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Village Canadien Housing Co-op

Tireless lobbying for almost a decade lead to a result worth celebrating: with a new mortgage to revitalize aging homes.

Village Canadien Housing Co-op

A 40th anniversary always calls for a celebration. Village Canadien Co-op in Winnipeg enjoyed extra icing on its cake last summer when, along with its birthday bash, it toasted the successful negotiation of a new mortgage to renovate its aging homes.

“This was a long-term project,” said David Gawthrop, manager of Village Canadien. “I’ve been here 10 years, and I’ll bet we spent eight or nine of those trying to convince the government to let us out of our old mortgage.”

Tireless lobbying by CHF Canada resulted in agreements between CMHC and Manitoba Housing that allowed the co-op to access a $9.3-million mortgage with the Assiniboine Credit Union. Village Canadien is the first to take advantage a new federal program for co-ops that allows CMHC mortgage pre-payments without penalty.

Gawthrop is busy organizing the major renovation projects the co-op hopes to have underway by late spring. “We’ve retained an architectural consultant, tendered out for a construction manager to oversee the project, and we’re starting to plan a construction budget.”

The co-op estimated it would need $5.5 million to retrofit and repair existing homes originally built in 1976. Without refinancing, the work would not have been possible. Now, people can look forward to warmer, drier, more comfortable housing in the years ahead.

“This isn’t something we’re doing so that people can live high off the hog,” said Gawthrop. “We’re not talking gold-plated faucets here. It’s so people can have windows that keep out drafts and pay lower heating bills by having proper insulation. I mean, you have a non-profit co-op providing housing to people largely on subsidies, and we were saddled with a 40-year, 13.25% mortgage. These are folks trying to make ends meet. We were asking the government and CMHC to do the right thing, and CHF Canada helped to make that point, and paved the way for us to refinance.”

As well as renovating existing buildings, Village Canadien hopes to secure a grant to help develop a 55+ apartment complex on land it purchased last year. This project is in line with its goal of supporting co-op members to age in place.

Linda Ferguson, president of the Village Canadien board, is thrilled the refinancing deal finally went through. “It saved us half a million dollars,” she said. “When I first got on the board, I told CHF Canada that we had to get out of that mortgage. If it hadn’t been for them, well, I don’t know.” Ferguson also credits local MP Terry Duguid, for encouraging the co-op to apply for the refinancing program. “He was very supportive throughout the process,” she said. “We’re hoping to be in full renovation mode this summer. I’m so looking forward to a warmer home. It’ll be a lot more comfortable, but also a lot healthier.”

“We’re setting a precedent,” she adds, referring to the fact that Village Canadien is the first co-op to successfully refinance under the new program. “And we just received a letter from Manitoba Housing notifying us that our subsidies will continue for the rest of this year.”

The ability to undertake major renovations while maintaining subsidies adds to the sustainability of the co-op and will allow Village Canadien to provide affordable housing for future generations.