This document has been made available in electronic format by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) 

The Co-operative Housing Movement - A Movement for Creating Safer Cities and Improved Social Life (1998)

Dec., 1998
(Source: Co-op Dialogue, Vol. 8, No. 3, Oct.-Dec., 1998, pp. 21-26)


Cities attract people because they offer employment opportunities, entertainment and other amenities and potential efficiencies not found elsewhere. They also have advantages in terms of the delivery of education, health care, etc. As the size of cities grow, pressure increases on basic services, infrastructure, housing, etc. thereby bringing hardship to residents.

At present, cities are growing at a very fast speed and as such, life in cities is becoming complex because of rising expectations and aspirations beyond the available means. This is a phenomenon found in most developing societies. Unemployment, rising prices, frustration contributing to corruption, delinquency, theft, crime and use of drugs, etc. are the prominent causes that make people feel insecure, particularly in big cities.

Urbanisation across the World

About one-third of the worldís population lived in urban areas in the year 1975. The urban population is expected to double by 2025. Further growth in urbanization is expected to take place only in developing countries as in the developed countries, this growth has already taken place to a large extent.

In Europe and North America, more than 70 percent of the population was living in urban areas by the year 1995. In the developing countries, Latin America and the Caribbean countries constitute the most urbanized regions; with over 70 percent living in the urban areas. Urbanization level in African and Asian countries is only between 30 and 35 percent. In these regions, urbanization growth is estimated at 4 percent per annum.

At this rate, both in Asian and African regions, urban population is expected to be about 54 percent by the year 2025. However, rate of growth differs from region to region; it will be comparatively higher in the poorest regions and also in the regions where there is rapid economic growth.

During the period 1990-95, the urban growth rate in countries like Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Nepal, Afghanistan, etc. was around 7 percent per annum, which created a heavy burden on local governments, for the development of basic infrastructure.

Due to rapid urban growth rates in many cities in the developing countries, these cities are horizontally expanding. A commonly used term for measuring urban growth is the ëmegacityí, ie. a city with a population exceeding 8 million. Whereas in 1950, only two such megacities existed, New York (population 12.3 million) and London (population 8.7 million), by the year 1990 the number of these megacities increased to 21, of which 16 were in developing countries.

In the year 2015, the number of such megacities is likely to increase to 33, out of which 27 will be in developing countries alone.

Many of the intermediate size cities may actually be growing faster, ie. at rates of over 5 percent per annum on average, than the big cities. As a result, there is a proliferation of ëmillion citiesí (populations between one and ten million). The United Nations projection of total population in all cities with more than one million as presented in Table-1 shows that the growth of such cities will be more prominent in Asia, Africa and Latin America by the year 2015.

These cities would experience rapid population growth and consequent inadequate investment in environmental infrastructure or services. Again, the reducing availability of land coupled with sky-rocketing land prices compel people to take shelter in the urban peripheral areas. It also results in establishing squatter settlements that exhibit virtual mushroom growth thereby increasing urban population with declining civic amenities.

The factors for increasing cities population are more jobs in the industry and service sectors, rather than in agriculture, and presence of agricultural economic opportunities in urban areas. The other contributing factors include better civic services, employment opportunities, newer family formation, and growth in population including shift from rural to city centres thereby making them centres of production and consumption.

Social and Environmental Problems in Cities

Cities around the world are facing a variety of social and environmental problems, eg. pollution, unemployment, poor health, and absence of education. Such cities generate societal crime because poverty and deprivation is the chief cause of eternal and perpetual crime. Experience has shown that it is in the most populous cities, comprising the poor that one finds higher unemployment, increased and prolonged welfare dependency, rising crime rate, problems relating to public health, etc.

To tackle these problems, the governments have to drain out scarce resources for developmental work relating to upkeep of schools, parks, libraries, etc., for promoting societal homogeneity and stability.

It is imperative to do so in order to curb the possibility of potential urban violence that may be caused due to prevalence of disparities between the poor masses and a rather minority section of economically affluent people who control the social and economic infrastructure in urban regions.

Notwithstanding the fact that the urban violence is not a spontaneous phenomenon, it is rather the product of a society characterized by inequality and social exclusion. Further, rapid urbanization and poverty are linked to the scale and extent of urban violence and crime.

Erosion of moral values and the collapse of social structures and familial institutions, put communities at greater risk of urban violence and crime.

