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Western Manitoba Seniors Housing Co-op

When confronted with a chronic housing shortage, seniors in Brandon, Manitoba, went “Old School Co-operative” for a solution.

Western Manitoba Seniors Housing Co-op

“Old School Innovation.” That’s what you might call the approach taken by the Western Manitoba Seniors Non-Profit Housing Co-op. When confronted with a chronic housing shortage, seniors in Brandon, Manitoba, went back to their roots for a solution.

Despite Brandon being Manitoba’s second largest city, residents remain closely connected to their small-town and agricultural heritage, and that includes a familiarity with the co-op model and its principles. A co-operative felt like a natural fit for the seniors, and they set about its development “old school” style. They called a community meeting that over 200 people attended, collected nominal deposits as “earnest money” and organized the way it’s been done on the Prairies for generations.

However, building a housing co-op in the new millennium wasn’t the same as in the old days. Although some $2.3 million in federal and provincial contributions were available, that wasn’t going to be enough to build the $5.8-million, 34-unit project, particularly with the affordable housing charges many seniors required. The co-op enlisted the support of the City of Brandon and made a vigorous case for its project. The City not only provided the land for the project, but contributed $501,700 in capital costs and tax-increment funding that cut municipal property taxes by 50% for 20 years.

As part of this financing partnership with government, the co-op required its members to purchase membership shares ranging from $17,900 to $23,900 per unit, depending on unit size. This was the first use of the “unequal share model” in Manitoba, a real innovation. It required the development of a formal Offering Statement and a lot of member education to ensure everyone understood the transaction. The co-op also went back to the City of Brandon, which purchased shares for three units in trust so that some seniors with little net worth would be included in the project; yet another innovation.

During the four-year planning and development phase, the Western Manitoba Seniors Co-op became a member of CHF Canada as a co-operative-in-development, and began availing itself of member-education opportunities. As long-time co-operators, they understand the principle of co-operation among co-operatives, and how affiliation with co-op federations is an important part of that.

The participation of the co-op in the affairs of its federation is strong. Members attend CHF Canada regional education events in force, and they actively share their knowledge and experience with new co-operatives-in-development. Their leadership has been acknowledged with a Co-operative Achievement Award in 2016 from the Manitoba Cooperative Association.

CHF Canada is proud to have the Western Manitoba Seniors Non-Profit Housing Cooperative as a member. Its unique blend of innovation and traditional co-operative values counts as a success story with a message for our movement.