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Renting For Members

What are Swiss housing cooperatives and can you access them?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
What are Swiss housing cooperatives and can you access them?
Flats in Zurich, Switzerland. Photo by Vincent Dörig on Unsplash

Some parts of Switzerland have housing cooperatives that offer more affordable rents. Here's what you need to know, and how you can apply to rent one of these apartments.

Looking to move? Find your next rental apartment here.

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Zurich’s municipal council voted this week to earmark 300 million francs — in addition to city-owned land — to be used for the construction of non-profit flats, also referred to as ‘cooperative housing.’ 

What exactly is this accommodation?

The aim of housing cooperatives is to provide affordable, sustainable and community living, a trend that is different from the conventional model based on homes offered by private companies. 

In a typical building, you may not want to socialise or interact with your neighbours, and that’s okay.

But in housing cooperatives – known as a Wohnbaugenossenschaft in German and as a Coopérative d’habitation in French – you do have to get a bit more involved. That's because you are part of a larger community, with all the rights and responsibilities it entails.

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There are about 2,500 cooperatives in Switzerland right now, mainly in Zurich and Geneva, but other Swiss communities offer this alternative as well.

They are non-profit entities whose goal is to provide apartments that are more affordable than average rentals.

In the planned Zurich development, for instance, 20 percent of dwellings are earmarked for low-income people.

The way this concept typically works is that municipal authorities provide funding and land to build the housing, while tenants contribute — through the rent they pay — to the operational costs.

READ ALSO: Top 10 tips for finding an apartment to rent in Switzerland

In other words, the rental income from these apartments covers investment debt repayments, running costs, and repairs.

While most of this type of housing is occupied by ‘regular’ tenants, they are also required to provide low-cost apartments.

What exactly ‘low-cost’ means depends on various factors, including the location of the buildings, as well as the size of the dwellings.

Generally speaking, however, rents are typically 20 percent lower than in flats on the private housing market. 

A view of the Swiss city of Geneva, which has some housing cooperatives.
A view of the Swiss city of Geneva, which has some housing cooperatives. Photo by Xavier von Erlach on Unsplash

How can you rent this type of apartment?
 
As the principle behind this type of housing is different from conventional rentals, conditions also differ.

The first step is to become a member of the cooperative by paying a fee — ranging between 100 and 500 francs, based on the city where the apartment is located — just to be put on a waiting list.

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How long you will actually have to wait will be determined by which projects are under construction or which apartments become available in a given area.

You must also pay a fee of several thousand francs (again, depending on the cooperative), which will be returned to you if you move away.

This charge is waved for low-income tenants.

Not everyone, however, is enthused with the concept.

In case of Zurich, for instance, opponents of the new project are pointing out that while the idea of affordable accommodations in Switzerland’s most expensive city looks good on paper, it will not solve the city’s housing woes.

And, according to city councillor Daniel Leupi, the proposed housing "will not work miracles. As long as economic growth and immigration increases, demand will continue to outstrip supply in Zurich".

READ MORE: Renting in Switzerland: How to find a flat in Zurich

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