Housing Co-operativesProjects related to housing co-operatives, their outcomes, and their communities.
Housing Co-operative Research Projects
The Measuring the Co-operative Difference Research Network featured a number of researchers and projects looking at housing co-operatives, their operations, and the outcomes they generate for their communities. Below are summaries of these projects and their findings.
General Information about Housing Co-operatives
What is a housing co-operative?
A housing co-op is a type of consumer co-op whose main purpose is to provide its members with access to secure, quality, affordable housing. In a zero-equity co-op (most common in Canada), residents pay a monthly ‘housing charge’ (akin to rent), and have no private financial stake. In an equity co-op, members own a share in the property, which they can sell back to the co-op when they relocate. In all housing co-ops, residents can participate in governance by electing directors, running for the board of directors, and serving on committees.
Housing Co-operatives in Canada
Together, Canada’s 2,300 housing co-operatives are one of the nation’s largest suppliers of rental housing and are one of the largest employers in the Canadian real estate sector. More info:
- International Cooperative Alliance – Co-operative Housing in Canada.
- The Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada – What is a housing co-op?
- Canadian Housing Federation Toronto – About Co-op Housing.
Housing Co-operative Benefits
The Measuring the Co-operative Difference Research Network has created a brief summary of cited benefits of housing co-operatives in Canada, including increased affordability, security, stability, community involvement and their service of diverse populations.
Organizational Form in the Affordable Rental Sector (Leviten-Reid, Lake)
Co-operatives help to build affordable communities – not just affordable housing
This comparative case study by Dr. Catherine Leviten-Reid and Alicia Lake explores differences between three different affordable housing complexes for seniors:
The researchers studied developments which were as similar as possible in several dimensions:
- Size of the complex (about 20 units);
- Target demographic (low-income seniors);
- Age of the development (relatively new construction) and;
- Location of the development (small, rural communities.)
Through the analysis of interviews with 45 stakeholders, the research team explored the ways in which the development processes and the personal experiences of the residents differed in the three cases.
What did the research find?
In this study, many differences were found between the third sector (non-profit and co-op) housing developments and the for-profit housing development. The most striking differences related to the social mission of the organizations and the community orientation of the housing, particularly in their creation of sustainable community atmospheres and better social living environments. These findings echo existing research that concludes that third sector organizations are more likely to pursue social objectives.
The importance of community was visible from the early stages of the third sector housing projects. The non-profit and co-op development projects were inspired from community need and had the community involved in the leadership. The for-profit sector was contacted by municipal government to address the need and was inspired by the potential market. Organically developed in-community development circumvents a need for the municipal government to outsource an out-of-community company to address their needs.
A major visible difference between the third sector forms was the inclusion of significant shared spaces for residents and community. These spaces encouraged active connections between members and organizations, family and visitors, as well as increased social interaction between residents.
These observations suggest that, from a policy perspective, supporting for-profit housing projects may indeed result in the creation of affordable housing units, but will not necessarily lead to the realization of community. Jurisdictions in which government supports the creation of affordable housing may want to establish guidelines to encourage or require developers to incorporate common space, particularly when the housing is being developed for seniors or other target groups which may experience social isolation.
Where the non-profit and the co-operative are notably dissimilar and where, in fact, the non-profit is more similar to the for-profit development, is in the involvement of residents. It is only in the co-operative that residents were able to give input into the building design, and it is only in the co-operative that residents are meaningfully involved in ongoing operational and management-related decisions. This finding is in keeping with what is understood to be a unique feature of co-operative housing.
Previous research has shown that in co-operative housing , where residents have the greatest degree of involvement in decisions, residents enjoy benefits such as greater security of tenure, and greater social connections with their neighbours. Seniors in our case studies valued the concept of tenant involvement. While co-operatives allow for these opportunities inherently, governments could consider requiring that private housing developments set up tenant committees, and that non-profit developments have tenant committees and/or a number of board seats reserved for tenants.
Two publications were produced from this research project:
- Exploring Organizational Form in the Affordable Rental Housing Sector
Published in VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations
The Impacts of Volunteerism on Housing Co-op Members (Leviten-Reid, Campbell)
This project explores how volunteering within a housing co-op predicts the development of residents’ capabilities, the strengthening of their social ties, and their ability to influence decisions about the housing in which they live. Data was taken from an evaluation of Canadian co-op housing programs published by CMHC in 2003, involving surveys distributed to over 2,000 households. Residents were asked whether they participated on the board, engaged in operational activities, and/or planned social events. They responded to questions such as whether they had gained more personal connections, developed financial skills, or gained ability to influence decisions about their housing. They also responded to demographic questions such as income level, visible minority status , and size of their community.
Demographics of the 2003 CMHC study
What did it find?
The literature review reveals that in various studies internationally, volunteering has been correlated with less depression, higher self-rated health, greater life satisfaction and less functional impairment among seniors. It has also been correlated with greater life satisfaction among students. Some research shows that volunteers gain practical and career-enhancing experience, as well as social and citizenship skills. Many studies show a relationship between volunteer activities and the development of new friendships and other social connections.
