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Housing Co-ops and COVID-19

Published March 17, 2020

Updated September 11, 2020

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Sample letter to Registrar


We understand that this is a challenging and uncertain time, and CHF Canada is here to support your housing co-op during this rapidly changing situation.

This page provides you with updates on CHF Canada services and events due to COVID-19 as well as info on what housing co-ops can do to keep members safe, while maintaining operations.

We are also collecting province-specific information for housing co-ops:

Visit the COVID-19 information page of your regional federation for updates in British Columbia and in Quebec (from CQCH and FECHIMM).

We will continue to update the information on this page, and will add information for other provinces as more details become available.

At your housing co-op:

Public health officials advise that everyone should follow measures to help prevent or slow the spread of the virus. For the most authoritative public health news and advice, visit the website of the Public Health Agency of Canada. You can check for local updates on the website of your provincial or municipal government, and visit World Health Organization site for global updates.

Please see below for answers to frequently asked questions from housing co-ops including how to keep your community secure and your co-op operational.

You can also checkout our COVID-19 Meeting Resources page for tips and guides for holding electronic board meetings, town halls, and (coming soon) alternate ways to hold a members’ meeting or AGM.

CHF Canada is engaging with governments to ensure housing co-ops and their members will be supported during the campaign to fight the spread of COVID-19:

  • For co-ops with federally administered operating agreements, CMHC has announced a further extension of FCHI Phase 1 to August 31, 2020 to protect households receiving federal rent-geared-to-income assistance. Co-ops in Phase 1 will continue to receive their current level of assistance until August 31st, 2020. This will allow co-ops to have time to review, sign and return the FCHI-2 agreement to CMHC and avoid interruption of funding. This means that Phase 2 funds will start September 2020. It is expected they will announce other financial measures, flexibilities and assistance as required.
  • The Ontario government announced it will be providing $200 million in funding for social services amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • CHF Canada is working to ensure that provincially-administered housing co-ops will also be assisted as needed.

CHF Canada events:

To protect the health and safety of members and staff, we have announced the cancellation of CHF Canada’s Spring Education events.

CHF Canada is working with partners to plan virtual (online) fall events in order to continue to protect the health and safety of members, staff, and partners.

CHF Canada member services:

CHF Canada has technology and systems in place to allow us to operate with as little disruption as possible. Staff are currently preparing to work from home, as circumstances permit. Meetings, events and travel plans are being altered in favour of teleconferencing or rescheduling as much as possible. Our team continues to be at your service via telephone and email.

CHF Canada FAQs Related to Housing Co-ops and COVID-19

  1. Can I still access services from CHF Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  2. Is CHF Canada cancelling its education events?
  3. If I have registered for a CHF Canada event, can I get a full refund if it is cancelled due to COVID-19?
  4. My housing co-op has an upcoming Annual General Meeting (AGM), should we cancel it to avoid a mass gathering of people and to practice social distancing during COVID-19? Will we be in non-compliance with our provincial/territorial co-op housing act (or equivalent) if we cancel it?
  5. What about if members can’t afford to pay their housing charges>?
  6. My housing co-op has received inquiries and we know of members who have suffered income loss as a result of either lay-offs, reduced work hours or illness as a result of COVID-19. Do you have any advice on how we deal with members who can’t pay their housing charges or how to offer support to our members suffering financial difficulties due to COVID-19?
  7. Can we offer more RGI subsidies to help members pay their housing charges?
  8. Is our housing co-op eligible for mortgage relief?
  9. Our housing co-op has to submit an annual filing which includes audited financial statements approved by the board, but my board has suspended all meetings due to the COVID-19, what should we do?
  10. Should my housing co-op board of directors still be meeting given the COVID-19 measures in place?
  11. Should my housing co-op introduce measures for staff managing the co-op? What are our employer obligations?
  12. Should the housing co-op or management firm restrict or avoid maintenance and other work in member units, or with members, due to COVID-19?
  13. What else should we do to keep co-op members safe and healthy in our community?
  14. What can our co-op can do to maintain community spirit at this time?
  15. Someone in my housing co-op has been diagnosed with COVID-19, should this information be shared with other members and visitors?
  16. Is there any temporary assistance, or government relief for non profit businesses such as housing co-ops and housing co-op management companies experiencing financial difficulty due to COVID-19?
  17. Should the co-op continue with existing moves and filling vacant units, and if so, then how?
  18. Can CHF Canada provide posters or info sheets to help promote public health and social distancing measures?

