Housing Cooperatives Grow in Chicago’s Latino Communities

In neighborhoods like Pilsen, Logan Square, and Little Village, cooperative housing projects are gaining importance. Organizations and families come together to purchase buildings, mitigate displacement, create accessible ownership opportunities, and preserve the culture and identity of the neighborhoods

The mural that illuminates the first building of the PIHCO cooperative in Pilsen (Belhú Sanabria / La Raza).

The mural that illuminates the first building of the PIHCO cooperative in Pilsen (Belhú Sanabria / La Raza). Crédito: Impremedia

The Pilsen neighborhood, known for its deeply rooted cultural heritage and unique Hispanic identity, continues to undergo significant changes. Once a refuge for artists, working families, and migrants, it now faces the worrying reality of rising housing prices and the increasing threat of displacement for many of its long-term residents. It is here that the idea of a housing cooperative emerges as a solution for families to remain in Pilsen.

Pilsen Housing Cooperative (PIHCO)

“The Pilsen cooperative, affectionately called PIHCO (Pilsen Housing Cooperative), arises due to the need for displacement of families in this neighborhood. Low-income families, workers, artists, businesspeople, were being displaced by condominiums, these ‘developers’ were buying homes and building new properties to rent them at higher prices,” explained Karen León, co-president of PIHCO.

These situations pushed its co-founders and early collaborators—the muralist Héctor Duarte, journalist Linda Lutton, artist Gabriel Villa, designer Carlyn So, researcher Laura Nussbaum-Barberena, and cultural worker Amanda Cortés—to propose solutions to save their residence in Pilsen, to stop the displacement and help themselves as a community, since families were being displaced and they are the heart of Pilsen’s culture, León indicated.

Although the idea of forming the cooperative started in 2017, the acquisition of the first building of this cooperative did not materialize until 2020. This building is located at 1910 S Wolcott in Pilsen and houses six families. Two years later, in February 2022, they acquired the second building located on Morgan Street, with six units as well, and the purchase of the third building located on Oakley Avenue, which also houses six families, was made in November 2022.

PIHCO is a limited-equity cooperative and those who are part of it accumulate some individual equity during their stay, but not at the market rate.

PIHCO’s buildings are owned by the cooperative. The co-op’s shareholders, also known as Members, are entitled to occupy one apartment. All of PIHCO’s 18 owners make collective decisions about the needs of their buildings, the uses of reserve funds, and other decisions.

Each family has their unit, and they make collective decisions about the needs of their building, projects, and uses of the reserve money among others, León pointed out.

Verónica Alba, Eugenia Silverio y Karen León, propietarias de unidad en la cooperativa de vivienda PIHCO en Pilsen. (Aileen Ocaña / La Raza)
Crédito: Impremedia

The story of Karen León

In 2019, Karen León was about to lose the apartment she rented with her family. She remembers that “they were evicting me from the place where I lived, with my husband and my children, we were given 30 days to vacate.” For the León family, composed of Karen, her husband, three children, and their pets, it was complicated to start over with rental applications, which range between $50 and $100 per person and qualifying in them is very difficult, especially for families like the Leóns with several members and no fixed income. Her urgency to find a place to live led her to PIHCO. The cooperative was a lifesaver, León asserted.

Linda Lutton is one of the founders of the PIHCO cooperative. León contacted her and thus discovered more about the housing model. The ‘info sessions’, as León referred to the informational sessions that explain in detail about the cooperative, were held in a Pilsen café that, by the way, no longer exists. There they met to talk about what it is like to live in a community, about the downpayment on the building, and the process of becoming a homeowner through the cooperative.

For many families, just like for the Leóns, the idea of moving from the neighborhood where they have spent most of their lives is difficult. She shares that her children went to San Pío school, attended the Harrison Park pool, it was hard to take them away from where they grew up, where they have their friends, where they have their jobs. All the time living in Pilsen they always rented and the opportunity to become homeowners was through the cooperative, so the family decided to be part of PIHCO. This was their only possibility to achieve property ownership and be part of a community where they are supported by more families in the building where they live.

The process of owning a unit in the PIHCO cooperative took the León family about eight months. When she attended the informational sessions and participated actively as a volunteer, PIHCO was already in the midst of the acquisition of its first building.

Something that makes PIHCO unique is that they maintain their local spirit, because it is for families that have lived for many years in Pilsen. León is happy living in her building now as an owner. “For 24 years I have lived in Chicago, I don’t have close blood family here, but my cooperative is my family. I am proud of the choices of my board and that they have given me the confidence to elect me co-president,” León pointed out.

