Like many of my millennial peers, I believed that I would be stuck in a doom-loop of precarious housing for ever, handing over huge portions of my income every month to a landlord who happened to own the floor I was sleeping on.
Across many countries, and big cities in particular, the prospect of homeownership or access to socially rented housing is a pipe dream. Median house prices have risen to more than seven times median incomes in the Anglo-Saxon economies. In the UK, the proportion of 25- to 35-year-olds on middle incomes who owned a home plummeted from two-thirds to just one-quarter between 1996 and 2016. Meanwhile, the costs of renting, from Sydney to San Francisco, have soared.
Then, in July 2021, I moved with my Danish partner into one of Copenhagen’s many andelsboliger, a cooperatively owned block of flats where we neither have a landlord nor pay rent, and which is not subject to market prices. Today, about 7% of the Danish population live in a form of cooperatively owned housing – and it accounts for one-third of the housing stock in Copenhagen. It soon became clear to me that there’s a lot that other countries could learn.
Rather than buy an apartment, people who live in andelsboliger purchase a share in an association that owns the apartment building, equal to the value of the apartment. The prices of the 158 apartments that make up our cooperative have not increased much since it was founded in 1975, meaning we could afford the deposit and subsequent mortgage instalments without support from our parents – even though we together were earning below the median income when we moved in. We don’t expect to make money on our apartment in the time that we live here, but we aren’t losing anything through rent payments either. If we move out, we will leave with roughly what we have put in over the years.
As members of the cooperative, we not only have an apartment to live in and a garden to share with our neighbours, but also a voice in decisions about how the building and our common spaces, like the launderette, are run. Once a year, we elect fellow residents to the cooperative’s board, who become responsible for overseeing building maintenance, responding to emergencies, and the administration of new households moving in.
The andelsbolig system has its roots in the wider Danish cooperative movement, which began in farming and consumer goods in the 19th century. In the postwar decades, housing cooperatives flourished with …….