strength of the co-operative ethos, which build communities and affords people the opportunity to flourish.

If we look at the way housing co-operatives are approached by countries like Germany, for example, we can see that co-operatives are a constituent part of what helps local communities develop. If we look at social rented co-operatives, even here in Ireland, the costs generally range between 15% and 17% of members’ incomes. The impetus for the development of co-operative housing in Germany was the housing shortage many regions of Germany experienced after the end of the Second World War, presenting a need to re-evaluate the way in which housing was viewed, with an emphasis to be placed on provision. Co-operatives offered a way to meet this need.

It is not just in Germany that we can view the success of the co-operative housing movement in meeting the needs of society. In Sweden, too, we can see the success of the co-operative housing model. Indeed it is something we here in Ireland should seek to leverage more to better meet the staggering housing need across the country, and to address the consistent challenges faced within the Irish housing sector.  Co-operative housing in Sweden was introduced as ‘a response to extreme housing shortages and severe housing speculation’. Many Irish people will be familiar with this situation, and may see it as a reason why we, here in Ireland, should seek to emulate this approach.

An evaluation of the ways in which Ireland can meet its growing housing demand is required. Indeed within cities across Ireland we see discussions and debates on the approach to be taken, be that the development of high rise apartments or high density developments. However, we believe there is a growing need to evaluate the nature of the ownership models to be employed in addressing the challenge and to seek to address the problem at its root. We need to work against speculation and develop a more inclusive, democratic and responsible approach to housing – one which would seek to afford everybody the opportunity to participate fully in society.