 

  1. Can I still access services from CHF Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic?

     Yes, CHF Canada is here for you.  Staff are set up to work from home and continue to be at your service via telephone and email (find our staff contact details here). Meetings, events and travel plans are being changed to practice social distancing and we are using other online technology as needed.

  1. Is CHF Canada cancelling its education events?

   CHF Canada has made the decision not to hold or provide any in person services including education events for the remainder of 2020. Decisions regarding 2021 events are still pending.   However, alternatives for all services are available and the fall education events will held in our inaugural fall virtual event throughout the month of November 2020.  Other online events and webinars are also planned. Continue to visit our website and subscribe to our e-news  to receive updates on new online education opportunities such as webinars.

  1. If I have registered for a CHF Canada event, can I get a full refund if it is cancelled due to COVID-19?

     Yes.

  1. My housing co-op has an upcoming Annual General Meeting (AGM), should we cancel it to avoid a mass gathering of people and to practice social distancing during COVID-19? Will we be in non-compliance with our provincial/territorial co-op housing act (or equivalent) if we cancel it?

     When the AGM has to take place varies by jurisdiction.  For example, for some it is within six months of the end of the financial year end, for others it is within 15 months of the last AGM.  The key concern right now is member health and safety and avoiding in person gatherings.  Many provinces are not allowing large gatherings, co-ops need to follow these directives and postpone their AGM to a later date when states of emergencies are removed. In some provinces you will be required to inform government agencies that oversee your co-op legislation. Contact CHF Canada staff if you require clarification.  In the meantime, here is a list of provincial and territorial registrar websites.

See our COVID-19 Meeting Resources page for tips on holding electronic board meetings and member information meetings or town halls. A guide for alternatives to holding a member meeting is under development.

If you are unable to hold your AGM in order to renew or elect new board members due to expiring terms, your current board will remain in office until your next AGM.

  1. What about if members can’t afford to pay their housing charges?

It is quite likely that you have members living in your co-op who will struggle to pay their housing charges. The government has put in place income relief programs for workers whose income has been impacted by Covid-19.  Each housing co-op will need to consider its unique situation, and provide options and flexibility for deferment of housing charges. We recommend your co-op is proactive in asking members who will be in this situation, and work with your manager to develop a process to record agreements if you don’t already have these in place. There could also be potential to access funding to support those struggling to pay housing charges through existing agreements with government. For more information contact your regional federation or CHF Canada.

  1. My housing co-op has received inquiries and we know of members who have suffered income loss as a result of either lay-offs, reduced work hours or illness as a result of COVID-19. Do you have any advice on how we deal with members who can’t pay their housing charges or how to offer support to our members suffering financial difficulties due to COVID-19?

     The federal government has and continues to make announcements regarding support available to all Canadians impacted by COVID-19, including financial support for those whose jobs have been affected. You can find information on these and other measures here.

It may take time for people to access any relief. Check your by-laws and regulations about housing charge assistance to members, and where it is allowed and available, provide additional assistance to those who qualify.

It is also important to balance and make decisions in the best interests of the co-operative, and not jeopardize the financial viability of the co-op. We do not advise housing co-ops to waive housing charges. If your housing co-op is thinking of deferring housing charges and would like help please contact us.

Student finishing school and looking for work may be eligible to apply for $1,250 to $2,000 per month under the Canada Emergency Student Benefit.

CHF Canada continues to monitor, seek and share information on financial relief measures and programs that will help our members co-ops. We will continue to update this information.

