According to the document “Koncepce bytového družstevnictví, Apendix III” [The Concept of Housing Cooperatives], published in 1990 by the Union of Czech and Moravian Housing Cooperatives, the history of housing coops on the territory of today’s Czech Republic dates back to the end of the nineteenth century, and the authors distinguish two main periods in the development of housing coops prior to 1989:
1) 1873 – 1948
The period of the so called “people’s housing coops” (lidová bytová družstva). Most of these coops were established with the goal of providing housing for socially vulnerable groups. These low-income apartments (sociální byty) were built with the help of state subsidy.
2) 1948- 1989
Post 1948, the existing housing coops were dissolved as they did not fit the requisite socialist model of property ownership. Coops were criticized at the time as too fragmented in their organization (the socialist trend was towards centralization) and as capitalist in character. The property of the existing coops was incorporated into the system of state/municipal housing, and housing was allocated by the decision of the local city national committees (národní výbory). Towards the end of the 1950s, however, it was becoming clear that the Czechoslovak socialist state lacked resources needed to solve the persisting housing shortage, which had resulted partially from the damage inflicted during the WWII, partially from the increasing desire, especially among young families, for accommodation with modern amenities and private facilities. For this reason, housing coops, most of them associated with local industrial plants, were encouraged to re-emerge in a new form. The regime welcomed the idea that with the coop housing model a portion of the building costs were transferred from the state onto the coop members. However, since private property was disapproved of by socialist state authorities, this new form of housing coops did not allow for the coop members to directly own the apartments. Furthermore, the state, in the form of the local chapters of national committees, maintained control over the allocation of these flats, adhering to the current state political prerogatives. Legally, the coops were bound by centrally published Bylaws, and their activities were organized from one center- Ústřední rada družstev (Central Council of Coops), later renamed as Český svaz bytových družstev (Czech Union of Housing Coops).
The authors of “Koncepce” evaluate the earliest decade of these socialist housing coops- throughout the 1960s – positively, remarking that coops managed to successfully draw upon and further fostered a sense of cooperation and teamwork among their members. The coops established in the 1960s were small organizations, usually consisting of two or three prefab apartment blocks only five to seven stories tall. The small size encouraged a sense of personal relationship with the place, with the people and the project, and stimulated the members’ investment of time and labor into the building and maintenance of the apartment buildings. The building materials used during this period were of relatively high quality, and the construction, maintenance and building costs were low.
In contrast to this earlier emphasis on localism, in the 1970s and especially the 1980s, under the overall state policy of centralization, housing coops were being integrated into centralized larger coop associations with decision-making authority over its member units. Furthermore, during this period, the state policy shifted towards mass construction of gigantic housing complexes (sídliště), of up to 10,000 apartments in high-rise towers, often built from lower quality materials and therefore leading to higher maintenance costs. These vast housing complexes (sídliště) tended to inspire a sense of anonymity in its dwellers. The cost of living for members of these housing coops was also rising significantly as compared to the cost of living in state/municipal flats, which continued to be subsidized by the state.
With the situation becoming unsustainable, a new directive concerning housing (and other types of) cooperatives was passed in 1988, which decentralized coops and once again created conditions for their local self-government. The central union of housing cooperatives lost their decision-making competence over their member units, and this principle was further reinforced in the law post-1989. Today, housing coop units (družstevní samosprávy) are self-governing again, and they can join larger associations voluntarily, with the associations’ role being limited to representing and lobbying for the interests of their member organizations, especially in relation to the state.
One of the major issues for housing coops to address post-1989 has been the matter of coop property ownership. As mentioned above, the pre-1989 Czechoslovak socialist state did not sanction private ownership of coop apartments by individual persons, or of the real estate/lot by the cooperative. This changed post-1989 to nearly the opposite position with the state now strongly promoting – through policy and law – private ownership over any other form, including coop form, of ownership.
With privatization as the official post-1989 state agenda, the housing coops (or more specifically self-governing housing coop units – družstevní samosprávy) became legal owners of their unit’s real estate, and the state policy also strongly encourages individual coop members to purchase their flat into their own private ownership.
Many self-governing coop units (samosprávy), including the U Opavice 2-4 unit, have opted for a mixed ownership of flats. This means that some coop members have purchased their apartment (along with a fraction of the building’s real estate) while others continue their coop membership without taking their flat into their own private ownership.
As our interviews have demonstrated, some housing coop members feel that the continued survival of the coops is an uphill battle due to the active policy discouragement of coops, especially in the immediate post-1989 period. The competencies of housing cooperatives and their structure have been transformed. Rather than teams of coop members all involved in the maintenance and improvement of shared property through self-help, housing coops are being transformed into real estate managers and function as non-profit corporations.
– “Koncepce bytového družstevnictví,” ing. Bucháček, dr. Zatočil, dr. Pektor, dr. Přikryl, dr.Lebl and dr. Krausová. Praha: Svaz českých a moravských bytových družstev, 1990.
–Stanovy Stavebního bytového družstva občanů 1962 [Bylaws for the Citizens’ Housing Coopertives 1962], Praha: Ústřední rada družstev, 1962
– František Holuša, Kronika SBD Stavbař, 1976-1980.
– Jan Hampel, interview, August 9, 2018.
– Markéta Lattoňová, “Proměny zástavby v Opavě Kateřinkách.” Diplomová práce. Slezská univerzita v Opavě, 2014.
– Historical materials from Karel Lyko’s personal archives, including the featured image.