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Co-op managers and staff working hard and smart during COVID-19

Published April 29, 2020

Working together – it’s what the co-op movement is all about!

As the Covid-19 crisis tests the strength of our communities, the dedicated people who manage Canada’s housing co-ops are working hard to ensure that co-op members stay safe.

Using technology

A staff person sits at a desk in front of a window

A COHO employee working from home

“Managers are not on site,” explained Kim Weiman, Chief Executive Officer of The Network. “They’re working from home, but we’re getting the information out there.”

Co-ops are holding meetings differently, using conference calls and interfaces like Zoom. However, not everyone can access high speed internet, and some older members lack comfort with newer technology.

“For some of our members, meetings were their social piece,” said Kim Weiman. “Now they’ve lost that.” The Network is trying to ensure that vulnerable members are not left isolated during the pandemic. “Some staff have started making weekly calls or emails to people we know might need extra assistance,” she said.

Paul Hastie, Executive Director of Homestarts, is pleased with how staff have responded and how clients have gone out of their way to be appreciative during this difficult time. “Our staff is working as hard as they ever have and more creatively than they ever have,” he said, noting that virtual meetings have not reduced efficiency or productivity. “People are feeling positive and productive.”

Taking extra precautions

Sanitizing railings at a co-op

Managers and staff are taking extra precautions. Cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces and common areas have increased, and buildings with elevators limit the number of people using them at any one time. Co-op members have been asked to restrict visitors, including family members, and to avoid approaching maintenance staff to try to reduce the spread of the virus.

CoAction Staff Association in Ontario is helping share tools and new protocols being introduced at housing co-ops among fellow staff.

Helping Members in Financial Difficulty

A person with blond hair and a colourful red shirt smiles at their desk, with a beautiful view of trees out the windowWorking with their boards, co-op managers and staff have made allowances for people who found themselves in economic difficulty. “We’ve had a fairly active campaign to communicate with members as to what resources are available,” said Paul Hastie. “We’re taking a sensitive and reasonable approach to households on a case-by-case basis.”

“When the pandemic hit, we were in a good position to respond effectively, both as a business and as a community,” reflects Scott Stager Piatkowski, Co-ordinator at Bread and Roses Co-operative Homes in Kitchener and a CHF Canada Director At Large. “We’ve worked proactively with members facing financial hardship in a way that protects the co-op and shows compassion where it is called for.”

Filling vacancies

A card shows a silhouette of a house against a sunrise, with a message thanking staff

A thank-you card from Cawthra Mansions Co-op in Toronto to Homestarts staff

Figuring out whether to fill vacant units and facilitating moves when needed has been one of the biggest hurdles. “Getting people moved safely is an ongoing challenge,” said Kim Weiman. “For smaller co-ops especially, filling vacant units is critical to maintain a revenue stream. As well, some people have to move. Their moves were pre-planned, and they gave notice at their former residence.” But finding moving trucks right now, or people willing to help with a move, isn’t easy when movers need to adjust their methods to protect themselves and everyone in the building.

Halina Kuras, Director of Finance and Operations at COHO Management Services Society, agrees that moves have been challenging, but says that people have been understanding about allowing 72 hours between moves to clean properly and protect maintenance workers. COHO also has staff working from home.

“When this first started, we purchased laptops, printers, whatever people needed to work from home,” she said. “We thought it would be a challenge to get all the equipment in place so quickly, but it went very well. We’ve been using Microsoft Teams for staff meetings, and it’s very productive.”

COHO has worked closely with CHF BC to make sure members know how to access provincial and federal financial relief programs.

Co-op Communities

The food pantry at Bread and Roses

“If everyone works together,” said Kim Weiman, “we keep the risk to a minimum. Be considerate. Be mindful of other people. Reach out to people to make sure they’re okay. If you’re going to the grocery store, see if someone else needs something. We should be able to work together to keep our communities safe.”

“We’ve strengthened our community supports in multiple ways, such as replenishing our food pantry with both co-op funds and donations,” said Scott Stager Piatkowski. “It’s been a challenge, but I’m confident that Bread and Roses will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.”

If you have news or photos of what your co-op manager, staff or volunteers are doing to deal with the COVID-19 emergency please email info@chfcanada.coop.

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