FEDERACIÓN URUGUAYA DE COOPERATIVAS DE VIVIENDA DE AYUDA MUTUA (FUCVAM)
The most famous example of a successful self-managed housing in Latin America, and perhaps the world, is Uruguay’s Federación Uruguaya de Cooperativas de Vivienda de Ayuda Mutua (FUCVAM). Embracing principles of solidarity, dmeocratic participation, self-management, mutual aid, and collective ownership, this model demonstrates the potential for the proliferation of third sector housing that is high quality, perpetually affordable, and democratically managed.
Background and Key Principles
Few cooperative housing models have seen the success and scale of the Federación Uruguaya de Cooperativas de Vivienda de Ayuda Mutua (FUCVAM) model, which was founded in Uruguay in 1970 based on the doctrines of self-management, collective ownership, and mutual aid.1 Now encompassing over 500 mutual assistance housing cooperatives and around 100,000 people across Uruguay, FUCVAM has been a leading force of organizing and education around housing justice and has garnered significant political and social influence.2 Similar models have since proliferated across Latin America, Africa, Europe, and beyond, building the international self-management movement in support of low-income housing needs.
The FUCVAM model demonstrates that, although large-scale production of housing via cooperatives is challenging and financing continues to be a barrier, self-management practices are successful in providing high quality construction, increasing social cohesion, and providing fiscal stability for its residents.
FUCVAM was founded according to five principles:3
- Solidarity: supportive communities, shared responsibilities, and the cultivation of mutual trust.
- Democratic participation: engaging residents in the planning, design, and construction processes.
- Self-management, or autogestão: cooperatives are their own decision-makers.
- Mutual aid, or Ayuda Mutua: every family who is part of the cooperative contributes work for the good of the common property.
- Collective ownership: to uplift the idea of “cooperative” while challenging speculative practices.
Cooperatives are required to have anywhere from 10 to 200 members and to be registered with the Housing Ministry. Each member is expected to contribute sweat equity and, under FUCVAM, cooperatives engage in direct democracy – each member has voting power, responsibilities within the cooperative, and the same rights as every other member. Units are rarely sold, and thereby never engage with the private housing market; in this way, its members do not hold equity in the units (e.g., they cannot use the unit as collateral in mortgage financing, etc.). When members leave the cooperative, they are given back their contribution in exchange for use rights.
Implementation and Impact
Early cooperatives founded in the interior of the country in the 1960s developed enviable housing solutions for low-income Uruguayans. These early models provided the basis for Article 10 of Act 13.728 (or “The Housing Act”), passed in Parliament in December 1968.4 One of FUCVAM’s early projects is Nuevo Amanecer, which lies on the periphery of Montevideo. Built in 1975, Nuevo Amanecer contains a multitude of housing typologies across over 400 units to house approximately 1,500 residents. Another example is Covireus al Sur, a cooperative of 182 units located in central Montevideo built on previously publicly owned land.5 This particular cooperative was a deliberate effort on FUCVAM’s part to incorporate cooperative housing in urban areas (as opposed to peri-urban areas). One final example is COVIRAM (short for Cooperativa de Vivienda Rambla), a cooperative in the historic center of Montevideo financed by a Ministry of Housing loan in the early 2000s. This cooperative includes 18 units within a dilapidated but historic building once built by the city’s elite, but eventually abandoned and recuperated by the state.6
Cooperatives are always built with local contexts in mind, including the needs of the community or potential risks (e.g., many projects are seismically sound to prevent damage from earthquakes) while implementing traditional construction techniques. Active participation throughout the project, from inception to execution, means that members are empowered to invest in their future housing.
