We have spoken several times about the difficulties finding affordable housing in our fair city. One idea I haven’t written about is Co-operative Housing. That’s ironic, because I lived in a housing co-op for 14 years.
A housing co-op, whether for-profit or non-profit, differs from other multi-unit housing in that everyone who lives in it owns a share in the whole building — not just your unit. So you own — and have responsibility for — the whole building. The co-op board (made up of people who live in the building) determines who can or cannot move in and how the building will be managed including how much each share in the building will cost.
Lots of people find it hard to get their mind around the idea that co-ops are affordable. That may be because they have only heard about exclusive, expensive co-ops such as the famous Dakota in New York City, where suites could cost millions of dollars. But they are an excellent way to get affordable housing right here in Vancouver.
Let’s say you know several people who all have the same problem you do — they can’t afford to buy or build a home in Vancouver. You may know several hundred people in that boat.
Well, you can all get together and form a housing co-op. That’s the way I found myself in Wits End Housing Co-op. The apartment complex where I lived in Kerrisdale was sold and razed to make a much larger, more expensive tower. Most of us in the original complex could not afford to live in the new building, but we could afford to pool our resources and our time and talent to form a co-op.
It took a lot of time, and much energy, but many of the families from the original complex called Wits End home for years. It was a good place to raise your children in a nice neighbourhood convenient to transit.
If you go to the Wit’s End web page you’ll see that the charges for housing are quite reasonable, from $782 for a one-bedroom to $1,215 for a four-bedroom unit. Plus you must purchase shares in the building, costing from $1,600 to $2,400 depending on the size of the suite you want. That’s very affordable for Vancouver. But there’s a way to save even more. In some co-ops you can receive a housing subsidy through the government that will allow you to live in a suite that you might not ordinarily be able to afford. The subsidy is given to the co-op, and it is limited. Extremely limited. Check the Wit’s End page and you’ll see that they do not currently have any subsidy available. Plus all their suites are full and they are accepting names for a waiting list (you don’t have to come up with the share purchase money until you are accepted into the co-op).
If you want to form your own housing co-op, the first step is to contact the CMHC, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and follow their guide to forming and running a co-op. There are also guides specific to the province where you live.
Is it cheap? No. There will be lawyers, architects, contractors, inspectors and many more people you will have to hire. The CMHC can guide you through it. There are guidelines, rules and regulations you have to follow all the way.
Once you live in your co-op you will have responsibilities that condo dwellers do not. You will have to serve on a committee, you should serve on the board at least once. And if you choose not to hire cleaning people you will have to do your bit to keep the building clean and safe.
Co-operative housing gives you an instant neighbourhood, a safe neighbourhood for your kids, plus an affordable place to live.
I look back on my co-op years with great fondness.