In times of constantly rising inflation and rent increases, the desire for stability is growing. Increasingly, many people find such stability, together with safety, and community within housing forms that are different from the usual, individualized housing. The latest study of a student project at the Vienna University of Business and Economics shows that cooperative housing is very successful in spreading the effects of the crisis among residents and thus cushioning the impact. Lena, Victoria and Jakub tell you more about their findings.
The project has shed light on the current impact of the cost of living crisis on tenants of cooperative housing in Vienna, more particularly on the experiences of people living in cooperative housing, indicating the potential policy measures which could improve the situation as it is today.
To help us better understand how cooperative housing could help with the cost of living crisis, we talked not only with people who work within this field but also with tenants in a Vienna-based cooperative. We then analysed and compared the results for both groups and found that living in such a cooperative can greatly improve the experience of the cost of living crisis. It also highlights how cooperative housing could be used to provide certainty and safety in any future crises, as a potential social policy tool.
Affordability, Solidarity, and Reciprocity
Cooperative housing schemes often offer lower rent in comparison to market levels. What further contributes to affordability is solidarity which is expressed through the willingness, desire, and actual sharing of financial and other resources among the residents. This solidarity is also showcased through mutual care, resulting in reciprocal relations of care, and strengthening bonds between inhabitants. Especially in times of crisis, care for one another remained important, providing certainty and comfort. Interviewees expressed that being cared for by others in the building as well as caring for them increases their physical and mental well-being. Sick, elder, and childcare are the main components of caring for each other.
The feeling of safety in times of crises
We are in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis right now. Cooperative housing shows how bottom-up initiatives are preparing for the crisis with mutual support. Interviewees expressed that they feel cared for and enjoy a feeling of safety through sharing resources. Similarly, inhabitants may decide to go even further in terms of resource sharing, committing to the creation of solidarity funds to address the problems of their co-residents in times of crisis. These solidarity funds were seen as crucial during the Covid-19 lockdown. Such pooling of finances may be able to help with covering housing charges, rent, helping with unemployment, or helping those who work limited hours. Furthermore, exchanges and conversations about possible threats and insecurities seem to increase the sense of stability within the community.
Another benefit of cooperative housing is that it can create a sense of community. Members of a cooperative are able to share resources, such as cooking facilities, gardens, and common spaces, which encourage social interaction and strengthen connections. This sense of community can provide emotional and psychological support and mitigates the pressures and stress people experience in the rising cost of living crisis.
“Caring for alike and different”
Renters in cooperative housing can pool resources and use their knowledge and time to alleviate pressures for people within as well as outside of their own community. People feel a sense of trust and closeness to their neighbors and care for each other when sick or injured. We also found that cooperative housing projects create a fertile ground for community projects. In our case, the housing cooperative started several initiatives for artists during the covid lockdowns and provided money and temporary housing for Ukrainian refugees.
These are exciting results that show the great potential of cooperative housing. However, it should be also pointed out that some barriers need to first be overcome to allow for this potential to be realized. Selective inclusion and financial barriers were big hurdles to participation in cooperative housing. Not everyone is eligible and financial restrictions in our specific case created barriers, as tenants were required to pay relatively high rents and an association fee.
This could, however, be addressed, either by conscious design or by policies that aim to further increase the affordability of cooperative housing. What form this policy takes, be it financial aid, or aid with the construction of the cooperative itself, is also an important aspect. In any case, as mentioned above, more help will definitely be needed to fully realise this potential of cooperatives.
Jarvis, H. (2019). Sharing, togetherness and intentional degrowth. Progress in Human Geography, 43(2), 256-275, DOI: 10.1177/0309132517746519.
Leviten-Reid, C., & Campbell, R. (2016). Volunteer roles and the benefits of volunteering: An examination of nonprofit housing co-operatives. Community Development, 47(4), 464-480, DOI: 10.1080/15575330.2015.1134609
Momentum Institut (2022). Teures Wohnen: Es droht eine Mietpreis-Spirale. Momentum Institut. Retrieved December 2nd, 2022, from https://www.momentum-institut.at/news/teures-wohnen-es-droht-eine-mietpreis-spirale