The National Housing Agency of Uruguay, under Law 13.728, disperses public financing in the form of grants to enable housing cooperatives. In order to contribute to the financial health of the cooperatives, members make monthly payments that go towards maintenance and loan repayment. Members of the cooperatives often oversee expansions to their homes as families grow and their needs change. While funding is indeed a barrier to greater proliferation of the model, 100% of Uruguayan cooperatives under FUCVAM have paid off their loans.7
FUCVAM’s work is deeply concerned with the financing of cooperatives outside of Uruguay, made successful through the organizing and network-building expertise of the organization.8 Its alliance with We Effect, a Swedish NGO providing aid to nations across the world, has been fruitful throughout FUCVAM’s existence. We Effect continually provides financial support and technical assistance in propagating FUCVAM’s model in Uruguay and beyond while encouraging governments to recognize housing as a human right.9 Most of We Effect’s assistance in propagating this model involves financing to support collective ownership, thereby discouraging practices that lead to overwhelming issues of debt. The organization also supports the “start-up activities,” including organizing the umbrella organizations (which resemble FUCVAM across other countries), overseeing land accumulation, and providing initial financing through their Regional Program on Housing and Habitat in Latin America (VIVHA).
Self-Management and Governance Structure
Embedded in FUCVAM’s model is another type of social support, wherein members share experiences in accessing services and economic opportunities.10 Oftentimes, this means reaching beyond housing to incorporate supportive infrastructure and amenities into the cooperatives, such as libraries, cultural centers, parks, or notaries facilitated by the larger FUCVAM body.11 Members contribute sweat equity and exercise the cooperative model of democracy through voting and the distribution of responsibilities.
Enabling Legal and Political Framework
As mentioned above, FUCVAM and cooperative housing in Uruguay more generally was first enabled by the Housing Act (“Ley de Vivienda”), or Law 13.728 of 1968. This legislation allows for self-managed cooperatives to engage in collective ownership, practice mutual aid, and apply for public funding.12 The law itself promotes the right to housing and remains to this day, prompting the state to provide housing for all.13
Underlying the FUCVAM model is the idea that housing is not meant to be owned privately; rather, it’s part of a larger commons meant to serve all people equally. In abiding by its core principles (mentioned in the above introduction), residents of FUCVAM properties promote democracy, solidarity, and the public management of land in providing housing for Uruguayans.
Footnotes  Jan Bredenoord, “Self-Managed Cooperative Housing by Mutual-Assistance as Introduced in Central America between 2004 and 2016; the Attractiveness of the ‘FUCVAM’ Model of Uruguay,” Journal of Architectural Engineering Technology 6, no. 188 (2017): 3.
 Bredenoord, “Self-Managed Cooperative Housing by Mutual-Assistance, 3.
 “South-South Cooperation,” Appropriate Technology 40 (2013): 45-48.
 Font, Guillermo. “Mutual Aid Housing Cooperatives in Uruguay: A City Built by Us All.“
 Bredenoord, “Self-Managed Cooperative Housing by Mutual-Assistance,” 4.
 Bredenoord, “Self-Managed Cooperative Housing by Mutual-Assistance,” 4.
 We Effect, “South-South Cooperation: FUCVAM, Uruguay,” Building and Social Housing Foundation (2016).
 Bredenoord, “Self-Managed Cooperative Housing by Mutual-Assistance,” 5.
 We Effect, “South-South Cooperation: FUCVAM, Uruguay.”
 Bredenoord, “Self-Managed Cooperative Housing by Mutual-Assistance,” 2.
 Font, “Mutual Aid Housing Cooperatives in Uruguay.”
 Co-operatives of the Americas (2020) “FUCVAM of Uruguay becomes the 98th member of the Alliance in the Americas.“
 R.G. Valadares (2018) “The participation of cooperatives in housing public policies in Brazil and Uruguay,” Cadernos EBAPE.BR Vol. 6 (4).
 Jan Bredenoord, “Self-Managed Cooperative Housing by Mutual-Assistance as Introduced in Central America between 2004 and 2016; the Attractiveness of the ‘FUCVAM’ Model of Uruguay,” Journal of Architectural Engineering Technology 6, no. 188 (2017): 3.