.As the City considers changes to our zoning code related to cooperative housing, or co-ops, I want to take this opportunity to talk about what co-ops are, how they fit into the larger housing picture in Madison, and what the proposed changes to our regulations do.

Housing co-ops are group living arrangements where a residence is collectively owned and controlled by its members, most of whom live there. The buildings typically have common kitchens, dining and recreation areas, and yet private bedrooms, although some may be more like apartments or condominiums. Co-op members may share cooking and meals as well as responsibility for the daily chores and tasks of maintaining the property. Most co-ops have more than 10 residents, while some have over 30. They are an affordable housing option, typically without any governmental subsidy..

Co-ops have existed in Madison going back to the 1930s with the bulk of co-ops forming in the late 1960s through early 1980s. There are several different kinds of co-ops, including models where residents purchase a share of the coop that they can later sell, and models where residents have contracts similar to leases and pay a monthly fee similar to paying rent. Most of the current co-ops in Madison operate under this latter model.

Imagine Madison, the City’s Comprehensive Plan, calls for Madison to include a diversity of housing types, and co-ops are part of that equation. The Community Development Division prioritized co-ops in its recent “Housing Forward” Request for Proposals funding opportunity, and we saw several applications for funding support for new affordable housing co-ops through this process.

Co-ops are one type of housing that can help create more “missing middle” housing in Madison. The “missing middle” refers to types of smaller multifamily options that the City is working to support through more flexible zoning.

The zoning updates currently under consideration aim to do a few things:

  1. Permit co-ops in more zoning districts so they are allowed across the city, and in every district where residential use is allowed.

  2. Establish occupancy limits for co-ops in low-density residential neighborhoods (single-family homes), to ensure compatibility with surrounding land uses.

  3. Create more equitable rules around zoning permit processes as they relates to total occupancy between co-ops and other multi-family buildings.

  4. Recognize that double occupancy of co-op rooms is possible and likely, given couples and children do live in some housing cooperatives. Some co-ops include private living quarters for families, separated from common areas.

  5. Clean up and re-organize the language of the existing regulations, which were hard to follow.

If you’re interested in learning more or sharing your thoughts on the updates to the zoning code for co-ops, the proposal will be on the Plan Commission agenda on January 25, and is expected to return to the Common Council for final action on February 2.

I’d like to thank the members of MACHA – the Madison Area Cooperative Housing Alliance – for their work with City staff and community members on co-ops generally, and for their input on the proposed zoning code changes to allow the creation of much needed additional co-operative housing in Madison. For more information on MACHA and co-ops visit https://www.machacoop.org/what-is-a-housing-cooperative.

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