Who can be part of PIHCO?

PIHCO aims to house lower and moderate-income people, displaced families, and artists, because these are people for whom it is difficult to stay in the community given rising rents due to gentrification. In this way, they try to save the identity and culture of Pilsen and part of it are precisely the artists of this community. Thus, PIHCO resists and fights against the investors who arrive with urban changes, displacing the neighborhood’s culture.

One of the basic conditions to be part of PIHCO is to live in Pilsen or have strong ties to the community through work, school, faith groups or community activism, that the person’s roots are in that neighborhood, added León: “there is a resident who lived here, but his parents left and now he is back because he likes Pilsen, PIHCO sees people, families.”

Likewise, as a requirement they consider that the person is able to make monthly payments, and the size of the family is a good fit for the apartment available. They want people who can collaborate well together. And the talents of the people, thinking about what they can offer to the cooperative, their time and availability to be volunteers. That counts a lot, because that way participants learn to be aware of their neighbors, it is the investment they offer in their community.

The PIHCO cooperative, as León says, is a palette of colors, it has residents who are mariachi musicians, ceremonial dancers, mechanics, artists, artisans, university and high school teachers, activists and even a reporter. Among them, different religions are practiced, there is a difference in political positions, and all are an investment for the Pilsen community. Their diversity makes them strong. And as León asserted, “investment is in families, not money.”

A vital aspect is that people agree with the co-op’s mission, that is, they agree to work in community, live with more families, show willingness to continue fighting so that more families have the opportunity to access affordable housing. The goal of the cooperative is for more families to stay in Pilsen and the slogan of PIHCO is, precisely, “Stay in Pilsen.”

Another of the goals of PIHCO that is disclosed in each informational session is to have several buildings so that people stay in Pilsen, that is the vision. León recalled that when they only had one building she used to share with people: “we are going to have many buildings, help low-income people who can afford it.” And, she stressed, even in difficult situations you have to respond and be punctual with the payments. The León family, for example, bought during the pandemic and had to face the health emergency and the lack of employment since her husband is a mariachi and did not have many musical gigs. But even so, they never fell behind in their payments, and as León said, “when you already have a secure home you do anything to pay for it, it gives you social and family stability to keep working.”

The PIHCO cooperative has functioned successfully and so far has three buildings in Pilsen and is waiting for its project to be approved by the city of Chicago to build another property on 18th Street and Peoria. If accepted, they consider that the project will provide housing for 35 to 60 families. It will be possible thanks to grants they received from the City of Chicago and also with the support of Congressman Jesús ‘Chuy’ García. The proposal is that the new building will be a place where families grow, artists share their talents in their own art studios and where the community has low-cost access to those disciplines. They want children to play and enjoy their spaces in this building.

What is the process to be part of the cooperative?

Those who wish to be part of the cooperative must attend the informational sessions where it is explained what it is like to live in a community, what a mortgage is, what the initial payment, and how the cooperative housing model works, among much other information. Then they are invited to visit one of the buildings that have available apartments and if they are interested in a unit they fill out a questionnaire through which PIHCO will learn about their family needs, how many people make up their family, if they have pets, if they suffer from a medical condition. They are also asked how much they can pay monthly on a mortgage and their availability to move to their new home.

Leon said “they don’t see the dollar sign, it’s more community, more human.”

For the cooperative, the Social Security number, credit, or background do not have the same importance as they do with a traditional bank. PIHCO uses tools like social ties in the Pilsen community and each family’s individual story– to evaluate applicants.

Verónica Alba, a resident of the building on Oakley, has been living as the owner of her unit for six months. For 29 years Alba and her family have lived in the Pilsen neighborhood and only through the PIHCO cooperative was she able to become a homeowner. She indicated that “being a working family, low-income, you do not have the documents to acquire a property, there was no way, banks give loans at high interests, that makes it impossible to own property.”

Individuals in PIHCO get their loan through the co-op, and the mortgage is in the name of PIHCO. The cooperative has pro bono legal help from the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, they assist with has a team that free of charge assists in legal matters and the closing of the purchase of the buildings and the sale of shares.

Alba’s story is very similar to that of León and many other families that are constantly impacted by rent increases. She did not want to leave Pilsen because her whole life has been spent in that neighborhood to which she is deeply rooted. However, the building where she lived was about to be remodeled and they would raise the rent. Her search for housing led her to León, who introduced her to PIHCO. That is how she started attending the informational sessions and she occasionally volunteered for the cooperative.