  1. Can we offer more RGI subsidies to help members pay their housing charges?

     Housing co-ops under federal subsidy programs such as Section 95 and ILM may be able to offer assistance using available subsidy funds on hand. These housing co-ops can talk to the Agency or other regulatory body about additional assistance that may be or become available.  If you are under a provincial, territorial or municipal (Ontario Service Manager) government program, contact your regulator to find out what they can offer.  CHF Canada will continue to monitor and update you with specific information by province and territory as it becomes available.

  1. Is our housing co-op eligible for mortgage relief?

If your mortgage is held by a credit union or other lender, they may consider requests on a case by case basis. Contact your lender with information on your financial situation and they will discuss this with you, taking into account need and financial capacity.

CMHC is prepared to consider mortgage deferrals to co-ops experiencing financial difficulties, on a case by case basis. Your co-op can apply to defer a mortgage payment and pay it later if approved, but that payment, plus interest, still has to be made in the future. It is in the co-op’s best interest financially to continue to make its mortgage payments if it can. To find out more about making a request to defer your mortgage payment for up to six months, see CMHC’s Q&A.

  1. Our housing co-op has to submit an annual filing which includes audited financial statements approved by the board, but my board has suspended all meetings due to the COVID-19, what should we do?

     For housing co-ops submitting annual filings, returns or similar to regulators, proceed to submit these and contact your regulators to advise them if you have been unable to hold board meetings due to COVID-19.

  1. Should my housing co-op board of directors still be meeting given the COVID-19 measures in place?

 While board meetings typically involve fewer people than members’ meetings, you may wish to consider postponing all non-essential business. Consider alternatives and continue your commitment to social distancing.  While provincial restrictions on the number of people allowed to gather is changing rapidly, there is still an obligation to do so safely, and with safety protocols in mind.

If you can easily use Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting or other web or teleconferencing for board meetings, where every director has access to a computer and an internet or phone connection, you may consider this option. Depending on your jurisdiction, email exchanges and other means of polling directors individually may not meet the test of a meeting under most co-op legislation, so you will need to take care that you are conducting business properly.  Please reach out to our staff and references our new resource Answering the 5Ws of Electronic Board Meetings and tip sheet.

  1. Should my housing co-op introduce measures for staff managing the co-op? What are our employer obligations?

     Your board of directors should have discussions with staff or your property management firm regarding limiting contact when collecting housing charges, limiting maintenance and other work in member units to support social distancing. Boards should also consider limiting maintenance requests to urgent or health and safety concerns.

In addition to your usual obligations as an employer, there are a number of additional steps that need to be taken in accordance with public health advice. Here is a resource explaining what employers should know during a pandemic

  1. Should the housing co-op or management firm restrict or avoid maintenance and other work in member units, or with members, due to COVID-19?

Maintenance is likely still being prioritized.  Given the duration of the pandemic, and the loosening of restrictions across different provinces, some maintenance may be done.  Very clear and appropriate protocols should be in place for any maintenance in member units.   Co-ops should not reduce cleaning services. Cleaning with disinfectants should be increased for high touch surfaces such as elevators and door handles.

  1. What else should we do to keep co-op members safe and healthy in our community?

     The Public Health Agency of Canada gives good direction on how to keep people safe during COVID-19.   Let your members know what your co-op is doing, such as increased cleaning, housing charge assistance, social distancing reminders and signage.  If you have put in place a safe program to check on your neighbours, especially those who are elderly, vulnerable or have physical disabilities, let members know. Maybe offer to pick up groceries or other needed items for them.  Each housing co-op will have different needs and levels of comfort to implement COVID-19 measures.  You have to do what is right for your housing co-op. Feel free to contact our staff for assistance, we are here for you.

  1. What can our co-op can do to maintain community spirit at this time?

     Here are some ideas:

  • Have a balcony or front porch singalong, like Fieldstone Co-op in Toronto did!
  • Have children at your co-op start a ‘neighbourhood window walk’ or ‘apartment door walk.’ Each week has a different theme for children to draw pictures and place them in their windows or on their apartment doors for other children to see.
  • Rediscover the pleasures of a phone call. For kids, suggest they try out ‘tin can’ calls with their friends across the way!
  • Virtually get together with your neighbours and have a Netflix party, stream a musical performance from your favourite musician, go on a free virtual tour of a world-class museum or have an online fitness class together.

