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Grocery, housing & utilities cooperatives

Health Factors: Family & Social Support
Decision Makers: Local Government State Government Federal Government Nonprofit Leaders
Evidence Rating: Insufficient Evidence
Population Reach: <1% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: No impact on disparities likely

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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

Increased social capital
Improved social skills
Increased community involvement
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 (Saegert 2005). By utilizing local resources and creating locally-based businesses, cooperatives may help develop and stabilize local economies (Gordon Nembhard 2014, Zeuli 2005, Lang 2011). 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.


United States

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


The Cooperative Network is a statewide association of over 600 member-cooperatives in Wisconsin and Minnesota that provides government relations, education, marketing, and technical services.

Implementation Resources

CDI-Co-op 101 - Cooperative Development Institute (CDI). Co-op 101: A guide to starting a cooperative. 2015. Accessed on January 6, 2016
Food Co-op Toolkit - Food Co-ops. Food co-ops toolkit: A simple guide to setting up food co-ops. Accessed on February 5, 2016

Citations - Evidence

Bailey 2010 - Bailey JM. Rural grocery stores: Ownership models that work for rural communities. Lyons: Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA); 2010. Accessed on November 25, 2015
Gordon Nembhard 2014 - Gordon Nembhard J. Benefits and impacts of cooperatives. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO) Newsletter. 2014; Volume II: Theme 18. Accessed on January 6, 2016
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. Accessed on December 1, 2015
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. Accessed on February 5, 2016
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. Accessed on May 20, 2016
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. Accessed on November 23, 2015

Citations - Implementation

Cooperative Network - Cooperative Network. The united voice for cooperatives. Accessed on December 7, 2015
NAHC - National Association of Housing Cooperatives (NAHC). What is a housing cooperative? Accessed on May 20, 2016
NCBA - National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA). About Co-ops. Accessed on December 16, 2015
NRECA - National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). A touchstone energy cooperative. Accessed on January 7, 2016

Page Last Updated

December 30, 2015

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