ETHOS PRINCIPLES OF SENIOR COOPERATIVE HOUSING First publication at the Senior Cooperative Housing Conference; Bloomington, Minnesota
May 11, 2006
The attached list of Ethos Principles has been developed in consultation with many individuals working with and living in senor housing cooperatives, some of them dating back to the 1970s. They include members, developers, architects, managers, lenders, educators, government officials and cooperative leaders from throughout the United States.
From the beginning it has been apparent that senior housing cooperatives, no matter who develops them, are more than “building projects”. From the beginning cooperatives have embodied a set of humanistic standards and principles that are as important in their success—and the satisfaction of their members-owners—as their physical structures. And it is these principles that have stimulated growth of cooperatives, in the upper Midwest, at a rate far greater than other forms of senior “independent living”.
As the numbers of new co-op sponsors and developers increase, we wish to highlight these principles, not just as the right thing to do, but because they are what will ultimately make their cooperatives successful, for all concerned. And for cooperative members and staff, we wish to share with them as a framework for conduct in governance and management.
We commend this set of principles to you for your consideration and adoption in the work ahead. It is a dynamic list, ever changing as we learn, and we hope you will contribute your ideas.
As one cooperative board president recently remarked, “This isn’t really independent living….it’s really family. We look out for each other.” This kind of interdependence doesn’t just happen by chance, or because we are automatically good people. It happens through remaining attentive to these principles, in all our affairs.
Dennis Johnson, Chairman Terry McKinley, President
NOTE: Our thanks to Corinne Wilson, an important member of the cooperative community, who, on behalf of the Foundation, conducted many interviews and drafted these Principles.
Senior Cooperative Housing Ethos
The following are a set of principles of senior cooperative housing collected and synthesized from discussions with cooperative educators and developers.
Senior Cooperative Housing is:
A cooperative is a community that is greater than the sum of its individual parts and works to protect its members in all possible respects: financial, physical and social. It is the dedication of the individual to the cooperative that creates a community vibrant enough to fulfill these needs.
The members collectively own all aspects of the cooperative and run it in their own best interests, both as a community and as individuals. Those involved in cooperative development and management need to recognize this as distinct from other housing types and respond accordingly. This differs from other housing types in that members have made a choice to come together to act collectively rather than as disparate individuals.
The underlying basis for senior housing cooperatives should be an ethic of caring which puts the well-being of the members above other considerations. It must be woven into the very fabric of the cooperative from the beginning, starting with development and finance and continuing through the day-to-day life of the cooperative.
Everyone involved in the development and marketing of the cooperative should know cooperatives and be committed to what they do and how they do it. Education about essential functions, such as roles and responsibilities, and about essential skills, such as facilitation and mediation, should happen early and often.
Successful cooperatives have strong communication. Communication is both a structure and process that is consistently cultivated in order to create and support community as well as to contribute to the actual business of running a cooperative.
6. Shared Responsibility, Especially Financial
The financial structure of a cooperative enhances community and stability by all members having the same relative interest in the well-being of the cooperative and working together to ensure it, through shared ideals and instruments such as a shared mortgage and reserves, operations and maintenance budgets. The shared financial structure of the cooperative is the basic framework that energizes the creation and intensification of community. It should always work to reinforce community rather than be a source of confusion or conflict.
Cooperatives must be fair and transparent. The structure encourages this and it is up to the members and managers to maintain this ethic and develop it further. All members have an equal interest in the success of the cooperative. They enjoy an equal voice within the cooperative, are equally able to contribute to the well-being of the cooperative and enjoy the same chance to contribute.
8. Participation and Involvement
Senior housing cooperatives are successful because the structure encourages involvement, by most if not all the members. Strong boards of directors and managers facilitate effective and abundant interactions within the cooperative, thereby supporting a vibrant community.
9. Good Design
Cooperatives are designed to facilitate community through their barrier-free design and the quality and abundance of common spaces. Good design also means quality construction which keeps costs low and satisfaction high. As owners, members create the spaces that support the way they want to live.
10. People First
Cooperatives are about meeting the varied needs of the members, as defined by the members themselves, which allows for true responsiveness to the individual versus a homogeneous or institutional response.
As with any worthwhile endeavor, cooperation needs to be cultivated and nurtured. This takes energy, patience, and understanding, but the returns are invaluable.
Cooperative members have diverse and extensive expertise in a multitude of areas. The cooperative structure encourages continued growth and application of this expertise for the improvement of the community.