Co-op Housing For All: Peer Network
The Co-op Housing for All Peer Network is a new group of members who are strengthening and growing the co-op sector with new governance solutions and constructing new co-op homes.
The Peer Network is a chance to network and share resources and ideas to fuel more co-op housing growth and offer support to fellow co-operators pursuing the vision of Co-op Housing for All. Opportunities and activities include:
- Events like networking breakfasts and workshops on growth and development.
- A video series where co-op members share their experiences, lessons learned and successes.
- Sharing first-hand accounts of your experience with development projects and new governance solutions like unified co-ops.
Peer Network members can participate based on their interests and available time. There are opportunities for everyone.
If you are interested in discussing opportunities for your co-op with a Peer Network champion, or volunteering as a Peer Network champion yourself, please contact Maria Vaiaso at 844.327.5947 or by email to email@example.com.
Meet the Peer Network champions:
Michelle Bellavance, Housing Manager
Michelle Bellavance, Housing Manager
Raiffeisen Co-op Homes, Sudbury, Ontario
24 years in the sector
Michelle’s experience as a co-op manager, including staff training, submitting bids in response to requests for proposals, and working with partner organizations has put her in a good position to guide others in the process of expanding an existing co-op or building a new one.
In 24 years as Housing Manager of Raffeisen, she has seen first-hand the desperate need for affordable housing, particularly for new Canadians. In Michelle’s view, settling people into co-ops would be a far more friendly way of integrating them into Canadian society. “New immigrants might get an apartment with a landlord who is only interested in collecting the rent. They have no real support. I think of the Ukrainians coming to Canada. Co-ops would be ideal for them.”
Raiffeisen Co-op Homes
“Raiffeisen has always been a champion for housing, always recognized the need for it. When the city put out a request for proposals for affordable housing development, we immediately said, ‘We can do it!’”
The result was Raiffeisen Phase Two, a non-profit development that resulted in 80 units of affordable housing. The City of Sudbury assisted with funding for 30 rent-geared-to-income units. Raiffeisen worked closely with the Canadian Mental Health Association and ICAN (Independence Centre and Network) Sudbury to ensure units were available for people requiring mental health supports, as well as those who needed fully accessible units.
Why Michelle is a Peer Network champion
Michelle sees the Peer Network as a chance to get more co-op housing built. “I’m concerned that some of the affordable housing development opportunities here went to the private sector, because they only have to guarantee to keep it affordable for 20 years, and who knows what will happen after that? With a co-op, or a non-profit, you know it’s going stay that way. I hope the Co-op Housing for All Peer Network will give me the opportunity to develop affordable housing. I want my legacy to be an understanding that hard work, compassion, and fairness can make this world a better place.”
Kathy Dimassi, Halam Park Co-op
Halam Park Housing Co-operative
Halam Park Housing Co-operative in Hamilton, Ontario celebrated its 25th anniversary as a housing co-op in September, and Kathy Dimassi has been there for over 24 years of its life. As Housing Administrator, Kathy knows first-hand the struggles that people have to find appropriate housing, especially as they age.
Halam Park Housing Co-operative
Some members have lived at Halam Park for over forty years. They used to have children, but the children are grown and gone and the parents, now much older, are still living in 3-4 bedroom homes.
“We could try to shift people to smaller units, but we had no 1-bedroom units,” explained Kathy. “And there isn’t a lot in Hamilton, either. They would have to go on a centralized wait list and move out of the community. And we didn’t want to lose these valuable community members.”
Halam got the idea to build an apartment building on part of the property that had a basketball court, but it would have meant tearing down some existing townhouse units. It turned out to be nearly impossible. The red tape and legal fees were just too much. So they put the project on hold, and in 2013 Kathy began working with the City of Hamilton.
“The City has been good about co-operating with sector partners,” she said. “I worked with a group from the City to complete the Housing and Homeless Action Plan. Our theme was that everyone has a home, and home is a foundation.”
Because of the contacts she made during that time, she networked to explore the options available to Halam. The City agreed to support Halam’s building plans if they did an infill project, as long as it fit within zoning requirements. Although the City wanted to see 3-4 bedroom homes built for families, Kathy pointed out that by building 1-bedroom units into which seniors could move, the co-op would be freeing up 3-4 bedroom townhouses for families, which would help the City achieve its goal. The City agreed, and Halam received a $500 000 grant to start working on the project.
“The staff were basically in the trenches for years on this project. We ran into a lot of snags, but we stuck with it.”
