About Norway

Auvitoppen Housing Co-operative, Lier (USBL)

History

Like many European countries, Norway faced an acute need for housing and reconstruction work after the destruction wrought by the Second World War. At that time, the housing policy’s intention was to provide good housing to all by stimulating homeownership in a non-speculating context. The policy developed a high standard of housing for the vast majority of the population. In Norway around 80% of the population are home owners through individual ownership or co-operative housing, leaving a small rental sector. This rental sector is dominated by private households who rent out part of their home, or a second house or a flat they are not using, for a limited period.

From its foundation in the 1930s, the co-op housing movement was seen as a tool to implement Norway’s social housing policy. In fact, one crucial strategy for implementing the Norwegian housing model was the clear division of responsibilities between key players, namely the “state, the municipalities and the private sector of which the co-op housing movement was the largest single stakeholder”1. Financing mechanisms – such as low cost building sites, subsidised loans and grants – were put in place to meet the housing needs of all. The co-op housing sector built houses on the principle of “selling at cost” and taking no profit.

Over the years, the collaboration between the Government and the co-op housing movement grew closer. The state and the municipalities opted to support the development of housing co-operatives instead of, like other countries, encouraging a large public housing sector. Such political support contributed to the creation of one of the largest and most successful housing co-operative movements in the world.

In the 1980s, a major political shift led the social democratic ideology and state interventionism to be replaced by a more liberalistic agenda based on free market economy and deregulation. Price regulation was abolished in the mid-eighties, subsidised loans and grants from the State Housing Bank were gradually reduced to nothing and municipalities no longer provided building sites.

Context

The overall vision of the Government’s housing policy is that everyone should have adequate and secure housing in a good local environment. A key aspect of Norwegian housing policies has been that everyone should be able to own their own houses or flats.

However, the average Norwegian faces challenges from steep rises in the price of flats. In addition, public financial support is now mainly directed to people on low-incomes or with special needs. There is no financial support in the housing sector in Norway, including the type of buildings created by co-operative housing associations.

Yet, the co-op housing movement in Norway still plays a central role. Although its links with central government and local authorities in the implementation of housing policy are not as strong as they were. Today, housing associations primarily have to succeed in a free market economy with multiple competitors.

Housing co-operatives are present across Norway, representing 40% of the housing market in Oslo. The housing co-op market share is considerably higher in cities than in rural areas.

High-rised,low-rised and terraced houses from the Co-operative Housing Association Sorlandet BBL, Kristiansand (Kjell Inge Soreide)

Description

The main characteristics of Norwegian housing co-operatives are:

  • Each property is owned by the co-operative.
  • Each co-operative manages an average of 50 homes.
  • Members buy shares, usually at full market value, which give them the right to occupy a specific home. (In 2012 the average share cost is approximately 270,000 €).
  • Members contribute a proportionate share of operating expenses.
  • Shares are normally transferred in the open market at their full market value, but members of co-operative housing associations have the right of pre-emption to a price set in the market.
  • Each member has one vote, irrespective of the number or value of shares.
  • The board of directors is responsible for the management, often assisted by a co-op housing association acting as a business manager.
  • Local authorities have the legal right to buy 10% of the flats in housing co-operatives.

Financing

Until the 1990s, most of the co-op housing developments were financed through subsidised grants and loans from the State Housing Bank. Loan subsidies were stopped in the mid-1990s and grants only given to certain types of building project such as student flats or specialist housing for elderly people or those with physical disabilities. From 2002, the housing development financing share of the State Housing Bank began to diminish. By 2007, no more than 10% to 15% of new houses were likely to receive a Government bank loan. Previously, the majority of the houses built were financed through the State Housing Bank. The current situation reflects the average loan conditions and lack of developers’ interest in using the Government bank for the purpose.

Most of the financial support to the housing sector in Norway is channelled through a housing allowance system run by the State Housing Bank in partnership with the municipalities. Through municipalities, the bank offers mortgage loans to individuals who want to buy a home, but for whom private market loan conditions are out of financial reach. About 9,500 such loans were granted in 2010. In Norway, every property buyer has to pay a 2.5% property tax transfer to the state, although the tax does not currently apply to flat transfers within housing co-ops. The question on whether or not to apply this tax to housing co-operatives is currently under discussion.

Legal Framework

The Housing Co-operative Laws is a joint name for the Cooperative Housing Association Act and the Housing Co-operatives Act, which received major legislative revisions. The renewed acts came into force in August 2005.

The Co-operative Housing Associations Act

This law sets co-operative housing associations’ organisational rules including their business activities framework. It also regulates their business conduct such as member’s rights concerning participation in the general assembly and board of directors. A cooperative housing association is owned by its members, open to new members and its first mandate is to provide homes for those members. In addition, associations can manage housing co-operatives and other housing companies, for example, condominiums and rental flats etc. A co-operative housing association usually organises new homes for its members in housing co-operatives, but there are no limitations on the association using other organisational models.

  • The Housing Co-operatives Act

This law sets the co-operatives organisational rules including their business conduct such as the one-member one-vote system, participation in the general assembly, maintenance of their flats, rights of pre-emption, and non-payment of monthly fees. It also contains provisions regulating the shareholder’s responsibilities as a member of the housing co-operative. The last revision clarified shareholders’ rights, including the selling and letting out of their flats, and the security of their investment. The housing co-operative laws in both acts regulate the system for double membership mentioned below.

The Co-operative Housing Movement

The Co-operative Housing Federation of Norway (NBBL) is the nationwide umbrella organisation for housing co-operatives in Norway. NBBL represents, promotes, develops and provides services to housing co-operatives in collaboration with its member housing co-operative associations.

The NBBL is the fourth-largest membership organisation in Norway. The democratic participation in the co-operative housing movement is impressive with 25,000 elected representatives. Its membership includes:

  • More than 841,000 individual tenants and non-tenant members.
  • 5,000 housing co-operatives, also called primary housing co-operatives.
  • 57 co-operative housing associations (also called secondary housing co-operatives) whose membership varies between 100 and 300,000 individual members.

Norwegian housing co-operative bylaws require individuals to be a member of the housing co-operative and the housing co-operatives association. The system also allows individuals to be a member of the co-op housing association without simultaneously being a member of a housing co-operative. By being a member and stakeholder of the association, the individual can in order of seniority buy a new-build home or use the right of pre-emption when buying an existing vacant home in a housing co-operative. Some people keep their membership for the future benefit of their children.

For more information, visit: www.nbbl.no

Members in Norway

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