Thursday 30 August 2007

Housing Co-Operatives

I haven’t talked about my housing co-op here yet, and I’d meant to. Partly it’s complicated to explain to outsiders and partly I’m too busy doing it to talk about it, but it deserves a mention because living here shapes so much of the rest of my life.

The idea is something like this. The co-operative is a bit like a housing association, a company which owns houses and flats and rents them out to people who need them. Everyone who lives in a co-op property buys a share for £1 when they move in, which gives them an equal share of the business that owns the properties. We all help to do the work involved in owning and managing the properties, and we make decisions democratically between all the tenant-shareholders.

There are much better and more detailed explanations of this structure elsewhere, so if this doesn’t make sense then try the Confederation of Co-operative Housing info. The most important aspects of living in one, for me, are that my rent is cheap enough to allow me to only work part-time, and that because my neighbours all regularly meet up to do the work and socialise I’m part of this amazing little community – how many people in cheap urban housing can still say they know almost everyone on their street? Not to mention actually liking most of them.

Real communities are complicated though, and so is running a business. My contribution to the workload for the last few weeks has been re-writing our primary rules, which lay out the basic structure of our co-op and explain procedure for things like conducting meetings, getting ourselves audited and getting the work done.

Because we all contribute to decision-making here, we all need to understand the rules so we’re clear about what we can and can’t do. They also need to be legally watertight, and the version we’ve been working with up to now is virtually unreadable and unfit for either purpose:

“Rule 29

The instrument appointing a proxy shall be in writing under the hand of the appointer or of his/her attourney duly authorised in writing and shall be deposited at the registered office of the Association not less than two clear days before the day fixed for holding the meeting at which the person named in such instrument is authorised to vote, and in default the instrument of proxy shall not be treated as valid.”

It goes on. There are EIGHTY separate rules, some with not only a)s and b)s but also i)s and ii)s. I keep having to turn the Grammar-checker off because whole pages are underlined in green and marked “Long sentence”, and over the years we’ve spent a considerable amount of money asking solicitors to tell us what some of the longest sentences actually refer to. So, it’s going in the bin.

This weekend we all meet up to discuss the new rules and see if anyone can spot any problems with what I’ve come up with so far. Next week we’ll send it all off to the Housing Corporation for approval, and the weekend after that we’re having a big party to celebrate thirty years since this place first began.

It’s been a slog going through pages of legal-speak, trying to think of every possible future scenario that we need to cover and explaining it in English so everyone can decide what they think of it. The regulators have been breathing down our necks for a long time and can’t work out how we’ve kept things going for thirty years without everyone losing interest altogether. But a day catching up with everyone around a big bonfire, sharing the history of the place and the people and having a good old gossip is motivation enough. The only instruments around next weekend will be musical ones, and that’s the bit the regulators don’t understand.


Anonymous said...

Legalese needs to be annihilated wherever possible, doesn't it? Like the sound of your community, though, and you're quite right - most people really don't know those around them, so full marks for finding a way around that. Do you have communal gardens etc?

Jim Jepps said...

Good luck... we've got a similar situation in the housing co-op that i live in (in Cambridge) but we tend to surf across the rules rather than get tangled up in them.

Jim Jepps said...

By the way - i hope the picture doesn't indicate the size of your rooms!

Alice said...

KW - There should be a law against it... We have communal gardens, and through both design and neglect they are full of wildlife. We were visited by a Wood Chat Shrike this year and it got in the Yorkshire Post. We've also got a cooking apple tree and a fire pit, which is very cool in the middle of a city.

jim jay - If you want help with things like the Housing Corp, drop me a line - after 6 years under supervision we have a large number of dodges, ill will and underhand tactics we could share with other co-ops.

My rooms are huge 'cos I'm in one of the nicest properties...