There are lots of ways we can come together even though we are apart during these times.

Click here for some other healthy and fun ideas to help keep spirits up during COVID-19 from our American friends at the National Association of Housing Cooperatives.

Thanks to Mary Ho and a member at the co-op she works at, as well as Lindsey Reed for providing a number of these tips.

  1. Someone in my housing co-op has been diagnosed with COVID-19, should this information be shared with other members and visitors?

     A housing co-op should abide by and respect the protection of personal information, and privacy law. Privacy laws vary by jurisdiction. If you are uncertain about your legal obligations regarding privacy law, do seek legal counsel.

Given the Public Health Agency advice and the concern for community transmission of COVID-19, posting general information reminding members to adhere to Public Health Agency information and protocols of self-isolation, quarantine, social distancing and symptoms is prudent.

  1. Is there any temporary assistance, or government relief for non profit businesses such as housing co-ops and housing co-op management companies experiencing financial difficulty due to COVID-19?

     CHF Canada continues to monitor the various programs being introduced by the federal and provincial governments to see what is applicable to our members.   Those with employees, may be able to benefit from the Temporary Wage Subsidy for Employers program.

  1. Should the co-op continue with existing moves and filling vacant units, and if so, then how?

     There are a number of things to consider and these will be different for each housing co-op.  First, have the discussion and make a plan.  Clear communication with members about move-ins is always helpful and can reduce anxiety and make sure everyone can play their part in staying healthy and safe (e.g. not use the elevator during move in times).

For any units where rental subsidy applies, you can check with your regulator to see if vacancy loss is covered and if so, how much and for how long. If you have vacancies you need to fill, here are some options you could consider:

      • limit viewings of units, or use only online listings with virtual tours instead of in-person viewing, especially if members are still in the unit
      • prepare units for future, but stop move-ins for now
      • set guidelines for the day of the move, including cleaning of common areas (e.g. elevators after the move is completed)
      • use electronic means for signing agreements and housing charge payments
      • limit repairs of units being turned-over to critical and in accordance with essential services and public health directives
      • check if there are moving companies still operating and that their COVID-19 health and safety protocols are satisfactory to you and aligned with public health directives.

Here are is an article that may help you reflect on your plan and protocols around vacancies and move ins.

  1. Can CHF Canada provide posters or info sheets to help promote public health and social distancing measures?

There is much information available through federal, provincial and local public health agencies. Here are a few posters or information sheets we have found to help communication across your co-op:

  1. Laundry room sign (CHF Canada/The Co-operators)
  2. Help reduce the spread of Covid-19 (Govt of Canada)
  3. Physical distancing (Govt of Canada)
  4. Mental Heath tips for working at home (Govt of Canada)
  5. Coping with Stress during Covid-19 (World Health Organization)
  6. Help stop the spread (Govt of Alberta)

Sample Registrar Request

RE:  [Insert Housing Co-op Name] Co-op Annual General Meeting and COVID-19

Insert incorporation number

Dear [Registrar] or [insert name]:

I am writing to you on behalf of the Board of Directors of [Insert Housing Co-op Name], a housing co-operative located in [insert].  Our by-laws / rules require us to hold an Annual General Meeting within four months of fiscal year end, which would mean having the meeting by the end of [month].   The current public health emergency brought on by the COVID-19 virus is of particular concern to us, we wish to abide by public health authorities advice of social distancing and protect our members, some of whom are elderly.

Therefore, we are writing to request that in your capacity as Registrar of Cooperatives, that you grant us permission to defer our Annual General Meeting to no later than September 30th of 2020.  It is our intent to hold the AGM as soon as practically possible once the public health concern subsides, but without knowing how long that may be, we feel this period is a reasonable one.

We anticipate a favourable response, and thank you for your attention to this matter.  Please feel free to contact us directly with any questions arising from the above.

Sincerely.

[Name]

President,

[Insert Name] Housing Co-op


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