Athletes Village Housing Co-operative, Vancouver, British Columbia
Housing co-operatives in Canada date back to the 1930s when, among other co-operative initiatives, the Nova Scotia Antigonish Movement promoted co-operatives that built houses for their members. When construction was complete, the houses were sold to members and the housing co-operatives were dissolved. Similar building co-operatives were formed in Quebec between the wars.
The student movement introduced the housing co-operative model prevalent in modern Canada, continuing rental housing co-operatives. Almost all Canadian housing co-operatives are set up so that member-residents own the co-op collectively but don’t hold equity in the assets.
The first student housing co-operative was founded in 1913 in Guelph, Ontario and the first family housing co-op opened in 1966. Both are still operating. An organised political lobby began in the 1960s to win government support for co-operative housing. Social activists wanted the Canadian Government to finance the development of continuing non-profit housing co-operatives that could offer affordable rents to Canadians on low and moderate incomes. In 1968 a number of socially progressive groups formed the Co-operative Housing Foundation of Canada (CHF Canada) to organise lobbying. Their work paid off. From 1973 to 1992 the Government helped to finance the building of thousands of housing co-operative units through three successive programmes.
From the mid-1980s onwards, the three largest provinces in Canada – Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia – also set up their own development programmes to finance housing co-operatives. During these years, the co-operative housing movement surged forwards with the emergence of regional associations of housing co-ops and co-operative development groups. These organisations worked closely with CHF Canada to develop education, development and management services to a growing universe of Canadian housing co-ops.
In 1992 the Canadian Government cancelled the last of the federal co-op housing programmes. The province of Ontario cancelled its own programmes in 1995 and British Columbia’s modest programme, which began in the early 1990s, was terminated in 2001. Only Quebec has continued to sponsor housing co-op development, through unilateral programmes and by taking advantage of modest cost-sharing dollars for housing from the Canadian Government under a programme that began in 2002. However, parallel cost-sharing arrangements in the other provinces have not resulted in new housing co-ops. Apart from Quebec, the provinces – which now have constitutional jurisdiction over housing – have not chosen to apply these federal contributions to new housing co-op development.
In 2005 the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada entered into an innovative partnership with the federal government to assume – through the arms-length Agency for Co-operative Housing (www.agency.coop) – the administration of the federal government’s co-op programmes. Although there has been no development under these programmes for 15 years, the Government has long-term operating agreements in place with the co-operatives. The new agency has taken the management of these agreements under contract, using innovative programme management techniques to optimize performance.
Except for a small number of “equity housing co-operatives”, virtually all housing co-operatives in Canada have received financial assistance from the federal and/or the provincial governments to make their rents affordable. But it should be stressed that the various governments do not own the co-operatives. They are independent corporations working in partnership with government.
Co-operatives are spread throughout Canada, with the largest concentrations in the three most populated provinces and the three largest cities. However, it is important to point out that several thousand housing co-operative units can be found in rural areas.
Today most housing co-operatives in Canada continue to depend on government financial support, though the contractual agreements under which this assistance is provided have ended for some co-ops and are set to end for most others within the next 20 years.
Government support has come in the form of preferential government mortgages, operating subsidies and rent assistance to low-income households. At the conclusion of their government agreements, Canadian co-ops will have paid off their initial mortgages, though they may need to re-finance to repair and renovate aging buildings. At the same time, the co-ops will receive no further government assistance and will lose the government protection for those that fall into difficulty.
This transition to independence brings challenges for the co-op housing movement in Canada; notably the continued dedication of the stock to co-operative housing purposes, the viability of the co-ops without a government safety net and their capacity to assist low-income families without government subsidies. To assist the co-operatives in this transition, CHF Canada has implemented the 2020 Vision. This process defines and invites housing co-ops to adopt high standards of operations for good governance, sound management and environmental sustainability.
Currently there are no government programs that are targeted specifically at the development of new housing co-operatives. The federal and provincial governments contribute funding through a program for the development of affordable housing, which can include co-op housing. But program conditions have not favoured co-op development, so we have seen little new co-op housing in recent years. Quebec is the exception, as it has its own program, under which a number of new co-ops have been developed for close to 30 years.
