Around the World with COVID-19
Throughout history, housing cooperatives have shown resiliency when facing big challenges, and COVID-19 is no exception. For those who have a roof over their head and food in the fridge, having to stay at home isn’t such a bad thing. But for many others, staying at home can be unaffordable, unbearable, impossible, dangerous and the list goes on.
From rent deferrals for unemployed residents to online membership meetings, coops have had to adapt in varying ways. We’ve collected a list of actions, good practices and practical information on dealing with COVID-19 from many of our members. Thank you for your numerous contributions!
The first item we’d like to share is a short audio clip we recorded with three CHI board members, Blase Lambert CEO of the Confederation of Co-operative Housing (CCH) in the UK, Anders Lago, Chairman of HSB from Sweden, and Guido Schwarzendahl, Managing Director of Bauverein, Halle & Leuna (Germany) that you can listen/watch here.
In addition to the conversation we had with CCH in the audio clip above, they have since held an online Member Forum. Members discussed key concerns and how they are managing this new and unusual situation. Jane Cameron, who does Communications and Events for CCH, reported that over 30 people attended the online event, their best turn-out yet for any forum. Jane added that a housing co-op in Brighton is collaborating with its credit union to repurpose the co-op’s void and bad debts contingency fund into a lending scheme for members in need.
Hans Rupp, CEO of ABZ in Zurich, Switzerland provided the update below.
Preparations: ABZ started pandemic preparations at the beginning of February by establishing a pandemic team. The team’s main goals were to prepare for highly infectious situations and for a geographical lock-down, both in order to maintain operations and care for the well-being of employees and members.
Implementation: “Because we began preparing early enough, we got all the equipment we needed. We have our core processes adjusted in order to minimize personal contact, Because we are highly digitalized, this was a seamless switch,” according to Hans Rupp
Shut-down: Many weeks ago, the Swiss Government shut down all the schools and shops, with some exemptions. This put employees with kids in a difficult situation, as they had to provide daycare and home-schooling. ABZ decided to offer its staff one paid day off per week so they could focus on their children for a full day.
Preparing for economic consequences: Despite huge supportive programs from the government to offset the effects of the shutdown, negative consequences are becoming visible: almost all of ABZ’s commercial tenants with the exception of doctors, pharmacies and kindergartens cannot pay their rent. “Since it’s in our best interest to help businesses survive this period, ABZ waived half of the rent in April and offered a delay of payment as long as the lockdown continues. Fortunately for ABZ, commercial rent is only a small part of our business”, said Hans. As ABZ does not have any data or experience that they can base their scenarios on, they tried an instrument called «swarm intelligence.» If you ask a group of people to give a judgement on a specific topic, the combined answers will be the best estimation possible. The question asked was: How many of ABZ tenants will not be able to pay rent from April 2020 until June 2021? They are also looking into long-forerunning variables, like the cancellation of direct debits for April, to further establishing a robust scenario to base their management actions on. Hans added, “So far, we are optimistic that ABZ won’t experience a serious decline in income.”
Governance system: ABZ will probably not be able to hold its general assembly. The two options are to hold it in writing, a possibility that the Swiss government established a few weeks ago, or postpone it. The board will decide soon on which path to follow.
Datuk Ali Hassan, Vice-President of ANGKASA, sent us a WhatsApp message Easter Monday. Here’s what he had to say, “As of 12 April 2020, Malaysia reports a total of 4,683 confirmed cases, 2,108 recoveries and 76 deaths.
Accelerated testing reveals a comparatively low case fatality rate (1.62% as of 12 April 2020) than in the Philippines and Indonesia but remains moderately more severe than in Thailand, Singapore and Brunei. ANGKASA contributed US$230 thousand to the government and allocated US$116 thousand to be given to cooperatives affected by the outbreak.
We reached out via email to our newest member from South America, FECOVI, located in Montevideo, Uruguay. Alberto Esteves, the Secretary-General of the federation summarised the situation in Uruguay: “This pandemic is undoubtedly more serious than we thought. Here in Uruguay 483 people have tested positive and eight have died, but now the number of tests has increased so we will see how the numbers change in the coming weeks. A testing system is being developed by the University of Uruguay that is a copy of tests developed in South Korea in an agreement between universities.”
The biggest concern is food for the poor or marginalized inhabitants but little by little the whole country is getting better. There is great solidarity developing among the population. Even the opposition party is giving support to the Government. It’s as if there is only one party. The members of the cooperative contribute food, grains, noodles, etc. for a “popular pot”, a meal that citizens cook for the neediest neighbours. There are hundreds of these popular pots all over the country with free food contributions from mini-markets, companies as well as individual contributions. A whole chain has been formed.
