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Vision Summit encourages co-op housing leaders to dream big

Over the course of two busy days in February, 72 co-op housing leaders gathered in Toronto to share ideas for the future of Canada’s co-operative housing movement. Some participants had many years’ experience in the sector, while others were new co-op housing champions.

During the Vision Summit, delegates learned about the history of co-op housing in Canada, reflected on its strengths, and discussed how to take advantage of the opportunities that the National Housing Strategy presents for community housing providers and advocates.

Elke Dring, a member at Alex Laidlaw Co-op in Ottawa and a co-op manager with Homestarts, said, “I have a network of people I speak with locally, but it’s great to get a national perspective, and I’m happy to see a focus on emerging leaders, because those are the voices that need to be put forward.”

One consistent theme throughout the Summit was the desire to build more co-op homes. Participants spoke about wanting co-op housing to be an option for more Canadians, and not the “best-kept secret” of housing options.

“Our excitement and passion for growth and expansion is not just about more houses for more people in more places. It is about the growth and expansion of identity, security, autonomy, and social equity in more houses for more people in more places,” said Kyle Taylor, a new board member of the Northern Alberta Co-operative Housing Association (NACHA).

The Vision Summit grew out of a member resolution at CHF Canada’s 2016 AGM, which asked that key stakeholders of the co-op housing movement be brought together to create a shared vision for the success of the Canadian co-operative housing movement. At the 2017 AGM, a follow-up resolution advanced the process, calling on CHF Canada to refine that vision and including stakeholders in the process.

This optimism and opportunity for co-op housing poses a challenge. While the co-operative housing movement’s focus has been on protecting existing homes, we now have the chance to build more co-op units.

As Cassia Kantrow, a board member with CHF BC, put it, “We need to dream big, and then take it home and do the work.”

Next, a working group of Summit participants and other stakeholders will contribute to the final wording of a Vision framework document which will be shared with members for feedback and part of a resolution taken to the Annual Meeting in June.