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COVID-19 and Ontario housing co-ops

Published March 25, 2020

Updated June 3, 2020

We will add to this page as more information for housing co-ops in Ontario becomes available.  

Ontario co-op services staff are here to help you with your questions about co-op operations that are impacted by COVID-19. Please call or email if you have any questions or need help sorting through an issue.

Please also check out our main Housing Co-ops and COVID-19 page which contains more updates and a comprehensive set of FAQs.

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.

Declaration of emergency

The Province has extended the Declaration of Emergency until June 30. While the declaration is in force, there are numerous restrictions that impact co-op operations. This page contains the information that is most important for housing co-ops. Refer to official government releases  for full details.

We will post details here when announcements are made about reopening that affect co-op operations.

Essential workplaces list and housing co-ops

On April 3, 2020, the government of Ontario announced it was reducing the list of essential workplaces. As of Saturday April 4th community housing, which includes co-ops, is no longer listed as an essential workplace. (Student co-ops are likely considered essential as noted on item 13 of the government’s list.)

Some of the work that happens in co-ops such as emergency repairs and safety are considered essential and in determining how to operate, co-ops should focus on which of their services are essential according to the government’s directive.

These are challenging times and we appreciate the work that co-ops across the province are doing to adjust their operations and keep members healthy and safe. Click here to read more on how co-ops can stay safe and comply with government directives.

Members meetings

For Ontario co-ops our advice remains that you should not have members meetings at this time. Ontario’s declaration of a state of emergency prohibits gatherings of more than five people. Even if your meeting will be less than five people, it will be difficult to maintain the proper social distancing between people.

In late April the Province of Ontario issued an update to Emergency Order O. Reg. 107/20, {link to order] which makes changes to the Co-operative Corporations Act related to meetings. There are a number of changes listed in Schedule 3 of the regulation and they apply regardless of anything in the Act or the co-op’s by-laws.

Members’ meetings can be held by “telephonic or electronic means” instead of in-person. Participants need to be able to hear each other and will be allowed to vote. This is temporary and will end when the government decides.

Although electronic, or virtual meetings are temporarily allowed, our advice is to think carefully before holding a virtual members’ meeting and if one is held to only hold it for essential agenda items that cannot be deferred.

Watch for more information about holding virtual members’ meetings.

Annual General Meetings (AGMs)

The emergency order also made changes to the timelines for when AGMs need to be held. Under the order.  If a co-op was supposed to hold an AGM during the emergency, the time is extended to 90 days after the emergency ends. If the AGM was to be held in the 30 days after the emergency ends, the time limit will be 120 days after the end.

In most cases a co-op will be able to wait to hold the AGM until after the emergency is over and they can hold in-person meetings. The members can receive the audited financial statements and appoint the auditor at a later date when you are able to hold your AGM safely.  If you generally elect your directors at your AGM, your current board will remain in office until their successors are elected at the AGM when you are able to hold it. (see Co-op Act S.90(3)).

What about budgets and budget meetings?

Even though the emergency order allows virtual members’ meeting, co-ops should think carefully before holding a virtual meeting to approve a budget. There are two issues that are a challenge for co-op budgets at this time that in many cases can be managed in the short term until an in-person meeting can be held.

  • Submitting a budget to the regulator (service manager or The Agency) on time
  • Scheduling market housing charge increases for the start of the next fiscal year.

Check with your regulator about current submission dates. We are aware of municipal service managers that have agreed to a later submission of the budget and expect that service managers will be flexible in these circumstances.

The co-op can submit the budget or subsidy estimate with a memo to the regulator (municipal service manager or The Agency). The memo can state that the members have not approved the budget at the time of submission due to the COVID 19 pandemic measures. Of course the board of directors must approve the budget before it is submitted to the regulator. You may want to consider holding an electronic board meeting to approve the budget. (see Board meetings)

There are several tools for dealing with the timing of housing charge increases.

  • Check your Occupancy By-law to see what it says. If your co-op adopted CHF Canada’s model Occupancy By-law, it includes a clause that allows the members to set a shorter notice period than normal (See Section 4.4)
  • Another option is to adjust your budget by increasing housing charges to a level that offsets not being able to increase them for the start of the fiscal year. – eg. Instead of raising housing charges by $10.00 starting in April (12 months x $10.00 = $120.00 additional revenue), you can increase charges by $15.00 starting in August (8 months x $15.00 = $120.00). HSA co-ops should check with their service manager to be sure this would not impact RGI subsidy received.
  • Or, expenses could be adjusted.