At that time there were available units in the building located on Morgan Street, but they did not accommodate her needs, so she decided to wait. When the third building was obtained, she was interviewed to see if she was chosen to be part of the cooperative. Alba confessed that she was very nervous about her interview, in fact, the whole family attended to be interviewed. Through this process, the cooperative learns more about applicants and decides what families are the best fit for their buildings.

Another of the new owners of an apartment in the Oakley Avenue building is Eugenia Silverio, who has lived about 4 blocks from PIHCO’s Oakley property for 28 years. Her youngest child attended high school in Pilsen and Silverio was active in many Pilsen groups, including Mujeres Latinas en Acción and Casa Michoacán. Her focus as a mom was to offer her three children an education and therefore thinking about buying property was difficult. She indicated that “I did not put much effort into looking for a bank loan because of the requirements, the interest, I disqualified myself.”

Silverio is a cancer survivor and during her treatment dealing with the disease she had to face another anguish: looking for a place to live, since where they were renting in a span of a year their rate increased by $300. Even in her convalescent state, the landlords were not moved and the only alternative was to pay the exorbitant housing prices or vacate. In 2022, in better health and while attending the ELLAS support group for cancer survivors, she met one of the members of the cooperative, who invited her to discover what PIHCO offers. That is how Silverio participated in all the informational sessions to understand the concept and also became a volunteer. As part of that commitment, she supported in cleaning or any other need that could arise.

At this point she still did not know if she would manage to be the owner of an apartment, but she continued to show interest in being part of a supportive community like the cooperative. In fact, the selection process can be very competitive since there are more people waiting to be part of the cooperative. Silverio said that then, waiting to be accepted as part of the cooperative, she thought: “regardless of whether it is my turn or not, I feel grateful because I take a lot of learning, I can wait, I fell in love with the concept, I never in my life thought that someone would care about the most vulnerable like us.”

In June 2023, Silverio received the good news that she was chosen and could buy one of the apartments in the Oakley Avenue building. The value of her property, which has two bedrooms, two bathrooms and even has a jacuzzi, was under $140,000 and she offered $10,000 as an initial payment. Her monthly payments are $1,350 and that payment covers taxes, insurance, water, internet, and laundry. Silverio shared that in her building they are family: “God willing, here we are going to grow old.” She likes to know that among them they can express what they want or plan for their building, from a garden, planting vegetables, recreational spaces. She dreamed of a campfire, and they already have it.

La fachada de uno de los edificios de la cooperativa PIHCO en Pilsen. (Aileen Ocaña / La Raza)
Crédito: Impremedia

Several families seek to be part of PIHCO

León, who is co-president of PIHCO, commented that for a building of six units they interviewed about 16 families. The process of getting housing in one of the properties of PIHCO can take time.

And what is the difference between owning a house or being part of the PIHCO cooperative? “It’s a lot, if something is missing in the building it is bought from the building’s collective reserves, not with money from grants. If you want to remodel your apartment you can do what you want, as long as you follow the co-op’s guidelines, but the investment you make will not give more value to your apartment. If you sell you will only receive what you gave as an initial payment and what it has earned,” León explained.

“PIHCO is a limited equity cooperative, what the apartment costs is not going to increase to market value, it’s going to be sold exactly as you bought it,” added León.

“Buying in the cooperative is not to make money, this is a home, it is your dwelling where you will be safe, it gives you stability, you create happy families and safe communities,” said León.

Regarding the responsibilities of being part of PIHCO, each building has its own representative on PIHCO’s board and all members of the respective building have a vote, they make decisions that concern them such as snow cleaning, making sure fire extinguishers and smoke alarms are up to date, what to prioritize in terms of repairs. All these obligations are shared among the owners of the building, everything is given organically, structure is required and in their meetings those commitments are established.

Each of the three buildings is different and has different budgets. An accountant assists them with bookkeeping and budgeting. Another relevant detail is that cooperatives have just one tax bill, no matter how many units there are, and all homeowners add their exemptions onto that single tax bill. That is another of the benefits of living in a cooperative.

It is important that people are aware that to be owners of an apartment in one of the PIHCO buildings it is essential to have the possibility to cover the down payment and make monthly payments. All this is vital because each payment affects every owner who is part of the cooperative.

PHICO’s next info session is July 15. They understand high demand is looming due to gentrification and high rents. And they anticipate that this project will be for people who have lived for years in Pilsen and who are connected to the neighborhood. They consider that the monthly payments will be less than $1,800 but everything will depend on inflation, interest rates, and other variables. So far they are just estimates with nothing determined yet.