Local 75 Hospitality Workers Housing Co-operative, Toronto, Ontario
Key characteristics of the Canadian housing co-operatives are:
Permanent rental: properties belong to the housing co-operatives with no individual equity and no access to member ownership of the homes they live in.
Non-profit: rents are set to cover immediate/long-term expenses and capital reserves. Members receive no dividends or return of surplus. Non-profit status is a requirement of the Government development programmes.
Mixed-income communities: around 30% to 50% of all co-op households receive direct assistance with their rents.
Diversified membership: housing co-operatives cater for families and seniors, while many have designated homes for people with special needs. Canada’s co-ops serve the housing needs of many new Canadians.
Security of tenure: residency is protected as long as members fulfill their obligations.
Double status of member and tenant: an applicant must be accepted as a member before being admitted as a tenant. However, some provincial laws protect the tenant status during occupancy in the event of membership exclusion.
Democratic participation: the one-member, one-vote principle applies universally. Members are expected to engage and involve themselves in the running of the co-op.
Modest size: the largest Canadian housing co-operative comprises 770 homes, the smallest five homes and the average around 60 homes.
Variable management models: some co-ops hire professional staff, others retain management companies. Some are managed on a voluntary basis solely by members though, in many cases, this led to poor management outcomes and is now discouraged.
Member deposits and shares: when provincial legislation allows, members pay either a security deposit – usually equivalent to one month’s rent – or make a refundable share purchase. According to internal rules, both are reimbursed when leaving the co-op.
A dozen student housing co-operatives also serve Canadian universities. These housing co-operatives offer different types of accommodation such as small and large group houses, dormitories, apartment complexes and townhouses for students with families. Some have been financed through different development programmes.
Financial assistance provided to housing co-operatives varies according to different government programmes. For example:
Low-interest loans for 50 years through direct lending from the federal government’s Crown Corporation for housing, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).
Grants to reduce construction costs.
Ongoing financial assistance to assist with operating costs, according to various formulas.
Housing allowances to low-income members, administered by the co-operatives.
Federal or provincial housing corporations insure co-op mortgages. In many cases the federal government is the mortgage lender. All housing co-operatives have signed operating agreements with the applicable level of government of varying terms up to 50 years, though most last for no more than 35 years.
Housing co-operatives financed by the third and last federal programme used an index-linked mortgage introduced by CHF Canada from Europe. These co-ops set up a stabilisation fund through an initial contribution of 3% of capital costs. This fund provided financial assistance to housing co-operatives facing difficulties that could compromise their long-term viability and protected the federal government against mortgage insurance claims. The fund, since dissolved, was set up to last 20 years. Now, the financial assistance function is back in the hands of CMHC.
CHF Canada has also set up a risk underwriting fund and a university student co-operative housing fund to provide loan guarantees that provide short-term bridge funding to assist with the development of co-op housing and help existing co-ops in their operations.
The legal instruments for the co-op housing sector in Canada are:
Co-operative acts: these provincial acts determine the co-operatives’ organisational rules and generally govern their conduct as co-op corporations.
Operating agreements: these agreements, signed with government, determine the obligations and responsibilities of the housing co-operative and the government housing corporation.
Tenant legislation acts: in some provinces tenancy law governs certain aspects of co‑operative tenancy, in others the co-op acts apply.
Federal tax law: The Income Tax Act determines the non-profit status of housing co‑operatives.
As enterprises, housing co-operatives must also comply with all laws relating to their activities in matters such as safety, employment, contracts, privacy, occupiers’ liability, the environment and human rights.
The Co-operative Housing Movement
The Canadian co-operative housing movement consists of housing co-operatives, the people who live and work in them and the organisations and individuals that support and serve them. Unlike other countries, non-profit housing associations and housing co-operatives have each set up their respective movements. Even though they sometimes join together for political lobby or research projects, both movements are independent and pursue their own development.
The Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada (CHF Canada, formerly the Co-operative Housing Foundation of Canada) is the nationwide umbrella organisation for co-op housing in the country. Founded in 1968, CHF Canada exists to unite, represent and serve the community of housing co-operatives and the organisations that support their operation and development. Membership in CHF Canada is voluntary. CHF Canada is a democratic, grassroots organisation with a 16-member board of directors elected from all regions of the country, several committees and a well-attended annual meeting at which directors are elected by co-op delegates and the broad direction of the federation is mapped out.
The structure of the Canadian housing co-operative movement has evolved over time, taking into account the needs and aspirations of a diverse membership in the world’s second largest country. For example, in more than 17 regions, housing co-operatives have joined together to form regional federations that are in turn members of CHF Canada. Except for the province of Quebec, co-ops in Canada can be – and usually are – members of their regional federation and of CHF Canada.
Housing co-ops in Quebec do not belong directly to CHF Canada. Instead, a special membership arrangement exists with the co-op housing organisations of Quebec that recognises the distinct heritage and culture of the province and the development of its co-op housing movement.
CHF Canada’s membership is constantly growing. By 2011, some 903 housing co‑operatives (representing 69,241 units) had become CHF Canada members. Excluding the housing co-ops from Quebec, which are affiliated with CHF Canada through their provincial federation membership, 83% of Canadian housing co-operatives are direct members of CHF Canada.
The regional federations, in collaboration with CHF Canada, may serve the co-operatives of a province, a special geographical area, or a single large city and its satellite communities. Services include advocacy, government relations, education and training, management support and group-buying services.
Research from Canada shows there is a causal connection between the proportion of community housing within the overall housing stock and gains in economic productivity. The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA), Housing Partnership Canada, and sector partners commissioned Deloitte to produce a study on the economic value of protecting and building more cooperative and non-profit housing.Read More
This Canadian report, released in November 2022, compares the occupancy charges (rents) of rental housing co-ops to those of similar rental properties in the private market. The study examined housing charges in Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Toronto, and Ottawa between 2006 and 2021.Read More
Ce rapport canadien, publié en novembre 2022, compare les droits d’occupation (loyers) des coopératives d’habitation à loyer à ceux d’immeubles locatifs similaires sur le marché privé. L’étude a examiné les droits d’occupation des villes de Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Toronto et Ottawa entre 2006 et 2021.Read More
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This essay does not pretend to be a work of original research or even of comprehensive synthesis and interpretation. It does aim to pull together selected points of view about Rochdale to give readers a convenient point of entry into some complex issues.Read More
This report was commissioned so that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) could have a better understanding of how co-operative housing models operate in other countries and also to look at possible “best pract ...Read More
This article is a few years old but it explains really well what co-operative housing is all about and how it differs from low-income housing or social housing in Canada. Unlike privately owned low-income housing or City-run “ ...Read More
This presentation is an overview of the purpose of CHF Canada's Refinancing Program. How does the program work? How are housing co-operatives supported throughout the refinancing process? What do co-operatives need to do to qualif ...Read More
In 2017, FECHIMM, in collaboration with organizations such as the Lachine-LaSalle Housing Committee (CLLL), the Réseau 2000+ Technical Resource Group (GRT), and the Regional table for Montréal / Laval Women's Centers launched th ...Read More
Article in The Walrus (Apr 21, 2017) on the housing affordability crisis in Canada's two major cities and how collective and decisive government action around housing affordability is crucial. Read More
Getting Governance Right - Good Governance and Principled Leadership for Housing Co-ops talks about how important good governance is if co-ops want to make sure they have sound management. This Co-operative Housing Federation of ...Read More
Getting our Co-op Principles Right is a short guide to the international co‑op principles, and what they mean for governance in housing co‑ops. It is intended as a companion to Getting Governance Right, a Co-operative Housing ...Read More
In 2012, the General Assembly of the International Co-operative Alliance developed the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade. The Blueprint is intended as a legacy of the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives. Its five elements unite co-operatives worldwide as a distinct form of sustainable, people-centred enterprise.Read More