Board meetings

Even though board meetings will be smaller than members meetings, during the pandemic you should consider not holding in-person board meetings. For Ontario housing co-ops, directors can hold electronic board meetings through such means as telephone conferencing or computer video chat. This is the preferred way to conduct necessary board business during this time.

The emergency order also included a clause that allows virtual board meetings despite anything in the co-op’s by-laws.

To enact directives from board polls, please refer to Article 11.4 of the new model Organizational By-law, 2015.

In scheduling an electronic meeting, CHF Canada Ontario co-op services recommends dealing with high priority agenda items and limiting meetings to no more than one hour in length. During the pandemic, it would be a good idea for the board to schedule short weekly or bi-weekly electronic meetings to discuss urgent issues.

Help for members in financial distress

Co-ops may have options available to assist members, depending on your funding program.  This will help your co-op’s members and can reduce the final draw on the co-op’s own resources.

Housing Services Act

Members who are already subsidized and require a deeper subsidy will receive it effective immediately following the regular RGI rules. Co-ops should follow any specific directives issued by their service manager with respect to COVID-19 and RGI subsidy. Co-op members should contact their co-op office and provide the necessary financial documents.

Members who pay market rents and are experiencing loss or reduction of employment income due to COVID-19 are entitled to benefits under Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan.

Some co-ops might be able to give out RGI (in-situ) subsidy, upon approval from their service manager, if the co-op is under their annual RGI target numbers.

Co-ops should reach out to their service manager to determine if the co-op can temporarily go over their RGI target to provide further in-situ RGI. By requesting additional subsidy, co-ops can assist some service managers in meeting their provincial standard levels for providing subsidized units in their service area.

Section 95

If you are not using all of the subsidy that your co-op receives from CMHC on a monthly basis, or if your co-op has a Subsidy Surplus Fund you may want to use these funds to assist more members in your housing co-op.  Rules for using these funds will be found in your co-op’s by-laws and your Operating Agreement with CMHC.

ILM

Check with your co-op manager or The Agency to find out if your co-op has any unused ILM rent supplements that could be used to assist members in need.  As well, your co-op should have a Security of Tenure Fund for members who aren’t receiving a rent supplement but experience a loss of income.  Confirm the balance in this fund.  If funds allow encourage members who are eligible for the funds to apply.  Rules for eligibility will be found in your co-op’s by-laws or your operating agreement with CMHC.

Section 61

Check your financial statements to determine if your co-op has any unused rent supplements or if your co-op has unused surcharges from higher-income households to assist other households.  Co-ops can further encourage their members to contact the Municipal Housing Service Manager to determine the availability of rent supplements to reduce the cost of a member’s housing charge.

Co-ops with no operating agreements

Some co-ops with expired CMHC operating agreements have been receiving subsidies for low-income members under the terms of FCHI-1 and that program will continue until it is replaced by FCHI-2 in September 2020 or later. CHF Canada is pressing CMHC to provide funds to continue those subsidies.

Some co-ops with operating agreements that ended before April 1, 2016 entered into an agreement with the municipal service manager in their area for RGI assistance. Refer to that agreement or check with your service manager to see if additional funds are available.

Co-ops can further encourage their members to contact the Municipal Housing Service Manager to determine the availability of rent supplements to reduce the cost of a member’s housing charge.

Ontario “Support for Families”

Calling all parents living in Ontario. In case you missed it your household is eligible for a one time per child payment of $200 for children aged 0 to 12 and $250 for children or youth 0 to 21 with special needs. For more information please visit the “Support for Families” webpage.

$200-million social services boost

The Province of Ontario has announced an investment of $200-million for social services to help Ontarians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding will also boost the emergency assistance already offered to people with limited income, assets and credit who are experiencing a financial crisis, who aren’t already on Ontario Works, to cover needs such as food, rent and child care.

Those who are on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program can get a discretionary boost in funding to pay for increased needs because of COVID-19. Individuals are able to apply on a new government website or to contact their case worker if they are already receiving OW or ODSP.

Finally, the funding will also be used to support municipalities and organizations that administer social services, such as food banks, charities, shelters, emergency services and non-profits. Funds will be distributed through the province’s municipal service managers.


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