Grocery, housing & utilities cooperatives

Grocery, housing, and utilities cooperatives typically follow a non-share capital cooperative model in which fee-paying members obtain the right to share the communal resources of a grocery, house, or utility cooperative. Cooperatives operate under a variety of different models and are formed by individuals working together for social, economic, or cultural benefits. 

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased social capital

  • Improved social skills

  • Increased community involvement

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Improved local economy

  • Increased access to affordable housing

  • Increased access to healthy food

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is insufficient evidence to determine whether grocery, housing, or utilities cooperatives improve social capital, social skills, or community involvement. Available evidence suggests that limited equity housing cooperative residents may participate more in neighborhood organizations, have more extensive social networks, and higher social capital than non-participating peers (). By utilizing local resources and creating locally-based businesses, cooperatives may help develop and stabilize local economies (Gordon Nembhard 2014, Zeuli 2005, ). Cooperatives may also improve access to affordable housing, healthy foods, and electricity, particularly in rural areas (Gordon Nembhard 2014). Theories suggest that grocery cooperatives can be financially successful in rural or low income areas where traditional grocery store models are often unsuccessful (Bailey 2010, ISU-Brants 2012). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

The National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA), National Association of Housing Cooperatives (NAHC), and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) are active in most states.

Implementation Resources

Food Co-op Toolkit - Food Co-ops. Food co-ops toolkit: A simple guide to setting up food co-ops.

CDI-Co-op 101 - Cooperative Development Institute (CDI). Co-op 101: A guide to starting a cooperative. 2015.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Saegert 2005* - Saegert S, Benitez L. Limited equity housing cooperatives: Defining a niche in the low-income housing market. Journal of Planning Literature. 2005;19(4):427–39.

Zeuli 2005 - Zeuli K, Radel J. Cooperatives as a community development strategy: Linking theory and practice. Journal of Regional Analysis & Policy. 2005;35(1):43-54.

Lang 2011* - Lang R, Roessl D. The role of social capital in the development of community-based cooperatives. In: Tuunanen M, Windsperger J, Cliquet G, Hendrikse G, eds. New Developments in the Theory of Networks. Contributions to Management Science; 2011:353-70.

Bailey 2010 - Bailey JM. Rural grocery stores: Ownership models that work for rural communities. Lyons: Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA); 2010.

ISU-Brants 2012 - Brants N, Healy E, Kirchner R, el al. Food insecurity in Bloomington-Normal: How a grocery cooperative might help meet the needs of low-income residents. Normal: Steven Center for Community and Economic Development, Illinois State University (ISU); 2012.

Gordon Nembhard 2014 - Gordon Nembhard J. Benefits and impacts of cooperatives. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO) Newsletter. 2014; Volume II: Theme 18.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

NAHC - National Association of Housing Cooperatives (NAHC). What is a housing cooperative?

NCBA - National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA). About Co-ops.

NRECA - National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). A touchstone energy cooperative.

Date Last Updated

Dec 30, 2015