Housing Cooperatives in Yemen: Benefits and Problems [Archives:1999/15/Focus]

April 12 1999

This is an OPINION page.
Every week, a different intellectual writes a FOCUS on a pertinent issue! 
By Architect: 
Kamal Haglan
MA in Housing Studies
University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
Housing cooperatives, not only in Yemen, but also in many countries, aim to acquire and provide members with adequate, affordable and safe housing. This goal could be achieved, in most cases, by the housing cooperative obtaining a plot of land and building on it, or by buying or renting housing units that have already been built.
Usually, housing cooperatives are set up as a result of initiatives by employees who are themselves among the beneficiaries. The reason for pooling efforts is that each family alone would find it difficult or impossible to secure the land and carry out the construction, given their limited resources. Besides, group bargaining normally leads to lower costs. Therefore, these people realize that cooperatives are the only reasonable way to obtain adequate urban housing at affordable prices.
The first step that should be taken to establish a cooperative is to complete the legal framework. This framework is vital to the proper operation of the cooperative and for the full accountability of the persons who will run it. It is also essential to the collective acquisition of land and the determination of rights, duties, and liability of the members. If the cooperative is not officially recognized as a legal body, it is neither able to perform its duties and carry out its obligations towards others – including its members – nor are the members bound by any agreement with the cooperative.
The public sector, in many developing countries including Yemen, and in accordance with housing policy being executed by our institutions, encourages and supports partnership as leading to the establishment of cooperatives, along well-defined guidelines and
Although the Government of Yemen does recognize the importance of the role of housing cooperatives, that is not sufficient, and doesn’t offer a practical contribution towards finding solutions for the housing shortages in urban areas. That is why there are still many difficulties and constraints facing the performance and functioning of cooperatives.
Before outlining some of these difficulties, some positive aspects of such cooperatives will be highlighted first.
The desire and willingness of many people to be members of housing cooperatives emanates from their hope and awareness that this is a feasible and achievable solution for securing housing for themselves and their families. Such a positive attitude is largely based on the positive factors that could lead to a peaceful and secure home. Amongst these factors are the following:
1- Housing cooperatives most likely represent the cheapest and most affordable way to have access to adequate urban land. This is, on one hand, because the purchase of land is usually made in collective form. Thus, the purchase naturally covers a large chunk of land. Consequently the landowner or owners, under the temptation of such an opportunity to sell a large area to one purchaser, are willing to reduce the unit price of the whole area. This is especially true, if the land is located in the suburbs, and not in well developed parts of the city.
2. When a cooperative society is formed, a bank account is opened to which the members are asked to deposit their shares of the project cost, in installments. The deposit slips are their documents of membership.
Many members find installment payment an acceptable and rational means of paying, as it is within everyone’s financial ability. Even in the case the would-be members do not have the required installment amount available, they make ceaseless efforts to find it. In some companies or ministries, the amounts are advanced by the organization, and are then deducted from the employee’s salaries.
3- Since the purchase of the land is made in formal and legal ways, it gives the members assurances, through the government’s approval, that they can develop the land by incorporating it in the urban land-use plan. This approval, which is given by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning, not only guarantees legal title, but also gives it a formal character and entitles the area, at least to be developed as housing.
4- Another positive aspect of such a cooperative is the fact that they give the members the possibility of living in better environmental conditions and within a community that is already familiar with each other. As the people who purchase land and houses already know each other, and they are mostly friends, their living in close proximity leads to better social interaction and promotes a spirit of good-will amongst the residents of the new area, which undoubtedly will positively affect and improve the living environment.
Despite the above-mentioned positive aspects of cooperatives, there are many problems and constraints facing them in their efforts to achieve their goals. It can be said that part of the problem is related to the mechanisms and procedures of the cooperatives themselves. This is particularly true during the process of gaining approval and recognition by the relevant governmental institutions. The other part is related to the complications in the process of land purchase.
An additional problem emanates from the long process of adopting land use plans – which in some cases could take years – due to the tedious bureaucracy of governmental bodies. This land-use plan is a pre-requisite for many of the activities of the cooperative, and is even needed to gain formal approval for its establishment.
This delay is often justified and explained by the need to take the necessary steps to approve the housing construction plan. These steps include a technical review, analysis at different phases to ensure that the cooperative’s plan contains all the necessary elements required in urban planning, and many other points. In addition, the plan generally should be in harmony with the overall urban master development plan of the city and should not contradict it in term of the urban development trend. This delay also might be the result of the bureaucratic approach and practices of the government bodies in order to overemphasize their own roles. Although these are the most common reasons and justifications for the delay, it is possible to hear, informally, speculations that there are some other reasons which many are familiar with.
Obstacles related to the land purchase process are many. The search for a proper and suitable location, and most importantly at an affordable price is essential for the cooperatives members. This usually is time consuming. Even once a good location is found, several other problems related to finalizing the deal crop up. These include price negotiations, authentication of ownership, making sure all the deeds are in order and that they are turned over, and that ownership is formally and completely transferred.
Since the size of land to be purchased in such cases is large in order to meet the demand of all the members, difficulties are inevitable in finding someone who owns sufficient land. This will likely make a purchase from multiple people necessary, an extremely difficult task. Also inevitably, the problem of overlapping ownership claims arise given the uncertainty of land tenure and registry in Yemen.
In addition, further complications could be caused as many mediators and their parties get involved in the purchase, leading to more loss of time and resources.
It could also be said that some problems which consequently lead to delays in the purchasing process, could occur from the differences in points of view of the persons representing the cooperative. The leading members will argue over the choice of the land location, the price, and other factors. This is mainly due to the personal benefits each can gain from different scenarios. However this cannot be generalized in all cased. Thus, the performance and efforts of the cooperative representatives will largely depend on their credibility and sense of responsibility and awareness of the commitments they made to the members and depend on the degree of understanding and harmony they have. They should strongly believe in their responsibilities and in the voluntary nature of their commitment.
Governments, all over the world, recognize the role of housing cooperatives, especially in circumstances of acute housing shortages. That is because cooperatives can indeed offer good and effective solutions. It is thus extremely important and necessary for the government institutions responsible for housing issues, to facilitate the work of cooperatives. This may require new laws, and steps to adopt and maintain proper legislation and a legal framework.
With close cooperation and coordination with other concerned parties, including the cooperatives themselves, adequate and simple procedures can be enacted which in turn will have satisfying impact on the concerned beneficiaries and will raise efficiency of the work. Therefore, the first step should include a comprehensive review and analysis of the current housing situation, and the present role of cooperatives. This will clearly identify all constraints and obstacles that hamper their performance and efforts. It will also offer some potential solutions.
The proposals for solutions must emphasize removing all constraints, particularly the unnecessarily long bureaucratic procedures. That will enable cooperatives to operate smoothly and achieve their objectives in a reasonable period of time. This will contribute toward solving the housing problems of public employees as well as the general public.