Cooperative Housing


Today more than 1.5 million people live in cooperative housing. Anthony Manousos and I introduce this chapter by looking at the history of cooperatives, from the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, in 1844, during England’s Industrial Revolution to today’s household products names like Land O’ Lakes butter, showing the evolution and viability of the cooperative principles. Co-op operating principles are the same for a business as for co-op housing. They touch on a bit of history of shared housing with some biblical examples, then they feature the work of David Thompson, who has done some excellent work with developing various kinds of limited, zero and full equity coops, especially helping mobile home owners become owners of the land under their homes thus securing financial security and sustainability.

The chapter is authored by Ron Spann, telling the intriguing history of how as a rector, his church started the Mustard Tree Co-op Apartments in Detroit, Michigan.

As part of the circumstances surrounding Ron’s call as rector, the parish crossed paths in the early 1970s with the intentional Christian community movement.  As a result, white suburban Christians began to relocate into Messiah’s African American side of Detroit. Together they envisioned the local church as an outcropping of God’s Kingdom. When a neighboring four-story apartment caught fire in late 1977, church members reached out to both the owners and the tenants.  Eventually the church purchased the building and placed several members in two apartments. 

In time the tenants grappled with the meaning of community through the challenge to become a cooperative. The church's efforts to build a community with their new neighbors were based on their faith in Christ and on the vision of the City of God. This chapter shares this story, which explores and reflects on the evolution of Messiah’s housing ministry.  From those beginnings of hearing God’s call, and taking action, finding coop consultants to partner with them, both Mustard Tree Coop was birthed and from that Messiah Housing , which has played a significant role as a leader not only in affordably housing Detroit residents and redefining a downsized city by supporting community Gardens and more. 

Barry Randolph, who is the rector today, lived at the Mustard Tree Coop Apartments for many years. From this experience of learning to make decisions cooperatively, and everyone shares in the creating community and running the apartments base on each ones interests and capacities, he now runs the church in that same way. And this has caused a revival in the church.


Church of the Messiah Housing Corporation:

National Association of Cooperative Housing:

San Francisco Community Land Trust combined with cooperatives: