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Hugh Garner Housing Co-op

This forward-looking community engaged politicians, ministers and other decision-makers to the benefit of thousands of housing co-op members across the country.

Hugh Garner Housing Co-op

Hugh Garner Co-op in downtown Toronto has a very clear picture of the challenge posed by the looming expiry of federal rental assistance for the vulnerable co-op households that make up a significant, and essential, portion of this diverse mixed-income community.

And they’ve been incredibly astute at conveying this picture to politicians, ministers and other government decision-makers to the benefit of not just their own members but thousands of co-op members across the country.

“We’ve been working for four years planning for the end of the [operating] agreement,” explained Ashley Winders, Hugh Garner’s property manager. “The first step was understanding what the current government subsidy meant to our co-op.”

Hugh Garner formed a special working committee to explore the co-op’s options. Members voted early on to maintain the existing subsidy levels, but looking ahead to the future, it was clear that more members, particularly those aging in place, might require subsidies at some point. No longer having mortgage payments would free up some funds, but the money wasn’t going to be enough to both cover expiring federal rental subsidies and take proper care of aging buildings.

“It’s a balancing act,” said Winders. “You have to make sure you have the funds to up your reserve in case something happens to your building. But you still want to be able to offer the subsidy to those who need it. It’s important for the government to step up and acknowledge that co-op housing is worth its weight in gold in this country. It’s a very good model.”

CHF Canada’s national “You Hold the Key” campaign has proposed that the federal government replace the expiring rental subsidies while the co-ops cover the costs of maintaining, renovating and in some cases redeveloping the buildings.

Knowing that the co-op’s voice needed to be heard at many levels, Hugh Garner set about making some noise. With strong support from CHF Canada, it hosted all-candidates meetings prior to the last federal election and lobbied local members of Parliament.

Hugh Garner also welcomed Minister of Finance Bill Morneau to the co-op to make an announcement regarding the government’s commitment to affordable housing in the last budget.  And in January 2017, the co-op arranged a meeting with Morneau’s executive assistant.

“It was an education event, and I think the minister’s assistant really understood,” said board secretary Liz Reynolds. “He could see the problem. When we first started building co-op housing 30 or 40 years ago, we did that for a reason. We knew we needed affordable, sustainable housing. We had reasons, and those reasons haven’t gone away. Plus, a lot of people who moved into co-ops when they were in their thirties and forties, they’re retiring now.”

In Budget 2017, the federal government committed to replacing expiring federal rent subsidies, promising to put a plan in place before 2018.  Hugh Garner, with its clear-eyed planning and assertive lobbying, is a big reason for this victory, as are scores of other politically active CHF Canada member co-ops across the country that supported the “You Hold the Key” campaign.