Co-operative Housing in Greater Victoria

Today we want to share with you an editorial on the issue of co-operative housing from a passionate community advocate, Patty Shaw who is also profiled in the Sunday edition of the Times Colonist. We here at Victorian Analysis have no personal experience with co-op housing but wanted to learn more after observing the City of Victoria Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing and also hearing Ms. Shaw speak to Saanich Council earlier this month.

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Co-operative housing is a proven and sustainable way to provide affordable, secure housing. In short, it works. In this post I will share the basics of what co-op housing is, the achievements and challenges of the housing co-op movement, as well as information about new development opportunities and why I believe it is the solution to the affordable housing crisis facing the Greater Victoria area and the rest of Canada.

What is co-op housing?

Housing co-ops occupy the space between traditional renting and owning a home. People who live in co-ops are member shareholders and are responsible for the governance of their co-op. They work together to create a viable business and a supportive community.

Co-op members do not own their unit; however they do own the co-op together with the other shareholders or members of the housing co-op. Although members purchase a share upon acceptance into the housing co-op, these are not equity shares because most housing co-ops in Canada are not-for-profit. You can’t sell your unit. You don’t move into a housing co-op as an equity investment, you choose co-operative housing to be part of a community as well as to have a secure, affordable home.

Housing co-ops started being developed in Canada in the late 1960s. A lot of them were created in the early 1980s under government housing programs. In total there are 2,200 housing co-ops in Canada that include 91,000 individual housing units that are home to about 250,000 people. Housing co-ops own or lease the land that their homes are build on.

There are 34 housing co-operatives in the CRD – a total of 1,172 homes. They provide affordable housing to a wide range of people of mixed incomes.

Co-op housing is not the same as housing available from the Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRD).  Unlike CRD housing, our members govern and manage (or secure professional management) for the co-op, they don’t own their units (they are members), they have a range of incomes, and they have security of tenure (as long as they follow the rules set by the members of the co-op).

In a nutshell, co-op housing is:

  • Housing at a fair price (that’s our not-for-profit operation – we operate “at cost”)
  • Security of tenure
  • Member control (one member, one vote)
  • And the chance to live in and contribute to a real community.

All co-ops operate on seven co-operative principles:

  1. Open membership – Co-ops are open without exception to anyone who needs their services and freely accepts the obligations of membership.
  2. Democratic control – Co-ops are controlled by their members, who together set policy, make decisions and elect leaders who report to them. In primary co-ops each member has one vote.
  3. Economic participation – All members contribute fairly to their co-ops, which they own in common. Co-ops pay a limited return (if any) on money people have to invest to become members. Surpluses are held for the future and used to improve the co-op’s services.
  4. Independence – All agreements co-ops sign with outside organizations or governments should leave the members in control of the co-op.
  5. Co-operative education – Co-ops offer training to their members, directors and staff. Co-ops tell the public what they are and what they do.
  6. Co-operation among co-operatives – Co-ops work together through local, national and international structures to serve their members.
  7. Community – Co-ops meet members’ needs in ways that build lasting communities within and beyond each co-op.

Who lives in co-ops?
Well, my family and I as well as a wide range and number of other family types with a variety of incomes and backgrounds. About 58% are women, 50% are single parent led households, 20% are new Canadians, 12% are people with disabilities, and about 35% pay rent based on their income.

Risk for 1/3 of most vulnerable co-op households 
The support available for low-income co-op members is disappearing. Federal funding for rent assistance for low-income members will end when operating agreements expire. Over the next two years about 1,500 co-op households in BC will face a crisis as their homes become unaffordable. The loss of government assistance for low-income co-op members affects seniors, people with disabilities, new Canadians and others on limited or fixed incomes. If these co-op members have to leave their co-op homes they will be facing one of the most expensive rental market in the country.

The Co-operative Housing Federation of BC’s You Hold the Key campaign is focused on sending a clear message to the province that we need a replacement rent supplement program for up to 4,000 low-income co-op households who will be losing their federal rent assistance. Housing is now a provincial responsibility so it’s logical that the provincial government step up to the plate. Not that we should be letting the federal government off the hook. We think that Ottawa should reinvest the money it saves when these agreements expire by transferring enough to the provinces to pick up the slack.

More information about the #coophousingcrunch can be found online on the CHF BC website at

The Co-op Housing Federation of Canada is also fighting to replace low-income member’s rental assistance. Find out more on their website at

Declining federal support for co-op housing

Federal funding for co-ops

Graph Source (see page 3).

The co-op solution to the shortage of affordable housing
Not only do we need to resolve low-income co-op members’ loss of rental assistance, but we also need to address the shocking lack of available affordable housing in Greater Victoria in general.

According to Victoria Foundation Vital Signs 2014 report, just over 23% of renter and 9% of owner households in the Capital Regional District in 2010 spent 50% or more of their monthly household income on shelter costs, on par with rates for BC and Canada. Spending less than 30% is considered affordable (see Page 23).

We need to build affordable homes and we need to do it now. The co-op housing development model addresses this need.

The co-op development model works
The Co-operative Housing Federation of BC has already responded to the cry for more affordable housing by creating new development capacity in the housing community.  We are close to a final agreement with the City of Vancouver to build 358 new affordable homes in partnership with two non-profit housing societies and a newly formed housing co-op.  The City is contributing land worth $25 million to the development.