By analysing the data from the household surveys of Canadian co-op housing residents engaged in volunteer work within their co-operatives, MCDRN researchers found that volunteering in the context of housing co-operatives appears to be beneficial for those who get involved, and are consistent with the existing literature which finds positives effects on skills and social connections.
Benefits reported by respondents, about individuals within their households who volunteer with the co-op
- One publication was produced from this research:
Volunteer roles and the benefits of volunteering: an examination of non-profit housing co-operatives. This article has been published in the journal Community Development. The abstract and the full article (behind the journal’s paywall) can be accessed here.
Please contact Catherine Leviten-Reid for more information.
Young Member Engagement in Housing Co-op Governance (Ellerby, Leviten-Reid)
For this project, researchers conducted semi-structured interviews among 6 housing co-ops.
Researchers spoke with co-op staff, older members, and “young” members (aged 25 to 32).
– How do young members benefit when they volunteer on housing co-op boards or committees?
– How do housing co-operatives benefit when younger members become involved?
The following benefits to young members were identified as being attributable to their involvement in a co-op:
The following benefits to the board of directors and the co-op as a whole, of having young members volunteer on the board, were identified:
Conclusion: This study has found that the engagement of young members in the governance of their housing co-operatives offers numerous benefits to both those young members (in skills, experiences) and their housing co-operatives (in new ideas and energy).
Guide to the Co-operative Housing and Co-operative Movement Holdings
The MCDRN funded the creation of a guide to the Beaton Institute‘s co-op-related archives, many of which focus on the activities of Father Moses Coady and the Antigonish Movement. This project (pdf linked to image) was guided by MCDRN researcher Catherine Leviten Reid and Beaton Institute archivist Jane Arnold, with assistance from student Anna MacNeil. You can view selected images from the archives on their Flickr page.
The archive highlights the positive impacts of co-operative housing on Nova Scotian communities. For example, you can find evidence of how building co-ops helped Cape Bretoners improve their quality of life:
Co-operatives in Context: Race, Ethnicity, Displacement and Exclusion (Lee)
As part of the research project Co-operatives in Context: Race, Ethnicity, Displacement and Exclusion, Dr. Jo-Anne Lee at the University of Victoria partnered with community elder Nora Curry to document how, following two decades of systematic efforts by the City of Vancouver to destroy the Strathcona neighbourhood under the guise of “urban renewal”, the Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association (SPOTA) worked through the 1970’s to renew, rebuild and restore the residential character of their community, making use of the co-operative model.
Excerpts from Research Summary:
In the 1950’s, the City of Vancouver accessed money under the Federal Urban Renewal program to demolish the existing Strathcona neighbourhood, an inner city community with a significant proportion of residents of Chinese and other immigrant origins. From the City’s perspective, “the mixed ethnic, working class, gendered and racial composition of Strathcona was a problem to be solved.”
In the first phases of the urban renewal project, thousands of residents lost their homes through expropriation. Phase 3 proposed to bulldoze all remaining houses and build a huge freeway through the middle of the neighbourhood.
Determined to fight for their right to exist, the residents organized to form SPOTA (Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association). Through subsequent decade of tireless co-operation within and outside of their community, SPOTA successfully stopped the freeway and saved their remaining homes. From 1972 to 1983, SPOTA coordinated the construction of two housing co-operatives and two affordable condominiums, totaling 228 units of affordable housing in the neighbourhood. This is an important example of a marginalized community using the co-operative model to resist race-based displacement and exclusion in Canada.
As a developer of co-op housing, SPOTA is noteworthy for several reasons:
- SPOTA’s leaders were relatively low income, working-class men and women from non-English speaking, Chinese and other ethnic minority backgrounds.
- The tactics and strategies SPOTA deployed to create the conditions for co-operative housing were new and innovative: SPOTA used culturally hybrid models, principles and practices to achieve its goals and to leverage power.
- SPOTA took a huge, calculated risk in embarking on an unknown path as a non-profit housing developer at a time when inflation was running at double digits. This highlights how co-operative and collaborative practices on the part of disempowered and marginalized groups were used to leverage power to bring about needed change in state policies.
Read the full research summary below.
Other Co-operative Housing Research in Canada
At the 2012 Co-operating to Build a Better Nova Scotia Conference, Darlene Doucet of the Conseil Coopératif Acadien de la Nouvelle-Écosse presented (pdf) on a new equity housing co-op for seniors in Chéticamp, NS. An audio recording of this presentation is also available.
In order to address one criticism of conventional co-op housing—that members, like renters, are unable to build up equity in their homes—a new family of housing co-op models has been developed, known as equity co-ops.
Depending on the type of equity co-op, the value for which shares are bought and sold is determined as follows:
- Market Rate Housing Co-op: Shares reflect the market value of the unit. This model is most similar to condo ownership.
- Limited Equity Housing Co-op: Shares reflect the market rate less a fixed percentage as established in the co-op’s bylaws. This helps keep the units affordable in the long term.