Human survival can be achieved through safety from chronic threats such as hunger, disease, repression, and hurtful disruptions in patterns of oneís daily life, be it at home, the workplace or the community. Human life is getting increasingly threatened by crime, accidents and violence.

During the mid 1970s and mid 1980s, reported crimes world-wide increased by 5 percent a year, which is faster than the growth in population. In the United States, there are two million victims of violent crimes every year.

Four children are murdered every day in Brazil; while in Germany approximately 4 million women suffer from domestic violence. The crimes reported in New Delhi (India) during 1971 to 1991 are as under:

Year			No. of Crimes 
------			-----------------
1971			37076
1981			42853	
1991			45509

Since the Second World War, the number of inter-state conflicts has increased more than five times. There is a two-way traffic between conflict and human development. Whereas prolonged internal warfare undermines the standard of human development, equally true is that a long period of neglect of human development may eventually provoke violent conflicts.

One manifestation of the causal relationship between violent conflict and human development is the increase in the number of displaced persons or refugees. At the end of 1994, various conflicts around the globe left approximately 27 million refugees and other displaced persons which represented an eleven fold increase since the year 1970. Present estimates suggest that one out of every 200 people in the world is either a refugee or displaced within his or her own country.

The consequences of looming urban violence are manifold. It not only destroys humans and material but also breeds suspicion and insecurity among human beings, resulting in intolerance, isolation and even violent reactions between the constituents. The phenomenon of urban violence is also bringing about major changes in the patterns of daily living.

It has been observed, of late that in some cities, cases of violence and insecurity curtail peopleís movements and even use of public transport. Gripped by fear people, particularly women, dare not frequently come into streets, parks and other public places. This self imposed social isolation, when extended to large sections of the urban population, adversely affects their mobility and consequent loss of productivity due to people choosing to stay at home rather than risk their lives in the streets. Urban cities all the world over attract massive influx of migrants from less developed areas.

The obvious need of such rural migrants in search of work coming to cities is to look for shelter over their heads, either free or at a nominal rent in a slum. Such shanty-towns or slums are chaotically occupied, unsystematically developed and generally over-populated residential areas with substandard housing, indifferent and unhygienic sanitary arrangements together with inadequacy of amenities that are necessary for maintaining the social well-being of its residents.

Increased levels of rural migration contributes to the massive growth of slums which in turn over -burdens the urban infrastructure. It has also far reaching social implications. The manifest consumerism and its demonstration effect leads to increased aspirations of slum dwellers who then resort to crime at the first available opportunity. It is because of their inability to satisfy their heightened aspirations due to paucity of legitimate economic means. A study has revealed that about 70% of criminals live in slums.

Role of Housing Co-operatives

The main objective of a housing co-operative is to provide its members with suitable housing accommodation at a reasonable cost and on easy terms of payment.

The modern concept of housing does not limit the scope of housing to provision of housing alone, but a comfortable shelter with such surroundings and services as would keep people healthy and cheerful throughout their lives. A housing co-operative, therefore, after providing decent houses to its members also strives to create an environment that is conducive to the fulfillment of the physical, social, economic, and spiritual needs of its members.

The key role of housing co-operatives is ìto establish and carry on its own account or jointly with individuals, educational, physical, social and recreative activities particularly for the benefit of its members.î A co-operative also provides services for basic amenities like water, electricity, sanitary services, etc., to its basic members. Its efforts are further directed towards building up a community life within the co-operative, based on good neighbourhood and fellow feelings. It transforms itself into a new community wherein ìeach is for all and all are for eachî.

Housing Co-operatives as Instruments of Improved Social Life

Life within a housing co-operative is based on common management and sharing. The relationship thus established creates a bond between members which inspires then to undertake further activities and social life on a shared basis.

The essence of the co-operative movement is that the people concerned should themselves look after the management of their affairs including economic betterment and social welfare.

The management of a housing co-operative movement is, therefore, not restricted or limited to management of housing estates, but encompasses all social and cultural activities as are aimed to improve the social life within the co-operative. The members themselves determine, by their collective wisdom, how the affairs of their co-operative should be managed. They are, therefore, motivated to manage their affairs in a manner as would improve their social conditions.

Co-operative activities often include managing shops, laundries, etc., and provision of social, educational and cultural services like running kindergarten schools, maintenance of playgrounds, recreation rooms, cinemas, study groups, youth clubs, etc.

Thus, housing co-operatives do not restrict their activities to merely creating better houses for their members, they rather aim at building up a new social life based on shared responsibility and shared benefits and free from crimes.