Why Kathy is a Peer Network champion
Being able to share the experience of what Halam Park went through is Kathy’s motivation for volunteering as a Peer Champion. “Just letting people know that you’re going to run into problems, but it’s nothing you can’t work through, and there are people to support you along the way, that’s important,” she said. “You need the support of the Board and you need the support of the members. Going through a building process like this might take years, and it will impact the day to day operations. People need to be understanding and keep the end goal in mind. Updating the members frequently is critical. It’s also important for staff to know that the Board has their backs. Sometimes a quick decision has to be made and there isn’t time to call a Board meeting.”
“I want to give the strength to other co-ops to say, ‘Yes. You can do this.’ We learned so much from our mistakes. And once you’ve done one project successfully, you have the confidence from others – whether its city agencies or lending partners – that you can do it again.”
Family is everything to Kathy. “It’s my center,” she said. Along with cycling, swimming, and generally exploring the outdoors with her grandchildren, Kathy enjoys knitting, and brought a knitting circle to Halam Park. She also enjoys playing piano, flute, and reading.
Sandra Hardy, Old Grace Housing Cooperative
Sandra Hardy, Volunteer
Old Grace Housing Co-operative, Winnipeg, MB
10+ years in the sector
Sandra became involved with Old Grace in 2012 during initial discussions to establish a co-op on the site of the former Old Grace Hospital. A member of the Finance Committee and Initial Steering Committee, she chaired working groups to obtain approval for development, led participation in the design process and chaired the Building Committee. She was also instrumental in the fundraising campaign, raising over $200,000 to offset share prices for low-income members. Sandra served on the Board of Old Grace for six years, five of those as President. Now retired, she volunteers on the Maintenance Committee and as a member of the Landscaping and Gardening Group.
Old Grace Housing Co-operative
Old Grace Housing Co-operative opened in 2018 with a mix of income levels and five different sizes of apartments. One of its features is a sponsorship arrangement with charities interested in providing housing to newcomers to Canada.
The establishment of the co-op came out of a grassroots initiative by neighbours who wanted to downsize, but didn’t want to leave their neighbourhood. The site of the former hospital offered an opportunity, and over the course of six years, from lobbying the province to make the site available for non-profit housing to the grand opening, Sandra was there every step of the way.
Why Sandra is a Peer Network champion
Sandra believes that sharing her experiences bringing Old Grace from an idea to a completed co-op could benefit others who are at the stage of wondering how to get started. She’s also interested in the idea of co-op mergers.
“I think we have a unique co-op and we had to put together a lot of different things to make it happen. In an environment where there’s not a lot of support for co-op housing, our experience could provide a spark to others trying to do it.”
Coral Hetherington, Westboine Park Housing Co-op
Past Board President
Westboine Park Housing Co-op, Winnipeg, MB
9 years in the sector
A self-employed tax credit advisor, Coral has volunteered in many capacities. She was President of the Board at Westboine for many years, joined the Manitoba Co-operators Association in 2018, and acts as a provincial delegate to The Co-operators Insurance. She also sits on the Conference Planning Committee of the Manitoba Non-Profit Housing Association, and serves as the Manitoba and Saskatchewan Regional Director on the Board of CHF Canada.
Westboine Park Housing Co-op
A multi-million dollar renovation has given Westboine Park a new lease on life, increasing its value, and making the co-op far more comfortable for members.
“We just finished a $20 million building envelope renovation. All new roofs, doors, windows, insulation, heat recovery systems, everything. We have one three-storey apartment building and 153 townhomes. We started just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. It was a major undertaking in the best of circumstances, but adding Covid to the mix made it far more complex. Our experience is second-to-none, for sure.”
Whether it’s to provide smaller units for people wanting to age in place, offer more accessible units, or other reasons a co-op may have for wanting to expand, Coral feels now is the time to consider how to get there.
Why is a Coral is a Peer Network champion
With money set aside in the federal budget for co-op housing, Coral believes the opportunity is there to get moving on new construction. “The need is there, and we don’t have to re-invent the wheel. It’s time to look at what others have done, or are planning to do, and tie into that. After spending all that time on the Board, I do have some experience to share, for instance helping others understand how to get funding, or how to work with a construction manager, but I’m also here to learn. You never stop learning.”
Kathy Merritt, Pawating Co-op and La Chaumiere Co-op
Kathy Merritt, Coordinator
La Chaumiere Housing Co-op/Pawating Co-operative Homes
10 years in the sector
A former law clerk and bookkeeper, Kathy has spent the last ten years in the housing sector, and currently works as the Coordinator at La Chaumiere Housing Co-op and Pawating Co-operative Homes in Sault-Ste.-Marie, Ontario where she is actively involved in an attempt to merge four smaller co-ops into one larger legal entity. The four co-ops would remain in their physical locations, but would operate as one co-op under one name.
