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Minimum occupancy, income limits, and assets: What the rules of the cooperatives aim for

watercolour style image of cooperative apartment buildings in Zurich

In principle, cooperative apartments are open to everyone. However, in practice, the statutes of most cooperatives in Zurich have guidelines regarding the occupancy and financial means of the tenants. Here we explain where these come from, what they aim to achieve at a societal level, and what this means for you.

 



Space and occupancy: Minimum and target occupancy

Occupancy refers to the number of people living in an apartment. There are about 4 million households in Switzerland. The composition of household types in Switzerland has changed dramatically in recent decades. Since 1970, the number of single-person households has almost quadrupled (they now make up about one-third!), while the number of couples without children has doubled. At the same time, the number of households with children under 25 years has remained about stable. Accordingly, the consumption of living space per person has also increased significantly: in Zurich in the 1970s, we lived on about 30m2 per person, today it is just over 40m2. These developments contribute massively to the housing shortage. They have various causes, including demographics. For example, according to NZZ, in the canton of Zurich, 15% of single-family homes are inhabited by only one person, with over 60% of these individuals over 65 years old. This is referred to as strong under-occupancy. An apartment is considered under-occupied if the number of rooms exceeds the number of inhabitants by more than 1. Therefore, a 4-room apartment is under-occupied if fewer than 3 people live there. In a 3-room apartment, at least 2 people must live there, otherwise, it is under-occupied.

To combat the housing shortage in Zurich, avoiding under-occupancy is an important tool. This is where cooperatives come in. They want as many people as possible to find a suitable home. Therefore, they have occupancy guidelines. The minimum occupancy ensures that the apartment is not under-occupied. The following formula is applied: Number of people + 1.5 = maximum apartment size. So, if you are two people, you can occupy a 3.5-room apartment. For a family with 2 children, a maximum of a 5.5-room apartment is possible. Some cooperatives also have a target occupancy. This is the number of people the cooperative ideally would like to have in the apartment. It usually corresponds to the number of rooms (e.g., 4 people in a 4-room apartment). Cooperatives also pay attention to avoid excessive consumption of living space. We looked at the listings for free cooperative apartments in Zurich over the past few months. With a minimum occupancy (i.e., 3 people), the average living space in a 4.5-room cooperative apartment in Zurich is 33 m2 per person. For 3-room cooperative apartments, the average living area with minimum occupancy (2 people) is 32.5m2. This is significantly lower than the general average. By avoiding under-occupancy and promoting moderate consumption of living space, cooperatives actively contribute to combating the housing shortage.


Income limits

Many know the rule of thumb that one should not spend more than a third of one's income on housing. But actually, a third is quite a lot, a quarter would probably be preferable. If you look around on various internet portals, you quickly realize that even for people with a median Swiss income in Zurich, it is not easy to find affordable housing, especially when there are also daycare costs and so forth. Fortunately, there are cooperatives! Here, the rent is on average about 800 francs per month cheaper than in privately rented apartments (Our savings calculator shows you the real data). To ensure that the right people benefit, namely those who would otherwise really struggle, some cooperatives (and also some city apartments) have income limits. A person is only eligible if their taxable income (important: taxable, not gross income!) is below the limit. It is often a multiple of the rent, often about four to six times – in line with the above rule of thumb. For example, if the rent for a 3.5-room apartment is 1,500 francs per month, the income limit might be four to six times that, i.e., a taxable income of 72,000-96,000 francs for the entire household (i.e., all persons combined). Based on these numbers, you can see that cooperatives generally aim to offer affordable housing to people with low to middle incomes. Cooperatives also pay attention to diversity in their settlements, so it may well be that you have a chance even with a slightly higher income, but you are definitely not the target group.


Assets and cooperative apartments

Many cooperatives only rent apartments to households with assets of less than 200,000 francs. How does this relate to the general population? We looked at the Federal Statistical Office and analyzed the asset structure of Switzerland. At first glance, we are all extremely wealthy, as the average asset value is about 600,000 francs! However, a closer look at the statistics shows that there is a lot of inequality in our country. Because about 0.36% of the people (just under 20,000) own a whopping 34% of the total assets of our country! The median asset (i.e., half of the population has more, the other half less) is about 160,000 francs. In light of this figure, the asset limit of the cooperatives makes sense. Anyone who has 200,000 in the bank definitely belongs to the wealthier half of the country and perhaps does not need an affordable apartment as urgently as someone with less or no reserves.


Conclusions

As a society, we consume more space per person, live in households with fewer people, and are getting older. Unfortunately, not as much is being built as would be necessary. These factors exacerbate the housing shortage. Moreover, income and wealth in our country are not evenly distributed. This results in a market where it is very difficult for financially weaker individuals to find appropriate housing. Cooperatives counteract this situation. They combat under-occupancy and offer affordable housing to people with lower and middle incomes. Accordingly, such apartments are naturally sought after. To simplify the search, you can use GenossenSchaffen.ch. Our subscription service sends you all listings directly to your email inbox. You will also find all waiting lists and new building projects of the cooperatives on our website, as well as plenty of tips and tricks for applying.

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