Co-ops Building Co-ops
In January 2001, a small group of renters gave life to a new co-operative that addressed their need and desire for affordable, secure, healthy housing. Unable to access existing co-op housing and seeing little new development, the founding members of the Roofs and Roots Housing Co-operative wanted to create something different than the housing co-op models that existed. Through my research at the BC Institute for Co-operative Studies, myself and the other founding members of Roofs and Roots were able to look deeper into the existing models of co-operative housing. We were particularly drawn to the student co-operative movement and its unique approach to continually re-investing in its own movement.
This built-in commitment to re-investment is lacking, in general, in the housing co-ops in Canada that were formed through the Federal Co-operative Housing Program. There is enormous potential within the housing co-operative sector to create more co-operative housing. However, it is dependant on the members of those co-ops to make this happen. As co-ops in Canada pay off their mortgages and complete their operating agreements with CMHC, these co-ops face at least two major decisions. The first decision will be how to ensure the long-term use and maintenance of their buildings as non-profit so that affordable housing is not lost. This issue has been explored extensively by the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada and they have proposed a number of tools for keeping housing co-ops non-profit (see the publication Securing Our Future, March 2001, www.chfc.ca).
The second decision is in regards to re-investing in the co-operative housing sector. At the end of their operating agreements co-ops will own their buildings, their expenses will dramatically decrease, and at the same time, even though they will no longer receive subsidies, they will have the capacity to create a significant surplus through their housing charges. On the one hand, members may decide to dramatically decrease their housing charges, thereby losing that ability to generate a surplus. On the other hand, they may develop new formulas that continue to subsidize those with low incomes and at the same time charge a reasonable amount to those with moderate incomes in order to generate a surplus that can be re-invested in affordable housing.
Roofs and Roots Housing Co-operative
This re-investment in co-ops and in the community are two of the principles that guide the co-operative movement as a whole. Through its own dedication to the co-operative movement, Vancity Credit Union is supporting our co-operative with an investment of $60,000 to develop an innovative model for ecologically sustainable co-operative housing. We are creating more than just a housing co-op for a small group of people; we are creating a social enterprise that will continue to re-invest in the community.
The key to this enterprise is a Development Fund, which will serve as a pool of capital for the ongoing development of non-profit co-operative housing by the Roofs and Roots Housing Co-operative. The fund will be administered by a charitable organization to ensure the non-profit use of the funds and to allow for private equity contributions to the fund. The fund will receive contributions from the public and private sectors and from monthly contributions made by the resident members of the Roofs and Roots Housing Co-operative.
To further our development goals, we have created two membership categories; resident members and non-resident members. Rather than letting people sit on a wait list to get into our co-op, we have created a way for those wanting to get into co-op housing to actively pursue the development of more housing. This is the role of non-resident members.
In essence, the Roofs and Roots Housing Co-operative will function more like a non-profit development corporation than a housing co-operative, while following the principle of resident control and autonomy that are so dear to the co-operative housing movement.