A housing co-operative is a group of people who form an association to provide and manage housing for themselves. All the tenants must be members of the co-operative. The members collectively own and control the housing they live in. No member can make a profit at the expense of another, or of the co-operative itself.
The Fairhazel Co-operative’s properties were purchased originally from private owners in 1975, when funds in the form of a grant and a mortgage were made available to it from the Government. They are made up of Victorian mansion blocks and terraced houses, all within a short walking distance of each other, with large communal gardens at the rear. The properties range in size from large mansion flats with five bedrooms to self contained bedsits. Some flats in mansion blocks are designated as flatshares for key workers in Camden. The total housing stock comprises 129 flats in 26 buildings.
The Fairhazel Co-operative was registered with the Housing Corporation, now the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), and operates within their guidelines. The Rules make clear how the Co-operative should be run and the rights and responsibilities of each member.
The tenancies of the Co-operative are contractual, which means that the Tenancy Agreement is the only legal contract between the member and the Co-operative. It contains the conditions of tenancy, which were approved by the Housing Corporation, and outlines the obligations of both parties. There is no statutory security of tenure, and no right to buy a Co-operative flat or to arrange a mutual exchange with another housing provider.
The Co-operative is managed by various committees and working parties drawn from the membership. The Management Committee takes ultimate responsibility for all decisions, with advice and recommendations from sub-committees, working parties, staff and consultants. It consists of 12 members elected from and by the general membership at Annual General Meetings. The Management Committee elects its own Chairperson and appoints its own Secretary and Treasurer from the membership
The following sub-committees and working parties meet on a regular basis and report to the Management Committee:
The Allocations Working Party deals with allocations to vacancies.
The Building and Works Working Party takes care of all building repairs and planned maintenance.
The Finance Working Party looks after all aspects of the Co-operative’s finances including accounts and budgets.
The Gardens and Grounds Sub-Committee explores and administers all aspects of Co-op owned grounds and gardens.
The Office Management Sub-Committee looks after the Co-op’s office operation and staff management.
The Rules Working Party looks at the Co-op Rules, monitors and advises on their application.
The Fairhazel, the Co-op’s magazine, is edited and produced by members.
The Gardening Group meets regularly to work on the Triangle Green.
The Co-operative currently employs four members of staff: a full-time Housing Manager, a full-time Maintenance Officer, a part-time Administrative Assistant and a part-time Gardener/Porter. It also employs a book-keeper, an accountant, a firm of auditors and a firm of solicitors as required.
The Co-operative’s finances are governed by various Housing Acts passed since 1974.
The original mortgage was paid off in 1999. Major work to rehabilitate the properties was financed by a Housing Association Grant (HAG) from the Housing Corporation, now known as the Homes and Communities Agency. In return for this public funding and the mortgage arrangement through the London Borough of Camden, the Co-operative has an obligation to offer 75 per cent of vacancies in the family flats and 50 per cent of one bed flats and bedsits to applicants from the local authority. The Co-operative itself can nominate to the remaining flats from its own register of applicants.
Conversion of 62 Greencroft and 36 Compayne Gardens into flat-shares was financed by a bank loan which was repaid in full in 2010. A further mortgage to purchase the freeholds of six leasehold properties was obtained in 2012. Part funded by the sale of a Co-op property, the surplus from our Reserve Fund Account, and a further loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Co-operative purchased the freeholds of our remaining three leasehold properties in April 2017. There is now a combined mortgage of £4.2 million for nine properties repayable over 30 years.
Mortgage repayments, repairs, day-to-day maintenance, staff salaries and consultant costs are all funded by the Co-operative.
The Co-operative is self-financing, its rent being its only source of income, and it is committed to retaining its autonomy and to maintaining its properties to the highest possible standards. It also has to operate within the rent framework of the Homes and Communities Agency. Mindful of these constraints, the Co-operative nevertheless seeks to keep its rents at an affordable level. Rent increases are levied every two years.
Members of a housing co-operative have a measure of control of their housing situation, and in return they need to be committed to the principles that govern co-operative living. This involves devoting time and energy to the running of the organisation.
Without this commitment from members for over 40 years, the Fairhazel Co-operative would not have been able to sustain its autonomy, its unique character and the strong sense of community it enjoys.