Grocery, housing & utilities cooperatives

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Insufficient Evidence

Strategies with this rating have limited research documenting effects. These strategies need further research, often with stronger designs, to confirm effects.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

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. 

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased social capital

  • Improved social skills

  • Increased community involvement

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Improved local economy

  • Increased access to affordable housing

  • Increased access to healthy food

What does the research say about 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 peers1. By utilizing local resources and creating locally-based businesses, cooperatives may help develop and stabilize local economies2, 3, 4. Cooperatives may also improve access to affordable housing, healthy foods, and electricity, particularly in rural areas2. Theories suggest that grocery cooperatives can be financially successful in rural or low income areas where traditional grocery store models are often unsuccessful5, 6. However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

The National Cooperative Business Association7, National Association of Housing Cooperatives8, and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association9 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.


* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 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.

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

3 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.

4 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.

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

6 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.

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

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

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