How to Find A Housing Cooperative
Housing cooperatives are quite common in certain parts of the country, such as New York City, Washington, D.C. , and Chicago, and can be harder to find in other areas. Often your local yellow pages will list co-ops under the apartment section. Our regional member associations may also provide information.
If you are interested in living in a co-op, keep in mind that costs for buying into a co-op can vary greatly depending on the type of co-op, neighborhood, and amenities. Some limited-equity co-ops have maximum income eligibility requirements. If you've previously lived in a cooperative, don't assume that another co-op will be similar to the one you are familiar with. Be sure to ask the right questions to make sure you understand the policies and costs of the co-op.
There may not be any co-ops where you are looking: here is why
While co-ops were created as long ago as the 1920’s to 40’s in New York, Chicago, and Washington, DC, most co-ops were formed in the period just after World War II until the mid 1970’s. During most of this period, co-ops were the only path to homeownership in multifamily buildings. They were formed where population was dense at that time and where suburbanization was also taking place—the Northeast, the industrial Midwest, and a few other major cities, such as San Francisco. Except for Southeast Florida and Atlanta, there were few co-ops formed in the South, in part because the population growth in the South did not take place until the 70s, and in part because the majority of co-ops formed in this period were formed with some help from state and local government, and from the Federal Housing Administration. Although fair housing did not become the law of the land until 1968, co-ops formed with government assistance were required to adhere to non-discrimination in sales and marketing, and that requirement was not readily accepted in the South at that time.
The boom in condominiums and planned developments in the 1970s to the present followed the population shift to the South, West, and Southwest. Shortly after the 70’s, FHA and state government co-op programs fell by the wayside, despite their excellent track record. Throughout the US, co-op formation became a niche development, except in the Greater New York City area, where co-op formation still outpaces condos and planned developments. Co-op development today for low and moderate income families is succeeding where there is active community support with local government and non-profit sponsors, or active tenant populations.
Know what you are looking for
About half of all co-ops are limited equity co-ops. Resale prices and profits are controlled. Most limited equity co-ops require that you be below a certain income level in order to buy. Purchase of the shares or membership in the co-op will require a cash payment, acceptable credit history, and a good rental history with previous landlords.
Many have a waiting list. Your city housing department may have a list in your area.
The other half of co-ops are “market rate.” Prices of shares or memberships are determined in a free market between buyers and sellers. Be sure you know whether the price being asked is inclusive or exclusive of the portion of the blanket mortgage on the building. Because the co-op depends on your prompt payment of monthly charges to pay the blanket mortgage, real estate taxes, utilities, etc., you will need to show the co-op a good credit history, and a willingness to accept cooperative governance and rules. Openings are often advertised in the real estate section of the newsletter. Qualified real estate agents can also help you find openings.
Several smaller limited equity and tenant converted buildings.
Where co-ops are concentrated
- Boston: Limited equity co-ops are often small buildings. Many have waiting lists. New ones being formed by tenants with some regularity.
- New York City and surrounding counties: Thirty percent of all housing in New York City is co-op. Market rate co-ops can be found in the real estate section of major city papers. Many have a waiting list. If buying a new or newly converted co-op from a sponsor/developer, read the public offering statement carefully as to conditions and promises. Limited equity co-ops have long waiting lists. A good source of new ones being formed is www.uhab.org
- New Jersey: Older limited equity co-ops can be found in Newark and Elizabeth. Market rate co-ops can be found north of Newark to the GW Bridge. There are several retirement co-ops in central New Jersey
- Philadelphia: Several market rate co-ops in Center City. A few limited equity co-ops in surrounding suburbs.
- Pittsburgh: Many post-war conversions of World War II government-sponsored rental housing to co-ops in the industrial suburbs. A few market rate co-ops in the city.
- Baltimore: One large post-war conversion in the city as well as several market rate co-ops. City government has helped develop some limited equity co-ops. Nothing in the suburbs.
- Washington, DC
- Market rate co-ops in NW dating from the 1920s to 50’s, especially along Connecticut Avenue, and a few from the 60’s in SW. City-wide and neighborhood newspapers carry ads
- Over 100 tenant-sponsored conversions to co-op in close in neighborhoods from the 1980’s to present; some are limited equity, some are not; need for rehab varies.
- A few larger co-ops, notably Greenbelt Homes (circa 1930’s), in the inner suburbs. One retirement co-op and less than a handful of limited equity co-ops in the outer suburbs.
- Atlanta: Nearly 20 limited equity co-ops, mostly southeast, but newer ones in Mid-town.
- South Florida: New Yorkers retired in droves to South Florida, from Palm Beach to Miami. They knew the benefits of co-ops, and co-op developers had no problem selling retirement co-ops in this market in the 50’s and 60’s. Local real estate agents can help locate openings.
- Indianapolis: One of the largest concentrations in the midwest for a city of its size. All limited equity.
- Detroit and Southeast Michigan: Beneficiary of tens of thousands of new construction townhouse and garden co-ops done post-war for a resurgent auto industry and returning GI’s starting delayed families. Mostly limited equity; some, in tight markets such as Ann Arbor, are almost the only source of affordable housing. For a list, send a self addressed, stamped #10 envelope to MAHC, PO Box 760, Taylor MI 48180.
- Chicago: Market rate co-ops can be found in posh high rises on the Gold Coast, affordable walk ups in Hyde Park, and well kept garden style buildings in Park Forest. Limited equity co-ops are mostly south side, but a few can be found in near north.
- Minneapolis: Scandanavian traditions support co-ops of all sizes. Most are market rate, but very affordable. Several new smaller retirement co-ops in rural areas.
- Kansas City: The westernmost limit of co-ops until you get to Arizona. A well-established pocket of limited equity co-ops.
- Arizona: A few limited equity co-ops in Tucson and Phoenix. Several market rate snowbird and retirement co-ops in and around Phoenix.
- Southern California: Two giant retirement co-ops in Orange County. Market rate co-ops with cachet from the 1920’s to the 50’s in LA. Limited equity co-ops mostly in South LA, and a few near Hollywood.
- San Francisco and Northern California: High end market rate where you would expect in SF; limited equity in several redevelopment areas such as the Western Addition. One large retirement co-op in Walnut Creek. Sacramento has a handful of limited equity co-ops, mostly south.
- Seattle: Several smaller limited equity and tenant converted buildings.