Co-operative housing in Sweden and Norway are true success stories of civil society housing in terms of market shares. This stands in stark contrast to some other European countries, where attempts to promote co-operative housing have consistently met with difficulties, both politically and in the market. The paper explores the history of co-operative housing in Sweden and Norway since 1945 through the lens of path dependence. Notably, co-operative housing changed gradually in both countries between the 1950s and the 1990s, when co-operative companies went from being civil society organisations espousing the ideals of self-help, democracy, non-profit and solidarity, towards becoming more market oriented and profit seeking. We argue that two drivers, ‘the logic of conflicting member interests’ and ‘the logic of competition and growth’, contributed decisively to this development. These drivers may also be good candidates for general mechanisms of civil society housing based partly on collective or individual ownership – if they are not kept at bay. In our view, there seems to be some trade-off between the pursuit of civil society objectives and market success. This should serve as a marker for advocates of civil society housing.