Tackling the Global Housing Challenges: Relevance and Replicability of Switzerland’s and Uruguay’s Housing Cooperatives’ Policies and Strategies

Are housing cooperatives a way out of the global affordable accommodation crisis?

Project Summary

In the context of governmental withdrawal from the housing sector, its commodification and the private sector’s inability to cater to low-income earners’ needs, housing cooperatives emerge as an appealing third way in the provision of affordable housing. Questions related to the transferability of the housing cooperative model have thus far hardly been researched.

Switzerland and Uruguay are internationally recognized leaders in cooperative housing and are committed to share their knowledge and experience internationally.

The project addresses the following questions:

  • What is the global relevance and replicability of Swiss and Uruguayan approaches?
  • What are their international cooperation strategies?
  • What are the socio-economic, cultural and institutional conditions for housing cooperatives to play a role in the provision of adequate and affordable housing?

This interdisciplinary approach includes empirical research, to be conducted in Uruguay, Switzerland, and a sample of countries with which they have established international cooperation on this matter. The methods used include content analysis, participant observation and semi-structured interviews with key informants.

The project contributes to gaining a better understanding of the role of international cooperation in the dissemination of best practices as well as the opportunities and challenges to tackle the global affordable housing crisis through housing cooperatives.

Academic Output

Executive Summary

In the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis, activists and scholars have increasingly turned to collective forms of housing as a strategy for the de-commodification of housing. With reference to Switzerland and Uruguay, we argue that housing cooperatives – as a collective form of housing – are potentially powerful instruments to expand the use-value of housing. The fact that they continue playing a marginal role, however, raises questions about the conditions for their emergence, growth and survival. By bringing the trajectories of housing cooperatives in Switzerland and Uruguay in dialogue, we capture different paths towards housing policies conducive for cooperatives to thrive. In both countries, housing cooperatives are a relevant policy instrument to make urbanization processes governable. Far from being autonomous entities their mutual relations with governments are crucial to understand their development. The paper shows that the organizational form of a cooperative can be understood as a shell, which can be repurposed from the inside and the outside. In their ambiguous position between self-organization and being entangled with state practices, the situated stories of housing cooperatives in Switzerland and Uruguay help to re-describe current struggles to live and dwell in urbanizing spaces around the globe.

Working Paper

Review of the global relevance of housing cooperatives in the 21st century in Latin America

This publication is only accessible in Spanish.

Working Paper

Long-term institutional analysis of national and municipal housing policy processes and outcomes in Switzerland

Housing cooperatives (HC) have a long and uneven history in Switzerland. Their role differs in time and space. This is due first to the federal structure of the Swiss national state where the local and cantonal political level was – and still is to a large extent – mainly responsible for housing policy. Second, the housing cooperatives’ values, principles and strategies have changed in the course of the last, say, 150 years. This transformation cannot be understood only as reactions to external developments (legal regulations, economic development, dramatic housing shortages and devastating housing conditions etc.) but also as an effect of organisational changes within housing cooperatives themselves.

This paper focuses on the history of housing cooperatives in Zurich (Switzerland) because it is a frontrunner in the cooperative housing movement and has established a wide and expansive range of different policies. Further, the cooperative housing movement in Zurich is well established and also well documented.

Working Paper

Struggles for the right to the city: The politics and everyday practices of housing cooperatives in Uruguay and Switzerland

Neoliberalism, the commodification of housing, urban renewal policies, and gentrification are violating the right to the city of lower-income and vulnerable communities. Across the globe, social movements, national and international civil society organisations are struggling for city access, but only in few places there are substantive efforts to counter the commodification of housing through effective policies and practices. This paper focuses on the role of housing cooperatives in the provision of affordable decommodified housing in Uruguay and Switzerland. The cooperatives in these two countries have different traditions and are built upon different values and conditions. However, in both cases, we observe that housing cooperatives, especially their formation and early development, cannot be understood outside or without taking state actions and transformations in the housing market into account. The relations of housing cooperatives to public agencies and market forces might change over time but resides in the organisational form. This means that housing cooperatives are a “third-way” provider of affordable housing beyond state and markets. But they have to be considered at the same time as political and social organizations deeply enmeshed with other political and social forces of urbanization. The cases of Uruguay and Switzerland demonstrate that only when housing cooperatives are understood in this way they can maintain their important role in the struggle for the right to the city.