A New Life for Migrants

The history of housing co-operatives reveals that they have been instrumental in rebuilding the social life of people uprooted from their old surroundings. The pioneers in the field of co-operative housing sector were people who had migrated to big cities in search of employment and amenities. These people, although succeeding in finding work opportunities, felt alienated and distanced from their old surroundings.

To overcome the life of isolation in their new urban or metropolitan environs, they ventured into housing co-operatives which gave them not just housing but also an entire social environment based on sharing of their joys and sorrows.

In order to further their aim of fostering a new community life, these co-operatives undertook various educational, cultural and social interaction activities that motivated them to work collectively for common good and common welfare.

A New Rural Community

Housing conditions in villages in developing countries at many places are deplorable with inadequate houses and inadequate amenities. Housing co-operatives formed in rural areas provided to their members good houses with improved sanitary facilities. It has been observed that rural housing co-operatives serve as catalyst for further improvement in the entire village. When the villagers have themselves addressed the task of housing and related improvement on a co-operative basis ie. instant construction of village schools, roads, etc., through collective action, they have significantly improved their societal life, thereby reducing migration to the cities.

Social achievement of Housing Co-operatives

The social achievements of housing co-operatives can be summarized as under:

  1. Social Activities and Services: Besides laying out housing estates, the housing co-operatives have also built schools, libraries, parks, etc. for the community, thereby increasing the literacy rate.

  2. Social Functions: Housing co-operatives organize special programmes for their members on occasions like New Yearís Day, Labour Day, Co-op Week, etc. They also organize tours and excursions on holidays. These functions bring people together and provide opportunities to understand one another.

  3. Health Services: Many housing co-operatives have arranged health services for the benefit of their members. They have opened dispensaries, first aid, family planning, and welfare centres.

  4. Youth Development: A number of housing co-operatives have organized youth clubs and sports centres. Some co-operatives have opened gymnasiums and even play grounds. Others have organized debating clubs, published newsletters, conducted essay writing competitions, etc. to encourage young people to participate in literary pursuits.

  5. Ecological Improvement: A significant contribution of housing co-operatives is the improvement of the ecology of the concerned area. Housing co-operatives pay special attention to the disposal of garbage and to keep the surroundings clean. They plant trees and maintain gardens. In India, for instance, it is generally a housing co-operative that wins the prize for best garden.

  6. Womenís Organizations: Housing co-operatives have been especially helpful in promoting womenís organizations. Special associations of women get formed in many housing co-operatives which often take up activities to economically benefit the female members.

  7. Transport Organizations: Some housing co-operatives have arranged special transport services for their members.

  8. Promotion of other Co-operatives: Many housing co-operatives have promoted other types of co-operatives eg. consumer stores, thrift and credit co-operatives for the benefit of their members.

  9. Influence on Human Behaviour: One of the outstanding merits of housing co-operatives is the healthy influence they exercise on human relations. On account of better social and emotional interaction, the members of housing co-operatives generally display improved social behaviour and mental health. The incidence of drinking and juvenile delinquency are lower in housing co-operatives when compared with areas where people live in isolation, and are devoid of social activities.

  10. Emotional Integration: Housing co-operatives have been instrumental in bringing about desired emotional and social integration amongst people of different religions, castes and sects, etc. In housing co-operatives, people voluntarily choose to live as one large family true to Aristotleís dictum that ìman is a social animalî. In housing co-operatives one does not come across cases of conflicts on account of differences in castes, languages or religions of their members.


The Agenda of the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements in June, 1996 has rightly acknowledged that ëprevention of crime and promotion of sustainable communities are essential to the attainment of safe and secure citiesí. People all over the globe whether young, old, women, men, girls, or boys should pledge their support towards the fulfillment of the Instanbul Declaration on Human Settlements which states, ìOur cities must be places where human beings lead fulfilling lives in dignity, safety, happiness, and hope.î

The various governments must address their priorities towards overall social development so as to remove various disparities and thereby help crime prevention programmes. They must find ways to help communities deal with underlying factors such as poverty, inequality, family stress, unemployment, absence of educational and vocational opportunities that undermine safety of community and result in increased crime.