La Chaumiere Housing Co-op and Pawating Co-operative Homes
As La Chaumiere was nearing the end of its mortgage, and three other co-ops in the city would be facing the end of their mortgages over the next five years, they began to consider the benefits of a merger.
“We would have more buying power moving forward. We’d save on major items. For instance, we could have one audit instead of four. Board burn-out wouldn’t be as much of a problem. We’d only need one board made up of representatives from each co-op instead of each co-op having to come up with enough Board members year after year. If a member has to appear before the Board, it would be less intimidating if maybe only two board members are from that person’s home community.”
Other benefits include increasing the capital reserve fund, increased borrowing power, and having a louder voice when lobbying or applying for grants or permissions. Being a larger entity also could help the co-op finance to build more housing.
“The local service manager has to approve the merger, as well as the Board and the members of each co-op, but if it goes ahead, the service manager would only be dealing with one co-op instead of four separate ones which could streamline the processes involved in delivering subsidies.”
Why Kathy is a Peer Network champion
The opportunity to network with other people who are considering a similar project, or who have already achieved success with their own project inspired Kathy to become part of the Peer Network.
“It’s all a learning process. Rules, regulations, and by-laws change all the time. Finding out what’s worked for others, and what hasn’t worked is valuable.” If the merge of the four co-ops is successful, she hopes to be able to guide others going through the process.
Bob Putzlocher, Kingston Co-operative Homes Inc
Bob Putzlocher, Board Treasurer and Past-President
Kingston Co-operative Homes
20+ years in the sector
His former career as a project manager with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment has given Bob insight into the processes involved in large construction projects. “I understand the process of development and construction, and my experience in project management could be valuable to others.” How to approach city councils, seek opportunities for partnerships, and find sites suitable for construction are all things on which Bob would be willing to offer advice, along with exploring any incentives that might be available to those willing to develop affordable housing.
Kingston Co-operative Homes Inc
Entering the third expansion of their initial 87-unit townhouse, Kingston Co-operative Homes (KCH) is currently constructing a new three-storey, 38-unit apartment style block.
“There was an empty lot adjacent to the co-op, and the city’s housing task force determined it should be used to provide some affordable residential housing. They originally offered it to private developers, but the requirement for a percentage of the units to be affordable resulted in no offers. So, they offered it to some non-profits. Only a few determined they had the capacity to take on such a project. In the end, a development proposal from KCH was accepted.”
The co-op had already completed two other 8-unit phases of development in partnership with the City of Kingston. That success led the city to have confidence in the co-op’s ability to manage this much larger project.
Why Bob is a Peer Network champion
Forty years of running marathons has taught Bob never to give up. He is committed to seeing more affordable housing developed in his city, and beyond. The Peer Network is an ideal opportunity to stay involved. “I want to continue contributing to the community at large, and to the co-op community in particular.”
Réal Routhier, La Visionnaire coopérative d’habitation
Directeur général de la Coopérative d’habitation La Visionnaire
12 years in the sector
Since 2010 Réal Routhier has shown an interest in co-ops. Living in a housing co-op and serving on the board of directors has given Réal an insight into the problems associated with small co-ops. His first challenge came when he was hired in 2016 to lead a mutualization project between eight co-ops that were on the same street in Longueuil.
His first task was to create an inter co-op committee with a representative from each cooperative. The group was very open-minded, and the committee members quickly realized that they were all facing the same problems. Meetings began in September and by November the committee was already looking at the even greater benefits of the merger. In June 2017, three of the eight co-ops voted to merge and hired Réal part-time. Five years later, La Visionnaire housing co-op has the strength of a nine-co-op merger, with 153 units, 20 buildings and two full-time employees.
Why Réal is a Peer Network Champion
Réal believes that having a vision is very important job. A vision statement is unifying and gives the board and members a sense of what the co-op hopes to achieve and become. The exercise resonated so well with co-op representatives that they named the new co-op La Visionnaire.
One of the benefits Réal noticed immediately after the merger was that the confidence of funders and suppliers increased. In addition, the new cooperative offers greater stability and trust among members.
Inter-cooperation and sharing are two elements he strongly believes in. “We are stronger as a community and sharing allows us to learn from others and pool our resources,” says Réal. In a merger, the uniqueness of each co-op contributes to the development of housing cooperative and ensures its sustainability.
