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Several sector organizations celebrate big anniversaries

Published April 30, 2024

In 2024, four successful Canadian co-op housing sector organizations are celebrating milestone anniversaries.

For decades, these four groups – the Co-op Housing Federation of Toronto, COHO Management Services Society, the Peel/Halton Co-op Housing Federation, and Rooftops Canada have demonstrated their resilience and ability to innovate. Each one shows that co-operatives can come together to meet the challenges and opportunities of a changing world.


Co-op Housing Federation of Toronto – Half a century of new co-op development

For 50 years, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto (CHFT) has shown that housing co-operatives can uncover new ways for co-ops and their members to succeed.

It started in 1974 when a small group of Toronto activists met to decide how to help community groups build new housing co-ops. CHFT dedicated itself to finding land, professional support and funding.

Rapid co-op growth soon drove huge member demand for information, education and shared services. CHFT published its first manual for co-op housing directors in 1975. CHFT now offers training on every aspect of governing and managing a housing co-op.

In 1999, CHFT started a group buying program for housing co-ops, Co-op Cost Cutters. Cost Cutters now covers most of Canada, and is even offered in regions without a local federation.

Speaking about one of their flagship programs, Tom Clement, CHFT’s Executive Director, says that CHFT’s Diversity Scholarship program launched in 2004 has helped create a new generation of co-op activists, as recipients have taken on leadership positions in their co-ops and federations. The scholarship program expanded with the help and leadership of CHFT to other regional federations and nationally. Scholarships have helped more than 600 co-op members study at universities, colleges and trade schools.

Tom Clement considers that CHFT’s most durable achievement is the development and preservation of co-op homes. Over 50 years – succeeding even when government support was mostly absent – CHFT has helped develop more than 6,000 co-op homes. Four Co-operative Housing Land Trusts administered by CHFT now represent 10,000 members living in 32 co-ops in the region, providing a solution for long term preservation of these homes. Land Trusts are playing a key role in new co-op housing development and solutions.

Today, CHFT represents about 50,000 people living in more than 180 non-profit housing co-operatives located in Durham, Toronto and York Region.

With CHFT’s help, Riverdale Co-op (one of CHFT’s original members) will soon open 26 new homes. The City of Toronto recently committed half a million dollars to support CHFT’s development work.

CHFT is working in partnership with Toronto’s Housing Now program on the biggest affordable housing development in Ontario in 25 years with new 612 co-op homes in Scarborough.


COHO Management Services Society – Good management a key to housing co-op success 

When British Columbia co-ops agreed in 1984 that housing co-ops needed professional property management, the Co-operative Housing Federation of British Columbia (CHF BC) incorporated COHO Management Services Society (COHO) as a non-profit co-op management company.

CHF BC’s vision has stood the test of time.

As it celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2024, COHO’s team-based approach is trusted by its co-op clients to provide a full range of financial, corporate and maintenance and inspection services. Today, COHO serves about 90 clients, close to half of BC’s housing co-ops.

To make sure that COHO’s strategic vision is always in harmony with the wishes of BC housing co-ops, COHO’s directors are members of the Board of Directors of CHF BC. As co-ops’ needs changed over the years, COHO adapted and added new services.

As co-ops aged, COHO stepped up to fill gaps in maintenance services, first through a separate organization owned by COHO and then directly by COHO. Today, COHO offers everything from handyperson services to procurement and management of bigger projects. Certified building inspectors are part of COHO’s services, helping pave the way for major capital investments and co-op renewal.

COHO’s Executive Director Halina Kuras says that financial services are the key component of COHO’s work, so that co-op boards and members understand how their co-op’s revenue is raised and spent. COHO’s services, says Halina, are flexibly tailored to each co-op’s unique needs.

By reducing the future uncertainties of property management for governments and co-op lenders, professional property management companies like COHO have become a key ingredient in the expansion of Canada’s co-op housing. COHO’s successful model has been replicated throughout BC and across Canada. Part of COHO’s success lies in providing positive workplaces that attract people to careers in co-op housing management.


