The Madison Common Council has agreed to decrease the limitations on establishing housing cooperatives, or co-ops, throughout the city.
At their February 2nd meeting, they passed a new ordinance that will make it easier for new co-ops to be built in areas where they could not previously.
Before this ordinance, many of those looking to establish a co-op would have to get approval from the city planning and zoning agencies, and would need to go through a drawn-out permit process.
With the newly amended ordinance, future co-ops will face significantly less red tape.
David Rosebud Sparer is an attorney and member of the Madison Area Cooperative Housing Alliance. Sparer said that removing the application process for conditional use can make it much easier for smaller co-ops to acquire new properties.
“To not have to go through a conditional use application would mean that, just like if you bought a single-family home to move in with your family, you don’t have to apply for zoning permission. You just bought it, it’s permitted, you move in. So, it’d be the same thing for a co-op, that as long as they are below when conditional use kicks in, then they just get to move in and be there,” Sparer said.
A co-op is a more affordable form of housing, where residents own and control the building or buildings they occupy.
They typically operate at cost, meaning that none of the members garner a profit from owning and operating the property. This means that they are often immune to artificial inflation of rent prices.
As Paul Schechter, executive director of Sunny Side Development explained, resident ownership is a key part of what keeps co-ops affordable.
“Incentives are aligned for the resident owners to make sure they’re living in safe, decent, and affordable housing, and there’s no reason why they would change that,” Schechter said.
Madison has been struggling to keep up with the need for affordable housing for some time. With co-ops as a newly more reliable option, Schechter said that this might be the first step in easing some of the trouble the city has faced.
“I am very hopeful that this will usher in a new renaissance of co-op development in the city…I feel very positive about this, and I think it will do a great deal to lessen the burden that the affordable housing crisis has had on the city,” Schechter said.
With the new ordinance, co-ops will only need approval for a conditional use permit if they plan to have more than 10 residents, or 30 residents in properties larger than a single-family home. Aspiring co-op founders are also now able to settle in a number of districts that used to require conditional use approval, but no longer do for smaller sized co-ops.