- CPI-Capped Equity Co-op: Share value increases in line with the Consumer Price Index—a member can (generally) expect to reap market gains, but at a rate that is tied to inflation. This prevents the share’s value from skyrocketing beyond the reach of the average working family.
- Shared Equity Housing Co-op: Shares reflect market value less a fixed percentage which is instead purchased and retained by an institutional partner such as a public housing provider. This model is especially helpful when a new co-op is being built: the institutional partner helps finance the initial purchase of land and construction of the units, thereby ensuring their affordability.
Learn how equity housing co-ops are proving an alternative to the high housing prices in Vancouver: The Tyee.
Get an idea for what an equity co-op looks like here: Mountain Haven Co-op.
Another criticism of conventional housing co-operatives is that the democratic, co-operative spirit of the organization can be compromised when the property management company and its staff end up having too much power in directing the affairs of the co-op. An interesting model that has been created to address this, as well as the difficulty and expense involved in building a housing co-op in today’s marketplace, is the multi-stakeholder housing co-op.
A multi-stakeholder co-op (known as a solidarity co-op in Quebec) includes additional actors in the co-op’s membership and governance structure, in addition to the residents.
Typically, the two other classes of members can be categorized as:
In Quebec, over 35 of these have been developed in recent years. Studies have shown that they have resulted in more representation of resident’s needs and an increased quality of life. Additional reading about the difference that multi-stakeholder co-ops can make in improving housing for Quebec’s aging population can be found in two papers (in French, with detailed English summaries) from the 2014 International Summit on Co-operatives – Multi-Stakeholder Co-operative Housing for Seniors in Quebec and Emergence of Social Economy Initiatives in Quebec to Address the Housing Needs of Seniors.
The 2003 by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) evaluation of co-op housing programs made the following observations:
Greater resident involvement in the operation of co-operative housing than in other types of housing has contributed to benefits such as more influence over decisions about housing and higher security of tenure and quality of life. (p. iii)
As well, households in co-operative housing have achieved more improvement than residents in other housing on key quality-of-life indicators such as an improved sense of community, improved relations with friends and neighbours and increased social supports.
For provincial co-ops the evaluation survey showed a 91.7 % rate of resident involvement compared to 4.1 % in mixed-income non-profit rental housing and 17.1% in non-profit rental housing. (ibid., table 3.6)
The 2003 evaluation also showed that co-operative housing has improved the quality of life for the occupants as compared with other housing. Three-quarters of co-operative residents who participated and reported benefits (compared with half of condominium residents) said they had gained more friends and strengthened personal support. (ibid., p. 29) The evaluation went on to say this:
“The main impacts on quality of life for co-operative residents versus residents in other tenures are in increased social support, sense of community, improved social relations with friends and neighbours, and feelings of independence and security.” (ibid., p. 31).
Furthermore, the 2003 evaluation illustrates that co-operatives offer cost-savings, compared to other forms of affordable housing, for the institutions that oversee them. The voluntary contribution of co-operative residents in the management and operations reduces operating expenditures significantly.
“Housing co-ops developed under Section 95 or formerly Section 56.1 of the National Housing Act, cost less to operate – 20% less than the provincial or private non-profit housing and 40% less than public housing.”
One factor than influences the difference between the operative costs is the objective: public housing is 100% targeted to low-income households whereas co-operative housing favours mixed-income communities. The second major factor relates to residents and resident participation in housing operations. Residents contribute volunteer hours that offset some administrative and maintenance costs. Resident involvement in the management of expenditures relates to greater prudence in financial matters.
The objective of the study (pdf) was to examine the impact that two social housing complexes have had on their residents’ quality of life. These two complexes, known as Tannery Court Co-operative Ltd., target aspecific segment of the affordable housing market: non-elderly singles. A mixed-methods approach was used to assess the quality of life of residents. The data collection strategy used semi-structured interviews conducted with the help of aquestionnaire. A total of 43interviews were completed at the two building sites. Analysis of interview and questionnaire data identified six areas of improvement in residents’ quality of life. These are life in general(an overarching dimension), housing (the focus of the Tannery Court intervention), neighbourhood (including safety and appearance), food, self-confidence (an enabling dimension for future development of projects and goals among the residents), and financial situation (akey dimension because of its multiple impacts on other aspects of life).
- Co-operative Housing Federation. About Housing Co-operatives. 2014. Webpage.
- Arsenault – Le Chez-Nous Co-operative: Keeping the elderly close to home. 2014. Flash magazine viewer.
- Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation – Guide to Co-operative Housing. Summer 2014. Webpage.
- Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation – Tenant Involvement in Housing Co-operatives. Webpage.
- Comeau – Émergence d’initiatives de l’économie sociale pour l’hébergement des aînés. 2014. PDF.
- Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada – Housing Fact Sheet. 2014. PDF.
- Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto – About Housing Co-operatives (several languages). 2014. Webpage.
Dr. Catherine Leviten-Reid
Associate Professor, Organizational Management, Cape Breton University
Dr. Jo-Ann Lee
Faculty Fellow, University of Victoria
Professor, Cape Breton University
Student, MBA in CED, Cape Breton University