CHF BC has just incorporated a new land trust to lease the land from the City for a nominal amount on 99-year leases.  Rents are expected to average 75% of market, and some homes will be available at provincial shelter allowance rates.  There is no ongoing subsidy from any level of government. Architectural renderings of three sites from the Vancouver development are shown below:

Vancouver Coop 1

Vancouver coop 2

Vancouver co-op 3

Vancouver Coop 4

We need to look at a similar approach in the Greater Victoria area – sooner, not later.… so let’s get started!

Co-op Development
I am eager and committed to seeing new co-op housing built in BC and in particular, the CRD. We know the CRD has land that would suit new rental housing development. With that contribution we can assemble the equity partners needed for development at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer.

What You Can Do
We need people like you and me telling our local politicians that affordable housing is priority and that the co-op model has a proven and successful track record that should be considered. CHF BC is very interested in exploring opportunities on the Island with interested municipalities and our members. If municipalities have land they want to make available for affordable housing, we can put together the partnerships to make it work.

And why not start right here in the Greater Victoria area?

You Hold The Key Campaign – a motion coming before the District of Saanich Mayor and Council:

On July 6, at the invitation of Councillor Fred Haynes, I approached the District of Saanich Mayor and Council to talk about co-op housing. I spoke about co-op housing national and locally, what the strengths of co-op housing are, what the challenges of co-op housing are, and the new co-op housing development that CHF BC will start building this month. I also asked the Mayor and Council to work on behalf of low-income co-op members to protect and replace the federal rent assistance they are losing. I requested that they support the resolution below.

At the July 13 meeting Saanich Council unanimously passed the resolution with a few minor amendments. The original version is below and the final version will be posted when received.

You can help Fix the Co-op Housing Crunch. You Hold the Key to protecting Canada’s co-op homes!


THAT the Mayor and Council of the District of Saanich endorse the You Hold the Key – Fix the Co-op Housing Crunch campaign;

THAT we call on governments at all levels to act together now to maintain a rent supplement program for more than 20,000 low-income households in co-operative housing communities across Canada;

THAT we call on the Province to fund a rent supplement program to replace expiring federal subsidies for low-income members in housing co-ops;

THAT we call on the federal government to commit now to reinvest the savings from expiring federal housing agreements to share the costs of funding this program;

AND THAT we commit to working with Co-operative Housing Federation BC, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, our municipal partners and other housing allies to achieve these goals.

Reasons for the Resolution 

  • The clock is ticking for seniors, people with disabilities, new Canadians and other low-income members of BC’s co-operative housing communities who rely on federal rent subsidies to keep their homes affordable.
  • Those federal rent subsidies are scheduled to end starting in 2014 and continuing beyond 2020.
  • There is no federal or provincial program to replace this lost government support.
  • Co-operative and non-profit housing has been a provincial responsibility since 1996.

Six action steps you can take

There are six specific action suggestions for you to consider.

  1. Phone Rich Coleman, the Minister Responsible for Housing and Deputy Premier. He has the power to approve a rent supplement program for low-income co-op members. Let him know that you want him to implement a rent supplement program as suggested by the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC. His number if Victoria is 250-953-0900.
  2. Use social media to contact Rich Coleman. Use the hashtags #youholdthekey and #coophousingcrunch.
  3. Email Rich at
  4. Write a letter and send to: Minister Coleman, PO Box 9052, STN PROV GOVT, Victoria, BC V8W 9E2. Suggested text can be found here.
  5. Talk to your friends and family about this issue.
  6. Ask federal and provincial politicians and candidates what they are doing to resolve the affordable housing issue.

For more information on the You Hold The Key campaign and how you can help, please follow this link to the You Hold The Key mini-magazine.

Who am I?
I’m an avid supporter of all things co-op especially and not surprisingly housing co-ops are a top priority of mine. I was accepted into my housing co-op 23 years ago as a low-income single parent in desperate need of secure, affordable housing. Moving into my co-op community was nothing short of life-changing. Having a supportive community of neighbours and the ability to access rent assistance while I furthered my education allowed me to quickly get on my feet financially. Since then I gone on to complete a master’s degree and establish a rewarding career. Many years have passed since I first moved into my co-op, but the intense gratitude I feel hasn’t lessened and is what motivates me. The thought that rent supplements will no longer be available for other low-income co-op members is unacceptable.

Patty Shaw

I have served and continue to serve my co-op and the housing co-op movement in a variety of ways – director, president, vice-president, treasurer, and more.

Approximately two years ago I was elected to serve on the board of directors of the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC and in December of 2014 I was elected as president of the board. It is a volunteer role and I am grateful for our members’ and my fellow directors’ support that allows me to act in this capacity.

With affordable housing a priority for the majority of municipalities across BC and Canada I expect the co-op housing solution conversation to continue.

Finally, I am grateful for the support, encouragement, and interest I have encountered on the road to raising awareness of the co-op housing model as well as fighting for a replacement for low-income housing co-op members’ rent assistance.

For news about affordable housing and co-op related tweets follow me on Twitter at @Pshaaww

Questions? Comments? Email

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