Housing Coops

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Vancouver, Canada

John Restakis:


"Housing co-ops have established a well-earned reputation as the most cost effective option for promoting affordable housing while establishing strong, safe communities for their members There are 105 non-profit housing co-ops with a total of 5,654 units in the City of Vancouver. There are also 11 equity co-ops with over 200 units.

Housing co-ops have been leaders in the promotion of policies that advance sustainability. Many have been leaders in the movement to retrofit buildings for more energy efficiency. In this, they are aided not only by their social ethic, but also from the support they receive from their federations which enables the sector as a whole to mobilize around shared goals & objectives.

Recently, the Co-op Housing Federation of BC (CHF BC) launched an ambitious effort to address the sustainability issue through the pursuit of strategic actions within the co-op housing sector. The plan is supported through a new partnership between CHFBC, City Green Solutions, and eaga Canada with backing from BC Hydro, BC Housing, Terasen Gas, and Vancity. The initiative focuses on an Energy Use Survey of all housing co-ops, and a complete energy audit for sample types of housing co-op. The collection of this data from individual housing co-ops can then be quickly matched with available programs to fund energy upgrades.

CHFBC’s leadership on sustainability has made it Canada’s first carbon-neutral federation of housing co-ops.

With the assistance of CHF BC, some co-ops in Vancouver have also taken advantage of the CMHC renovation-retrofit grants, the Live Smart Efficiency Assistance Program (LEAP) grants and other opportunities like The Home Depot Foundation grants. CHF BC also led the effort to help leaky co-ops get the resources they needed to get repaired or rebuilt. So far, about ¾ of them have been repaired.

Similarly, the BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA) performed a survey of their members that included energy audits. With this data the association has been able to screen programs to determine which of their housing providers is eligible for support, and then match those societies with the resources they need. To date, BCNPHA has matched more than 500 eligible housing societies with free energy assessments, energy savings kits, grants for energy efficiency retrofits and more.

The outcomes from these initiatives alone will substantially reduce the energy costs of the city. But it is only a beginning. The same initiatives could be extended as a service to each and every apartment building and home-owner with the support of the city and other partners, and the creation of a specialized, non-profit, green home service co-op to apply the tools, conduct the audits, and even carry out the retrofits and energy upgrades. The co-op could also play a central role with the city in marketing the program, raising public awareness, and recruiting resources and skills to the movement for a green city.

What is key for the success of such an effort is mobilizing and targeting the existing commitment and resources of the co-op sector, particularly the organizational capital that is available through the federations that link co-ops together. Organizations like the Co-op Housing Federation of BC, the BC Co-op Association, and Central 1 which links together the credit union system, are invaluable social assets whose expertise, commitment, and membership base constitute a great reservoir of untapped potential for realizing the city’s sustainability goals."

2. Ambleview Place Housing Co-op, West Vancouver

"Ambleview Place Housing Co-operative is a four-storey seniors co-op with 42 units and a number of shared amenities, including a community lounge, meeting room, workshop, laundry and underground parking space for each unit.

The District of West Vancouver B.C initiated the project in the mid-1980s. The municipality acquired the site and had expected to build non-profit seniors' housing on the site, but applications for provincial funding were turned down because family housing had priority. After considering various options, the municipality decided to request proposals for the private development of a non-profit and non-subsidized housing project for seniors with some form of co-operative ownership.

How the Co-operative Works

The municipality leased the land to the co-op for 60 years. The value of the prepaid lease was set at $775,000, which in 1987 was estimated to be 60% of the freehold value of the land. In return for the reduced price, the co-op agreed to maintain the building for non-profit seniors housing.

At the end of this term, the municipality will buy the building from the co-op. The co-op members pay into a sinking fund for that purpose. They pay $10 per month for the first 14 years, $15 in years 15-29, $25 in years 30-44 and $40 in the following years. The sinking fund is expected to be large enough by the 60th year to pay the 42 members then in residence the market value of the building.

At the time of its construction, the development costs of the project were just over $3 million, including the land costs of $775,000 and construction costs of $1.7 million. Based on the strength of the land lease and the 25% equity raised from members, Vancity Credit Union provided the construction financing and then the permanent financing for the project. The mortgage for the co-op was initially equivalent to 53% of the total cost of development. Unit prices at the time ranged from between 73% and 83% of market value for units of comparable value in West Vancouver.

Finally, The affordability of the project is ensured over the long-term by the terms of lease agreement, whereby the co-op must maintain the original degree of affordability for subsequent co-op members."

More Information

Source: City of Vancouver as Cooperative City‎‎