Co-op Housing 101: What makes co-op communities special?

Halam Park 4Housing co-ops make a unique and valuable contribution to affordable housing in Canada. There are over 2,100 housing co-ops across the country with more than 91,000 homes providing housing to approximately 250,000 Canadians. So what makes these communities so special?

Co-op housing is community-owned and democratically run by its member residents.

The homes in a co-op are owned by the co-operative. Residents enjoy secure, affordable housing while they live in the co-op. As members of the co-op they contribute to the democratic management of their community, electing a board of directors and often volunteering their time to co-op activities. This gives co-op members a control of and involvement in their housing and community.

Co-op housing is cost-effective and affordable.

Housing co-ops are run on a break-even basis, without generating a profit. This helps ensure that costs are kept down and that rents are affordable.

Governments contribute subsidies to help cover the housing costs of low-income co-op residents, allowing them to pay reduced rents that are geared to their incomes. In the case of federally-funded co-ops, the federal government has been providing the subsidies that allow low-income people to live in approximately 1/3 of the co-op homes.

Housing co-ops are diverse and inclusive.

Co-ops bring together people from a wide variety of social and economic backgrounds, diverse cultures, nationalities and races, and a wide range of ages – in an environment based on mutual respect and harmony. 58% of co-op residents are women, 11% are from visible minorities, 20% are immigrants and 12% are people with a long-term physical disability. Co-ops are inclusive communities where mutual respect and support are valued.

This great Canadian housing success story is currently under threat.

The agreements under which the federal government has provided subsidies for low-income co-op residents are coming to an end, in large numbers now. Unless the federal government renews funding, more than 20,000 low-income co-op households will soon lose their subsidies. This will put these residents at risk of becoming homeless – and jeopardize the future of federally-funded co-ops as mixed-income communities. This growing crisis also threatens another 300,000 low-income homes in private and municipal non-profits and public housing.

But the solution is simple and achievable.

To avert disaster and solve the emerging crisis, Canada’s housing co-ops are proposing a straight-forward solution. The federal government should apply the funds it is saving from the agreements that are running out to help fund a new rent subsidy program co-funded and administered by the provinces and territories. That would keep Canada’s low-income co-op residents in their homes and preserve a great Canadian success story. (Please see the Issues page for more details.)

Wheelchair group with key (medium res)