Jacaranda Housing (JH) was formed through an amalgamation of four Brisbane housing cooperatives. Only two of these organisations were formally incorporated under the Queensland Cooperatives & Other Societies Act (West End and New Farm), the others having been incorporated as companies limited by guarantee. However all of the organisations formed as companies functioned as co-operatives, having agreed to the Definition and Values of Co-operative Organisations laid down by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) and having adopted the 7 International Principles of Co-operation into the objects of their incorporation documents.
After an initial $10m splurge on growth funding for Queensland co-ops when Tom Burns took on the mantle of Housing Minister in the Goss Government (1989), that level of funding dwindled to next to nothing within the next few years. This resulted in hundreds of small scattered organisations which had no real opportunity to achieve a level of sustainability in terms of economies of scale in property and financial management.
Being restricted to accepting only people being eligible from the Department of Housing waiting list flew in the face of voluntary and open membership as was the practice of the coops. The changes to new tenants meant that co-ops no longer had the ability to attract people from a cross section of the community, therefore restricting them in obtaining the mixture of skills and experience they needed and led to the burnout factor.
The great old grandfather of the co-operative movement in the UK, Will Watson, wrote in 1986 (Cooperative Principles Today and Tomorrow) in relation to maintaining democratic principles within the evolution of small co-ops into professionally managed organisations:
Another series of constitutional problems involving democracy arises from the fact that, as cooperative societies grow, the functions of their governing organs become increasingly professionalised. By this is meant that some functions can no longer be completely discharged in their spare time by elected persons with a modicum of common sense, honesty and devotion to duty, but must be entrusted to full-time officials with the appropriate talents, special training and experience.
He continues that:
There is a fundamental distinction between the functions of management (operations) and those of representing the general will of the members and safeguarding their interests (governance). It is for these very reasons that a co-operative sector actually emerged. Co-operatives have a singular and unified purpose, and that is to excel all others in providing the best service to their members.
In 2004 the Department of Housing commenced sending messages out about the need for ‘consolidation of the community housing sector’, and the Brisbane housing co-ops formed the Association of Co-operative Housing Organisations (ACHO) with the aim of forming a larger single cooperative organisation. In accepting an amalgamation of their organisations the members of the Brisbane co-ops were required to forego their desire of creating an amalgamated co-operative. It had to be a company. However the members were adamant that the JH board of the new company should maintain the absolute essence of the principle regarding quality of service.