COVID-19 and Ontario housing co-ops
Published March 25, 2020
Updated September 2, 2020
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.
You can also check out our COVID-19 Meeting Resources page for tips and guides for holding electronic board meetings, town halls, and alternate ways to hold a members’ meeting or AGM.
Declaration of emergency
The Province ended the declared emergency on July 24 when Bill 195, Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 came into force. Although the legislation ended the emergency, it extended many of the emergency orders passed to help control COVID-19. This page contains the information that is most important for housing co-ops. Refer to official government releases and your local public health agency for full details on current rules, for example, many municipalities have introduced mandatory mask use in indoor public settings.
With the ending of the declared emergency there are some important changes for co-op meetings. Please see the section on meetings below for more details.
On July 13, the Province announced that much of Ontario was moving to Phase 3 of reopening.
For details on the reopening please see the government’s publication A Framework for Reopening our Province: Stage 3.
Stage 3 is a significant change but it is important to remember that there are still restrictions. It is not a “return to normal.”
Some of the changes that will be significant for housing co-ops include:
- Most businesses may reopen as long as they follow workplace safety advice. Co-op offices may reopen. But, your co-op should consider carefully whether to fully reopen your office or reopen the office slowly by continuing to have staff work remotely some of the time or only allowing members in the office by appointment. The following chart from the Province’s framework gives good advice on what to consider when developing a COVID-19 safety plan for your co-op.
- The limit on the size of gatherings is increased as long as distancing requirements are still met. Gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed indoors and up to 100 outdoors. The maximum gathering size remains at 10 for areas in phase 2 of the reopening.
During the declared emergency the Province introduced temporary changes to the Co-operative Corporations Act. (See S 188, 189, 190 and the accompanying schedule for details.) The changes allowed co-ops to delay holding their AGM and also permits electronic members meetings. These changes are temporary. Co-ops that delayed their AGM must now hold them and the provision allowing for electronic members meetings will end in 120 days (November 21) unless the Province extends the timeline. For more details read The End of the Emergency Declaration: What that means for Annual General Meetings at Housing Co-ops in Ontario.
With the increase of gathering sizes, many co-ops in phase 3 will now consider whether they can have in-person members meetings to approve budgets or hold an AGM. An important thing to keep in mind is that the distancing requirements will mean you need a big area to hold a meeting. Most co-ops will not have a large enough meeting room to hold a meeting for 50 people while maintaining the proper distancing. This might mean holding an outdoor meeting if the weather co-operates or renting a large room somewhere. Depending on the rules in your municipality, people may also need to wear a mask.
As noted earlier members’ meetings can be held by “telephonic or electronic means” (virtual) instead of in-person. Participants need to be able to hear each other and will be allowed to vote.
For more detailed advice on holding co-op meetings during the pandemic check out our webpage Meeting resources during COVID-19. On this page there is a detailed guide to alternative member meetings to help your co-op plan. Your co-op will need to consider what type of meeting will work best given the situation in your co-op, the rules around meetings and the need to keep your members safe during the pandemic.
Other resources on the meeting page include resources for board meetings and advice on holding information or town hall meetings.
CHF Canada has also produced a model COVID emergency by-law and guide, which can help your co-op hold an electronic meeting or a hybrid electronic and in-person meeting while complying with the temporary rules in the Ontario Co-op Act.
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)).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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