Working Paper

How accessible and affordable are Swiss housing cooperatives? Insights and reflections on housing policies in Switzerland

In a global context characterised by governmental withdrawal from the housing sector, the commodification of housing, and the inability of the private sector to cater to the needs of low-income people, housing cooperatives are being rediscovered as a third way in the provision of affordable housing. Housing cooperatives in Switzerland emerged towards the end of the 19th century as bottom-up organisations in a context of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation characterised by acute housing shortages. Poor housing conditions and excessive rents threatened public health and social order, thus forcing municipal governments to respond to this crisis in an intellectual and political context that was shaped by the growth of the international labour organisations. Historically and geographically, the formation of housing cooperatives has been highly uneven and largely concentrated in urban areas. In fact, their emergence was contingent upon local political initiatives that forced municipal governments to intervene in the housing sector. Housing cooperatives thus became key partners in the implementation of social housing policies that made it possible for the state to engage only marginally in the provision of affordable housing. As opposed to other European countries where neoliberal reforms led to a gradual commodification of cooperative housing this is not the case of Switzerland, where housing owned by cooperatives remains permanently withdrawn from speculation. But are housing cooperatives in a position to respond to the growing need of affordable housing? How affordable are housing cooperatives in comparison to housing provided by the private rental market? How accessible are housing cooperatives to those most in need? And how protected are housing cooperatives from commodification risks?

Working Paper

Dialogues between Collective Management and `Sustainability of Life` (Sostenibilidad de la Vida) in Mutual Aid Housing Cooperatives in Uruguay. The case of Housing Cooperatives Mesa 2 and COVIVEMA 5.

This publication is only accessible in Spanish.

Working Paper

Rebuilding a Model: Analysis of FUCVAM`s experience in Latin America

This publication is only available in Spanish.

Working Paper

Negotiating Space for Cooperative Housing in post-conflict Colombia

In a global context characterised by governmental withdrawal from the housing sector and inability of the private sector to cater to the needs of low-income people, housing cooperatives are being rediscovered as a third way in the provision of affordable housing. This paper presents ongoing endeavours of a community of former combatants to establish a mutual aid housing cooperative in Colombia following the peace agreement of 2016. It analyses their efforts to attain affordable and adequate housing in a context characterised by a fragile peace process and unfavourable housing policies. It focuses on the interlinkages between micro-level visions, aspirations and strategies of the communities involved in the establishment of housing cooperatives and macro-level political and institutional factors enabling or constraining their emergence in post-conflict Colombia. Finally, it pays attention to opportunities emerging in unstable contexts such as this one, to contest existing housing systems and advocate for other forms of housing.

Working Paper

Is there a space for housing cooperatives in Latin America ́s housing system? The case of Colombia and El Salvador

Worldwide over one billion people are currently lacking adequate housing, which is considered the result of decades of failed policies, the governmental withdrawal from the housing sector, the inability of the private sector to cater to the needs of the poor, and the increasing gap between what millions of people can afford and the cost of housing provided by the formal market. Facing an urgent shift in the way housing is currently conceived, valued, produced, and regulated, housing cooperatives are being reconsidered in many countries and cities worldwide as potentially relevant actors in the provision of affordable housing. This is also the case in several countries in Latin America, characterised by neo-liberal housing policies that have led to an increasing financialisation of housing and to a marginalisation of the poor. Uruguay is an exception, where housing cooperatives play a key role in the provision of affordable de-commodified housing. For over two decades FUCVAM, Uruguay’s Federation of Mutual Aid Housing Cooperatives has been advocating and actively supporting the establishment of cooperative housing in other Latin American countries.

In this paper, we examine the opportunities and challenges of housing cooperatives to penetrate in Colombia and El Salvador’s housing systems, two countries characterised housing policies that have never succeeded in meeting the housing needs of lower income people, but both with a need to respond to the deep societal changes of a post-conflict context. El Salvador, for the past 20 years and with the support of FUCVAM and international cooperation, established a small but growing cooperative housing model, recently included within the national housing programs. In Colombia, initiatives are only recently emerging, sparking both interest and apprehension from different actors. The paper focuses on the ability of each one of the countries’ housing systems to change, adapt and respond to a mutual aid cooperative housing approach and its sustainability over time.

Research Team

Jennifer Duyne Barenstein
Coordinator
ETH Zurich

Marie Glaser
Co-Coordinator
ETH Zurich

Gerardo Sarachu
Co-Coordinator
Universidad de la Republica, Uruguay

Daniela Sanjines
Principal Member
ETH Zurich

Philip Koch
Principal Member
Zurich University of Applied Sciences

Carla Assandri
Principal Member
Universidad de la Republica, Uruguay

Cecilia Matonte
Principal Member
Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, South Africa

Daniela Osorio
Principal Member
Universidad de la Republica, Uruguay

Philippe Thalmann
Associated Member
EPFL Lausanne

Darinka Czischke
Associated Member
Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, South Africa

Tanja Herdt
Associated Member
ETH Wohnforum ETH Case

Gustavo González Soto
Associated Member
Uruguay’s Federation of Mutual Aid Cooperatives

Claudio Acioly
Associated Member
UN-Habitat

Franz Horváth
Associated Member
Swiss Association of Non-Profit Housing Developers

Michael Eidenbenz
Associated Member
ETH Zurich

Andrea Wieland
Associated Member
Mehr als Wohnen

Ileana Apostol
Associated Member
NetHood

Status

completed

Disciplines

SDGs

Policy domains

Regions

Countries

Switzerland, Uruguay, El Salvador

Host Institution

Coordinator

Co-Coordinator

Year