A time bound action programme to tackle the critical problems should be prepared by all the countries and it should be implemented through a public-private-co-operative sector partnership to help promote social security of their people. The prevention policies at the city level should include forging partnerships between municipal authorities, community based organizations like co-operatives, police and the judicial system. There is also an emergent need on the part of particularly developing countries to discourage migration and reverse the existing trend through speedy development of rural areas and creation of small cities. Instead of forcing people to migrate and settle where the infrastructure is available, such an infrastructure providing for employment opportunities, better sanitation and hygienic conditions should be created in rural areas. The improved facilities of health and family welfare, affordable housing, access to safe drinking water, transport and communication facilities, education, etc., if made available to the needy people in rural areas, would discourage their migration to cities.

Through the aforesaid achievements, housing co-operatives have demonstrated their ability to remove the accompanying evils and thereby build an ideal social life within themselves. When our social fabric is threatened, in present times, by conflicts and tensions rooted in differences in language, religion or caste, housing co-operatives can certainly play a positive role to check the malady. With the members voluntarily choosing to live in association with others, conflicts and social tensions can be substantially reduced to create conditions for ideal homogenous living. Even in developed countries, housing co-operatives have been quite active. In the USA, particularly in New York City, where former slum areas were co-operativised, a large number of workers living in conditions well below the modern standard were rehoused. Studies made by ICA in South Asian countries like Malaysia have revealed that houses constructed by co-operatives, besides being cheaper in cost and need based, have contributed to the development of community spirit and co-operation.

The potential of housing co-operatives in solving the problems which are currently faced by our cities are outlined in the following areas:

  1. Housing for the Homeless: The problem of housing for the homeless has assumed serious proportions, especially in developing countries and has been engaging world-wide attention. Housing co-operatives can play a useful role in providing to the homeless not only shelter, but also an environment in which they can live with dignity.

  2. Problem of Rural Migration: Due to rapid urbanization and industrialization in the developing world, there is a large scale migration of rural population to urban centres. The conditions of housing in which these people live are often miserable and crowded. Some are condemned to live in isolation having separated from their families. The best means for socially rehabilitating such people is through housing co-operatives. These co-operatives can provide the migrants housing as well as special services as are required for their physical and mental well-being and cultural upliftment.

  3. Industrial Pollution: Problems of pollution are attendant on industrialization. Today, largely on account of lack of proper planning in the location of industrial units or absence of adequate arrangement for clearance of pollution, people residing near factories and industrial plants are unwilling victims of industrial pollution. The modern world is, therefore, faced with the problem of large scale shifting of the population to safer zones.

    Co-operatives can play a useful role in performing this task. Although the state and local authorities may assist the people in building homes in safer areas, their social rehabilitation can be best achieved through housing co-operatives.

  4. Rehabilitation of Destitutes: Floods and earthquakes are a spectre we see almost every year, more frequently in one or the other part of the world. Such natural calamities create the problem of rehabilitation of their victims which entail not just the provision of houses in sager areas, but also the creation of all such facilities and services as are required for the purpose. This gigantic task can be most satisfactorily secured only through housing co-operatives.

  5. Social Evils and Housing Co-operatives: The social life of people all over the world today is infected with many evils. In every country and in every society there are tensions created on account of racial, linguistic and religious differences. Housing co-operatives wherein people voluntarily choose to live often maintain strict neutrality towards caste, religion and language and perform a moderating role in lessening conflicts. Similarly, housing co-operatives can help to fight the menace of drug addiction, particularly amongst youth inasmuch as they can promote a variety of youth activities to engage them fruitfully.

  6. Ecological Improvement: Another problem faced by the modern world is the near loss of ecological balance. Indiscriminate destruction of flora and fauna have disturbed the balance of nature.

    The human society has been consequently condemned to suffer on account of constant droughts, floods and other calamities. Housing co-operatives, through the example of their own programmes of planting trees and maintaining gardens, etc. can create an awareness in the minds of the people towards preservation of an ecological balance.

In conclusion, it can be said that the most significant social contribution of housing co-operatives is that they create a new environment that is congenial for the social upliftment of their residents. They try to achieve this by organizing various community facilities through social and cultural services based on joint participation and sharing. They hence foster a new enriched social life wherein each is for all and all are for each. They are also helpful in spreading family planning programmes, thereby stabilizing population growth.

Further, co-operatives can also help generate public opinion democratically.

Co-operatives can contribute significantly in making society free from societal crimes. They can help in mobilizing community groups to spread social awareness and thereby help eradicate the villainous social and environmental problems which debase and dehumanize societal living.

Housing co-operatives have the potential of becoming an effective instrument of providing an improved social life and making cities safer abodes of human existence.