In Alberto’s case, he is in quarantine in his cooperative home in Montevideo in the Complejo Bulevar Artigas, a series of buildings with 332 apartments that brings together three different cooperatives. “I am 72 years old and therefore I am considered part of the population that is at risk” explained Alberto. He also added that his cooperative work is definitely helping to keep him young and healthy. Alberto sent us a video of children in the cooperative talking about how they are being careful and how they are keeping busy during the lock-down.
Kenya has more than 24,000 registered co-operative societies and a membership of over 14 million in a country of 47 million people. Its cooperative banking sector has deposits of over ($6.4 billion or 35% of national savings. Cooperatives are largely located in rural areas and many of their members are among the most vulnerable of people. Small companies whose workers are members of SACCOs (saving cooperatives) and housing cooperatives have closed their businesses or scaled down their operations. This has led to staff lay-offs, which will have far-reaching ramifications to the cooperators.
In response to the pandemic, the cooperative movement, in conjunction with the State Department of Cooperatives, has formed the Cooperative Coronavirus Response Committee (CCRC) in order to complement the government’s efforts in fighting the pandemic. Frank Kamande, chairman of the National Cooperative Housing Union (NACHU), has been appointed chairperson of the CCRC.
Based on the fifth cooperative principle (Education, Information and Training) and the 7th principle (Concern for Community) the sector is obligated to join efforts with the national and county governments in Kenya to mitigate the spread of the virus and manage its impact within the sector and the economy at-large.
The cooperative sector is focusing on non-clinical activities and mobilisation of financial resources by planning and coordinating its activities in consultation with the Ministry of Health. Together they are working on reducing the spread of COVID-19 and are relaying government communications on safety measures to its members through their cooperative societies.
One of the committee’s objectives is to provide expert advice to the cooperative sector on non-clinical matters. It is also mandated to mobilise resources from the cooperative sector such as financial support, making facilities available for quarantine, food, nutritional and psychosocial support and managing transport costs by the transport cooperatives. The committee will also coordinate support and sharing of information in collaboration with the National Emergency Response Committee. Moreover, the cooperative sector will develop post-pandemic mechanisms involving government advocacy, research on the impact of the pandemic on coops and data collection, measurement and analysis.
CHI was asked to join in on a virtual roundtable of Canadian cooperative housing federation executive directors to exchange and share information on how everyone is adapting to this crisis and to identify the needs of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada’s (CHF Canada) members.
For the most part, everyone has had to adapt to being 100% online and has had to rethink the way they are offering their services, not to mention starting new services and offering new guidance and sharing lots of COVID-19 information, both practical and motivational. Researching online meeting platforms and election software were common preoccupations. Most housing coops saw a small decline in their finances this month but May is going to see significant job losses that will result in struggles to pay rent.
In Montreal, 70% of the federation’s activities (FECHIMM) was already online except for bookkeeping but within two weeks the online set up was complete. In the province of Quebec, all lease renewals take place on June 30. Coop housing members vote on the rent rise at a General Assembly prior to this date. FECHIMM is consulting with its members on whether to hold the Assembly by video or freeze the rents until next year.
In the Montérégie region, Fédération des coopératives d’habitation montérégiennes is happy it added a chat function to its website before the pandemic. Staff members are taking turns monitoring incoming messages during office hours and they are steadily seeing 20 messages per day.
For larger federations like Co-operative Housing Federation of British Columbia with 130 staff, it quickly solved the challenge of moving everyone online in their home base. The federation invested in a more robust IT system and is now delivering maintenance services online. The main focus now is providing information to members on COVID-19 and linking coops to government services and programs that will deliver the best outcomes for coops and members. Virtual town halls in April and May will offer guidance on safe and healthy operations, information on government programs, how services like group buying are adapting and answer legal questions. Also in BC, The British Columbia Non-Profit Housing Association launched a new job-matching website called housingjobmatch.ca to connect job seekers with non-profit housing providers.
CHF Canada created an information and resource page on COVID-19. It is also working on a survey to determine member needs in order to prepare pertinent online training sessions.
Seniors & Solidarity: Brandon Seniors Co-op and a team of realtors are delivering meals and offering a friendly face to seniors who can’t leave their homes because of COVID-19. Another group of managers for seniors housing coops set up a Facebook page so that they could communicate with one another and share best practices.
In an act of solidarity, national and regional housing cooperative organisations are donating funds to food banks throughout the country.
Developing Cooperatives: Last week CHI spoke with Paige Saunders, a software developer in Montreal, Canada, who is rallying a group of people to form a coop, preferably with no government strings. He is also interested in trying an alternative participatory governance structure by using online democratic platforms. “The timing with COVID-19 seems like an appropriate time to implement this kind of system, where everyone has their say and can get involved in the democratic process rather than relinquishing the decision making to an elected board of directors,” according to Paige. Watch his YouTube video below.
To continue reading the rest of our COVID-19 special bulletin click here.