Among their projects is soon to receive a grant and they plan to invest that money in the residents of the cooperative, with workshops, events with their own artists, to grow as a cooperative and to allow their residents also share their talents.

The challenges of the PIHCO cooperative

The challenge is to say no to investors, to approach people who own property and suggest that when they decide to sell PIHCO may have the option to purchase. However, those kinds of situations have been organic, people who know of the existence of the cooperative suggest to those who are about to sell their properties that they offer them to PIHCO. But the cooperative clarifies that it does not offer more than it can pay.

Another challenge is to get resources and the support of people who want to continue with the mission. In that respect they are limited to families from Pilsen who can be part of the cooperative.

The shadows of gentrification extend over Pilsen and, in the words of León, “in Pilsen recently there are views of squares, gray, dark buildings, there is no light, they do not look like a house or a home, you are missing seeing houses around… The identity of Pilsen is what makes it unique, Pilsen are its restaurants, the culture, the people and if the people leave there will be no culture left. What will they have left?”

PIHCO works so that the neighbors of Pilsen can stay there.

La fachada del edificio de la Cooperativa Logan Square. (Aileen Ocaña / La Raza)
Crédito: Impremedia

The Logan Square Cooperative

According to data from the Chicago Community Wealth Building Initiative, there are currently 56 limited equity cooperatives in Chicago with about 7,000 affordable housing units located in 26 community areas.

The Logan Square neighborhood has a cooperative that dates back to 2002. According to Mark Smithivas, who is one of the cofounders of the Logan Square Cooperative, the purpose of the creation of the cooperative was focused on owning property at an affordable price and being part of a community. Smithivas added that “the benefit of living in a cooperative is that its members take care of each other…, someone who takes care of the mail, who takes care of the garden or even eats together.” Smithivas highlighted that “the cooperative is not about making money, it’s about the benefits of living together.”

The members of the Logan Square Cooperative contributed money for the initial payment, obtained a loan to pay for the building and converted it into a cooperative. Smithivas estimated that the current price of the cooperative’s building has doubled and perhaps is worth more than $1 million. However, the cooperative limits the amount of profit that each member can generate by living there.

The original owners of the Logan Square Cooperative joined because they were a group that shared the same values, and none are blood relatives. Unfortunately, some of the founders died, others moved and to date of the eight original pioneers only four are still members of the Logan Square Cooperative. Even if cooperative members leave, and others join, the important thing is that the cooperative remains the same as it has always been.

Unlike PIHCO, Smithivas indicated, the Logan Square Cooperative was not created with the same cultural mission and is not as diverse as they would like, although its members are white Caucasians and of Asian descent like Smithivas. However, through workshops and training they advise new communities, especially minorities of color, who seek to create their own cooperative. They want to continue helping others to do what they did 20 years ago: found their own cooperative. By the way, Logan Square assisted PIHCO with the creation of the statutes of their buildings and they still continue to offer them guidance clearing up doubts or questions.

A basic requirement for those wishing to join Logan Square Co-op is that they fit the values of the organization: social justice, all those who live there have jobs in non-profit organizations, they want the members of their community to be similar, who are passionate about helping others, added Smithivas. And it is pertinent to note that at the moment this cooperative has no vacancies.

During more than two decades of existence of the Logan Square Cooperative, the challenge remains to keep its members together, to sustain itself as a family. Another disadvantage is the size of the units which sometimes does not fit the needs of potential members.

As there are benefits to living in a cooperative, there are also discrepancies: some people may get frustrated being part of a cooperative because everything must be consulted and some members can be demanding, but with good communication and group facilitation, agreements can be reached. “You need to find a group of people with whom you can work well,” Smithivas asserted.

In addition to the advantage of living in a community, being part of a cooperative allows its members, as owners, to be taxed differently. In regular buildings this is based on the property value, but in the case of the cooperative, they are a limited equity entity. “Cooperatives have their own tax rate, of course, you must have a good tax lawyer,” Smithivas affirmed.

The Logan Square cooperative retains several memories. Over more than 20 years, Smithivas recounted that the stories he can recall from living in a cooperative are that his children were born and grew up in that community, mingling with the children of other members, experiencing both sweet and bitter moments like the death of one of their founders; they are all family.

Is the option of living in a cooperative gaining strength?

