What is Co-operative Housing?

Athlete's Village Housing Co-operative

Athlete’s Village Housing Co-operative in Vancouver, BC. Photograph by Pat McClain

Co-operatives in Canada represent a large and diverse heritage of Canadians working together to build better communities based upon a set of established co-operative principles.

Over 17,000,000 Canadians are co-operative members with 100,000 of them active as leaders on boards of directors and committees. Co-operatives employ over 150,000 Canadians. Canadian co-operatives, credit unions and caisses populaire have $275 billion in assets.

Co-operatives play an important role in many areas of Canadian life including:

  • credit unions;
  • insurance;
  • agriculture;
  • retail;
  • housing;
  • health care;
  • childcare;
  • and many more.

Any group of people can form a co-operative. The members own the co-operative and the co-operative provides a service they need. For instance, housing co-operatives provide housing.

Co-operative Housing in Canada

Since the 1930s, Canadians have been building and living in housing co-ops. The people who live in the housing are the co-op’s members. They elect, from among themselves, a board of directors to manage the business of the co-op. Each member has one vote. Members work together to keep their housing well-managed and affordable.

Over the years, federal, provincial and municipal governments have funded various programs to help Canadians create non-profit housing co-ops. The co-ops developed under these programs provide good quality, affordable housing.

Co-ops come in many different shapes and sizes, ranging from collections of townhouses and small buildings with 4-12 units to large apartment-style buildings with hundreds of units.

The structure of a typical co-operative housing organization in Canada

Image created by Yuri Artibise. (cc)

Co-operative Housing Basics

Tweet: Housing co-operatives are democratic communities where residents make decisions on how the #coop operates http://ctt.ec/8ZD08+

  • What is the difference between co-op housing and rental housing?
    What sets co-ops apart from private rental housing is that they are democratic communities where the residents make decisions on how the co-op operates. The members who live in a co-op are the ones responsible for running the co-op. Each member has a vote and every year members elect a Board of Directors from the membership.
  • Who lives in co-ops?
    Housing co-ops are mixed communities. Co-op communities are made up of all kinds of people—people with different backgrounds and incomes and special needs. These diverse and vibrant communities are the unique strength of the co-op housing movement.Some members pay the full housing charge. This is often called a “market” housing charge. Some members with lower incomes pay less. This is usually called a subsidized housing charge or rent-geared-to-income.
  • Members own their homes co-operatively.
    People who live in a co-op are members of the co-op, not tenants.. Together, they are responsible for the co-op. Each member has one vote and every year a Board of Directors is elected from the membership.
  • There is no landlord.
    Co-op members  have a direct say in decisions that affect their home.  Members make the big decisions about how the buildings will be maintained and how the business of the co-op will be managed.
  • Members run the co-op.
    Members form a community that works together to manage the co-op. Members elect a board of directors to manage the business of the co-op. Most co-ops hire staff to do the day-to-day work. Members work together to keep their housing well-managed and affordable.
  • Co-op members do not have to worry about excessive rent increases.
    Landlord raise rents to maximize their profits. Co-ops are non-profit organizations. This doesn’t mean that housing charges (rents) won’t go up. Housing charges increase regularly as operating costs increase.The difference is that co-op members review the finances of the co-op and budget recommendations of the Board of Directors. If there are housing charge increases, they reflect true costs, not profit margins.
  • Co-op housing is secure.
    Co-ops provide secure and stable housing. Members can live in their home for as long as they wish as long as they follow the rules of the co-op and pay their housing charge (rent). Co-ops provide secure and stable housing. Members can live in the Co-op for a long time and build roots in the community.
  • Co-op members form deep roots in the community.
    The co-op will never be sold or flipped for profit so members can choose to remain in the co-op for a long time. This encourages involvement and commitment to the community and allows members to feel secure in their co-op and their neighbourhood. It is easier for people to become involved in their community if they know they will be a part of it for a long time.
  • Co-op members are a part of a larger community of co-ops.
    There are more than 261 non-profit housing co-ops comprising more than 14,500 units in British Columbia.

This post was inspired by content from the Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto website.

Yuri Artibise

Yuri Artibise is an experienced policy analyst, community engagement practitioner and social media specialist. I have a Master of Public Administration degree with over 10 years of public policy research, analysis, and advocacy experience.

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