Kim Weiman, Community Housing Management Network
CEO, The Community Housing Management Network
13 years in the sector
As CEO of The Community Housing Management Network, Kim has oversight of more than 26 000 units of housing in Ontario and Nova Scotia. Her experience as a property manager since 1992 has given her deep insight into the processes surrounding affordable housing development, especially in the area of subsidy programs, which can all be administered differently depending on location. Her involvement with CHF Canada has led to work with CMHC and the Agency for Co-op Housing. She is extremely familiar with the Housing Services Act, and all of the funding programs available in Ontario.
Kim has been involved in countless projects over the years, from small expansions to brand new builds. “One thing I’m really excited about right now is the new phase of Kingston Co-operative Homes. I’ve been working with the group there on some of the design concepts. For instance, there are things they can do now that will save them money down the road. We can help them determine what might work and what might not work based on our experiences with past projects.”
Why Kim is a Peer Network champion
Kim believes that the amount of time she has spent in the sector, and her work with CHF Canada in particular has led directly to her involvement with the Peer Network. “For me, it’s about being involved. I have an absolute passion for affordable housing, making sure it’s here now, and into the future. This group allows us all to be at the table, sharing information and gaining information. Sometimes when things are changing, history gets lost, and it’s important to have the history at the table, too.”
Renée Kominek, Propery Manager
Renée Kominek, Propery Manager
Clairvue Housing Co-operative, Chatham, ON
18 years in the sector
A former certified financial planner and licensed mutual funds officer, Renée’s background in finance serves her well when it comes to figuring out the funding for large projects. Along with Clairvue, she’s managed three other co-ops in the city. Renée has an eye for detail, and her personal connections to people who have mobility challenges have led her to pay close attention to people’s day-to-day needs. When Clairvue embarked on an expansion project in 2018, Renée was there to ensure careful consideration was given to design elements that not only would make the new units more comfortable and accessible, but also would allow them to blend seamlessly in architectural style with the existing housing in the co-op.
Clairvue Housing Co-operative
At the 2018 CHF Canada AGM in Victoria, the National Housing Strategy was announced. “A Board member got pretty excited, and kind of drew me in. Two weeks later, a developer called and said the city had put out requests for proposals. This particular developer was interested in seeing more co-ops built and we were the only one that had property to work with.”
The project progressed rapidly from that point. The co-op Board unanimously approved an infill project, and members were asked what they felt was needed. The result was eight new units, two barrier-free ground floor units, one ground floor single bedroom unit with universal design that could be converted to a barrier-free unit in the future, and a two-bedroom ground floor unit all with one-bedroom apartments above. “We’d lost good members in the past because their needs changed and we didn’t have appropriate units.”
Why Renee is a Peer Network champion
Renée has joined the Peer Network because she thinks it would be helpful to others if Clairvue could share its success along with giving others tips on what they might not know to ask. “If we knew then what we know now, we would have known what questions to ask along the way so that we could have been better prepared at certain stages of the project. It would be great to help someone else avoid our pitfalls.” Her experience acting as a project manager for Clairvue’s expansion makes her an ideal resource for anyone looking to take on a similar project.
Clairvue Co-operative Housing, Chatham, ON
5 years in the sector
A member of the co-op since 2016, Sarah is a small craft business owner, and a single mother of three boys. Her past involvement with fundraising as a member of school parent councils, and her ability to steer things along made her a valuable member of team at Clairvue when the co-op decided to make an expansion.
“I was there for the build, helped keep things on track, and dealt with setbacks. I think if people are looking for help to do something similar, I can help them to find out how to take their next steps, and who they need to connect with. If I can’t answer a question, I’ll find someone who can!”
Clairvue Co-operative Housing
In 2018, members at Clairvue voted unanimously in favour of an expansion. By early 2020, people were moving into the eight new units, two of which have modifications for accessibility. The co-op contributed land, $30 000, and the time and expertise of their manager, as well as arranging a loan with the London Community Foundation. CHF Canada provided technical expertise and support. Sarah was involved in meetings with contractors, CHF Canada, and members to help ensure things ran smoothly. Along with the property manager, she was very active in budgeting, fundraising, and the logistics of adding new units to an existing community.
Why Sarah is a Peer Network champion
After being at Clairvue for six years, Sarah feels that she is still learning, and also that she can help point people in the right direction if they want to build more affordable housing.
“I would love to help build more housing across Canada. I’m raising three boys by myself, and we have fair market value. If I were to look for a 3-bedroom apartment outside the co-op, it wouldn’t be possible. We make it work here, but everybody is entitled to a place to live. It shouldn’t be a choice between a roof over your head or food in your belly.”