Canada has approximately 400 million hectares of forest land and almost 94 % of this is publicly owned and managed by the government on behalf of Canadians. The forests are managed under very tough laws and as a result of these la ...Read More
This guidance is about good governance and the responsibilities of those who are charged with governing community-led housing organisations. It relates to G4 Basic Governance, L4 Excellence in Governance, and L5 Statutory, Legal, ...Read More
The Commission's final report on Cooperative and Mutual Housing (Bringing Democracy Home) highlighted the need for consideration of the role that cooperative and mutual housing could play in the national housing strategy. The Fina ...Read More
Par cette publication, nous souhaitons ouvrir le débat sur le logement en tant que droit fondamental et enjeu métropolitain, en mettant en lumière l’expérience de grandes métropoles et dans l’espoir d’inspirer des idées nouvelles pour aborder cet enjeu absolument fondamental de l’urbanisation moderne.Read More
The Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments prepared a report showcasing how cities and regions are fostering alternative housing policies to support the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. With increased urbanization, ...Read More
As part of our collaboration with urbaMonde, we would like to highlight this years World Habitat Awards. They tell some fantastic stories of what has been achieved globally to create safe homes where people can live free from t ...Read More
In 2000, United Nations (UN) member states recognised the need to build global partnerships for development and the exchange of expertise as one of the Millennium Development Goals. Across the international development field, part ...Read More
New report: The Capital Conundrum for Co-operatives "The Capital Conundrum for Co-operatives", a new report released by the Alliance’s Blue Ribbon Commission explores ideas and options available to co-operatives that need suitab ...Read More
The unsustainable exploitation of our planet’s forests is a major contributor to global warming and threatens the future of humanity. Co-operative Housing International believes that the co-operative family has a role to play to prevent the ongoing degradation of the forests and is calling all co-operatives to support its Sustainable Management Forest Initiative.Read More
Financing the development of housing co-operatives is a challenge and more so in time of financial restrictions and uncertainty. CHI members discussed the issue during a seminar held in November 2009 in Geneva. Presentations w ...Read More
The Forest Products Annual Market Review 2013 reports that the development of new refinement processes has led to the production of new and more affordable wood based products such as cross-laminated timber (CLT). The report sta ...Read More
The ILO views cooperatives as important in improving the living and working conditions of women and men globally as well as making essential infrastructure and services available even in areas neglected by the state and investor-driven enterprises. Cooperatives have a proven record of creating and sustaining employment – they provide over 100 million jobs today; they advance the ILO’s Global Employment Agenda and contribute to promoting decent work.Read More
This first volume includes the co-operative housing profile of 22 countries. This report presents the history and the current realities of co-operative housing around the world. CHI is currently in the process of updating the ...Read More
The purpose of the Governance Test is to provide a means for housing co-ops affiliated with CHI to measure their standards of governance and to help them develop a good governance action plan to improve governance in weaker areas. ...Read More
Student housing cooperatives have become very popular in the USA and many of these housing co-operatives are members of organizations such as NASCO. Unlike a resident who acquires shares at market rates to earn the right to occupy ...Read More
To further our commitment towards sustainable sources of timber and forest products and to provide co-operators more information on the certification programmes and successful sustainable initiatives, CHI organized a seminar on S ...Read More
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Volume 2 of the Profiles of a Movement concentrates on the African continent. We are pleased to present the remarkable work achieved by the African co-operators, work accomplished in a very challenging environment. These profil ...Read More
Seminars about continued public sector investment in co-operative housing in Austria and Canada, innovative funding arrangements created by the co-operative housing sector in Italy and harnessing member investment through co-opera ...Read More
The Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade is a worldwide campaign to “take the co-operative way of doing business to a new level”. The five key elements of the Blueprint are participation, sustainability, identity, legal frameworks and capital. The Blueprint is particularly relevant to co-operative housing and the Blueprint interpretation for co-operative housing below explains how.Read More