Peel/Halton Co-operative Housing Federation celebrates 40 years 

The Peel/Halton Co-operative Housing Federation (PHCHF) is well known for persistently supporting initiatives that encourage all Ontario co-op housing federations to collaborate. PHCHF has been a leader in pushing for shared educational services, group buying and scholarships for young co-op members.

This year, PHCHF is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

From its start in 1984, PHCHF has grown to represent more than 4,000 units of housing co-ops in the Regions of Peel and Halton and Dufferin County. With 42 member co-ops of a possible 48, PHCHF represents 80 per cent of the housing co-ops in the area it serves – testament to the value that members find in their local federation.

PHCHF Executive Director Sophie Taylor says that the federation has worked especially hard to understand the challenges faced by smaller federations, to promote collective approaches among co-op sector organizations to overcome those challenges and achieve the benefits of scaling up.

Today, like most federations, PHCHF offers a range of advisory, educational and other support services to its members.

Sophie Taylor credits the Co-op Housing Federation of Toronto for supporting PHCHF’s initiatives. In 2018, all five Ontario federations and CHF Canada formalized their agreement to work together in a historic Memorandum of Co-operation.

PHCHF’s forward-looking perspective has not changed. Recently, with support from the regional government and CHF Canada, PHCHF launched a multi-year pilot project to help four Ontario HSA co-ops complete a strategic planning process. This pilot is aimed at preparing co-ops for new relationships and agreements with government when their mortgages end.

PHCHF has also been actively working to increase member awareness and information available on cybersecurity and good practices for maintaining electronic records and data.

PHCHF is a great example of how co-ops can come together to find the resources needed to safeguard a sustainable future.


Rooftops Canada Foundation – Bringing Canada’s community housing success to developing countries 

For the past 40 years, Rooftops Canada has helped people living abroad in poverty, especially women, secure their rights to live in peace and dignity.

Rooftops’ mission is to improve housing and build sustainable communities in the Global South. It has focused on Sub-Saharan Africa, where 70% of urban families – about 300 million people – live in slums, lacking adequate and safe housing conditions. Rooftops works with local partners – including housing organizations, local governments, credit and trade unions, universities, and the private sector – to deliver its programs.

Rooftops was founded in 1984 by two Canadian co-op housing leaders (Barry Pinsky of Homestarts and Mark Goldblatt from CHF Canada) as the international development program of Canadian co-operative and social housing. Rooftops’ sustained success over four decades shows how Canadian community housing organizations can help build a better world.

According to Executive Director Genevieve Drouin, Rooftops has worked in 38 countries, sending more than 300 technical advisors to 27 of them. More than 175 people from developing countries have participated in study visits to Canadian housing organizations focussed on collaboration and knowledge sharing among partners.

Rooftops helped coordinate post-disaster housing programs in Rwanda, Turkey, Haiti and Indonesia, and pioneered housing-linked responses to HIV/AIDS and urban food security in sub-Saharan Africa. It has been a leader in innovative housing microfinance programs – small loans that support housing being built progressively and over long periods by families living in poverty.

Since it began, Rooftops has raised $40 million to build capacity for housing programs and projects in developing countries. Over $500 million has been leveraged for housing and basic services.

Here at home, Rooftops is supported by CHF Canada members and many other co-operative and non-profit housing organizations. It is governed by a Board of Directors representing its Canadian housing partners, along with at-large members with specialized experience. Countless Canadian housing co-op members have also donated to Rooftops.

For many years, Rooftops has been a key component of Canada’s foreign aid programs. Although the Covid-19 pandemic was particularly tough for international organizations like Rooftops, Genevieve Drouin and her staff are now reinvigorating a current five-year program with Global Affairs Canada called Women’s Spaces that was started in 2022. It is aimed at enhancing women’s rights and control over land and housing in Angola, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda.

Rooftops Canada’s Board of Directors is seeking skilled and passionate individuals as it enters an exciting and transformative phase. It is currently looking for new Board Members to replace vacancies, one from Ontario and one from Quebec. For further details, please visit www.rooftops.ca.


If your housing co-op or sector organization is celebrating a milestone anniversary, contact us by email at info@chfcanada.coop.  We look forward to participating in your event or giving you a shout out online.




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