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Cooperative Housing in Zurich: A Sustainable Approach to Affordable Living

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

Zurich, a city synonymous with both beauty and high cost of living, has a hidden gem in its urban fabric – the Genossenschaften (cooperatives). These cooperative housing communities, deeply rooted in the city's history, are not just about buildings; they are about people, community, and a revolutionary concept of living.

An artistic depiction of cooperative housing in Zurich

The Birth of a Movement

The story of cooperative housing began in the late 19th century, a period marked by rapid industrialization. As workers flocked to Zurich, the city faced a dire housing crisis. Overcrowding and squalid conditions were the norms until 1892, when the Zürcher Bau- und Spargenossenschaft emerged as a beacon of hope. This wasn't just a housing project; it was a revolution.

A Vote for Change

The turning point came on April 21, 1907, with a public vote that changed Zurich's housing landscape forever. The city became a collaborator in housing promotion, enabling cooperative ventures to start projects with minimal capital. This was a game changer, laying the foundation for a future where quality living was accessible to all.

Affordability Through Innovation and Support

Cooperatives stand out for their ability to offer lower rents, thanks to a trio of key factors:

  • Non-Profit Nature: By design, cooperatives are non-profit. They're not about maximizing earnings but about providing quality, affordable housing.

  • Favourable Access to Land: The city’s preferential policies on land allocation and mortgages play a crucial role. This access reduces overhead costs significantly.

  • Lower Equity Requirements: Historically, cooperatives could start projects with as little as 10% equity, reducing to 6% later. This lower deposit requirement is crucial for maintaining low rent levels.

In a previous blog post, we show how prices are on average 800CHF cheaper in cooperatives than in similar houses on the free market. This results in huge profits for Landowners.

What Cooperative Housing Looks Like Today in Zurich

Fast forward to the present, and Zurich's commitment to affordable, non-profit housing is stronger than ever. With around 50,000 out of 200,000 dwellings classified as non-profit, the city is a beacon of affordable housing. The 110 cooperatives have created a legacy, constructing 38,000 units that are more than just buildings; they are vibrant communities.


In the heart of Zurich, the Cooperative housing stands as a testament to the city's innovative spirit and commitment to social welfare. These cooperatives are more than just housing solutions; they are the lifeblood of community living, a blueprint for a future where quality living is a right, not a privilege.

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