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Six lessons for co-ops looking to grow and build new homes to achieve the vision of Co-op Housing for All

Published May 25, 2022

Webinar: They’re multiplying! Co-op housing growth across CanadaCHF Canada recently showcased the experiences of six housing co-ops championing the sector’s vision of Co-op Housing for All, by that are growing their co-ops, building more than 300 new co-op homes. These were featured in a national webinar, They’re multiplying! Co-op housing growth across Canada. Members can access the recording here.

What can we learn from these co-ops about building more homes for our co-op?

“There is no single straight path to building new co-op housing,” says CHF Canada’s Jessica Bundy, Co-ordinator, Co-operative Housing Development.

“The co-ops we looked at in the webinar had different opportunities, different financing, and different processes. The common thread was that members found an opportunity to expand, and took advantage of it.”

She points to the Co-op Principle “concern for community”. Many co-ops want new units to accommodate members whose household size has changed, especially older members who need smaller or more accessible homes.

Here are some lessons from the webinar:

Be flexible

A rendering of Hoy Creek Co-op’s new development

“Members needed to be flexible,” says Jessica.

Each of the six co-ops had a unique mix of startup funding and construction financing. Between them, they found federal, provincial and municipal grants and loans; land contributed by municipalities; credit union mortgages, and investments from supportive housing organizations, utilities and private developers.

All but one of the co-ops assembled financial support from several sources. This can mean negotiations and ensuring alignment between all partners can be challenging, including on key goals like affordability.

Know your co-op’s potential

A rendering of Otter Creeks’ new building

“One key step for each co-op,” says Jessica, “was understanding what it had to offer.”

Each co-op had taken a hard look at its development potential. Was vacant land available? What condition were the co-ops’ existing buildings in, and how much money would be needed to keep them in good repair? Did co-op leaders have the energy, enthusiasm and commitment to take on a new development project? Did the co-op’s members support pursuing development opportunities? Was there a wide consensus about how the co-op could benefit from new development?

Foster local relationships

For some, municipalities were particularly important.

  • Kingston Co-operative Homes, for example, was invited by the City of Kingston to build a 38-unit apartment building on a land parcel that the city had set aside for affordable housing. (The co-op was able to include financing for existing unit repairs in its plan.)
  • The Town of Whitby contributed the land used to expand 84-unit Otter Creek Housing Co-op, adding 18 new homes.
  • In Coquitlam, the municipality partnered with BC’s Community Land Trust and the provincial government to redevelop Hoy Creek Co-op’s site – the first of three proposed building phases that will result in nearly 500 new homes.

It’s worth the effort of keeping local connections in good shape.

Sometimes, size matters!

Size can also matter. In Saint John, a 2015 merger of nine small co-ops into 252-unit Unified Saint John Co-op made it possible to find a vacant site and develop 14 more co-op homes. That would not likely have been possible for any of the nine acting individually.

Consider partnerships

There were other examples of innovative partnerships. Ashley Mar Housing Co-op in Vancouver partnered with a private developer to redevelop its site and add 71 new co-op homes, using an arrangement where the private developer will also build market housing on the site.

Otter Creek collaborated with two local service groups to house people with developmental disabilities and mental health/addictions issues.

CHF Canada can help

“A development project always needs professional help,” says Jessica. She points to CHF Canada’s referral service, which can link a co-op anywhere in Canada with a qualified development consultant. CHF Canada recently added an online directory of development resources to help co-ops get started.

“We are happy to help member co-ops that are interested in expanding. I am always available to talk with members who are excited about building more co-op homes,” she says.

To reach Jessica Bundy, email jbundy@chfcanada.coop or call 1.800.268.2537 ext 801.

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