Housing cooperatives have become popular because they are a way for people to own their property and access affordable housing and nowadays people are more open to the idea of living in a cooperative, especially with the issue of gentrification.

The city of Chicago is providing funds to groups and organizations like the Resurrection Project to train and advise on cooperative housing. The new cooperatives are smaller and usually community-driven, just like PIHCO which struggles to find a way for families to stay in Pilsen.

Ireri Unzueta, integrante de la cooperativa La Villita Housing Coop durante una videoconferencia. (Aileen Ocaña / La Raza)
Crédito: Impremedia

Little Village Joins the Housing Cooperative Movement in Chicago

La Villita Housing Coop emerged in January 2023 and is also a limited equity housing cooperative. Although they do not yet have a building, they are officially a cooperative made up of 12 people and are in the search for a property to start their shared housing project.

For many residents of neighborhoods throughout Chicago, frustration and helplessness are common feelings as wealthy investors arrive and take over buildings, raising rents to unaffordable levels, forcing families who have resided for years in those neighborhoods to leave them. These investors with their economic power disturb the communities transforming the urban and cultural identity of these areas.

“It’s not fair what’s happening with Little Village, rich people come and take over our buildings and raise the prices and somehow we have to leave our neighborhood. It upsets me a lot, it outrages me, it makes me angry,” said María de la Luz Rodríguez, who has lived in Little Village for 17 years and is an active member of the cooperative.

Already some people were considering options to help families in Little Village maintain their homes and not be controlled by outsiders to that community. Over time they learned about the PIHCO cooperative and thought that this housing project could also work in Little Village.

Ireri Unzueta, another member of La Villita Housing Coop, said, “The love for Little Village is the most important thing to be able to join their cooperative, to feel that this is our home, that we belong here and that we have to fight and stay with our children here.”

La Villita Housing Coop has received support and guidance from the PIHCO cooperative as well as from Chicago Community and Worker’s Rights and from Xóchitl Espinosa, who is the executive director and founder of Co-op Ed Center. Additionally, they obtained financial assistance from the city of Chicago through the Community Wealth Building program.

There is a Shortage of Buildings and Properties in Good Condition

In Little Village, the price of four-unit properties hovers over $400,000, and most are not in good condition. La Villita Housing Coop has been searching for a building for over seven months and has not found vacancies worth considering. However, its members are already saving so that when the time comes, they are solvent and can offer their respective down payment.

Unzueta has lived for 30 years in Little Village and adds that gentrification is also becoming present in that neighborhood, albeit more slowly. But the problem of access to dignified housing in Chicago is bigger than what La Villita Housing Coop, as a cooperative, can solve. However, they continue to improve their project to invite more people to consider cooperative housing as an option and not have to be displaced. Through their presentations to explain what the cooperative is, they hear various stories of people who had to move from Little Village due to high housing prices, even when they longed to stay in that community.

And they point out that the La Villita Housing Coop is not to get rich but to have emotional and economic stability, the peace of mind of knowing that rent will not be constantly increased, that they will be able to save.

The effort and dedicated participation of the members of La Villita Housing Coop have made great strides and the creation of their logo is another of their satisfactions. “Have you seen our logo?” asked Rodríguez. She is proud to explain that “it includes seniors in wheelchairs, [people] from the LGBTQ group, we accept everyone, as long as there is love for Little Village.”

Currently, La Villita Housing Coop continues working on its agreements, registration, regulations, and in the search for a building. It stands out as a real example of resilience and the importance of cooperatives, as well as being a model and source of inspiration for the community of Little Village in its mission to improve the quality of life in that neighborhood.

Housing cooperatives in neighborhoods like Pilsen, Logan Square, and Little Village represent a significant effort to maintain affordable housing and a sense of community in Chicago. As the cost of housing continues to rise and gentrification transforms Latino neighborhoods, these cooperatives emerge as a necessary hope and response to prevent the displacement of their residents. It is a fact that cooperatives promote not only housing stability but also the preservation of cultural identity and social cohesion of these communities. In an environment like Chicago where economic and social challenges are increasingly complex, housing cooperatives stand out as a viable and hopeful model for building a more equitable and supportive future.

Contact with Organizations

Pilsen Housing Cooperative (PIHCO)



Logan Square Cooperative


La Villita Housing Coop



City of Chicago – Community Wealth Building Initiative


Chicago Community and Worker’s Rights


Co-op Ed Center


The production and publication of this story by La Raza have been made possible in part thanks to a grant from the Chicago Community Trust through its Cross Community Impact grant program.

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