According to the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), the average price of a home in Canada was $668,754 in July 2023, up 6.3% from July 2022.
Similarly, the latest housing market outlook released by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) calls its forecast for housing starts in Canada in 2024 “alarming.”
In a country where the price of a home continues to rise, the number of new homes being built is inadequate, and the dream of homeownership is seemingly becoming more and more unattainable – what do we do?
We sat down with Ros Langer, Property Manager for the Co-operative Housing Association of Newfoundland & Labrador (CHANAL) to ask: “What is this co-op housing we’re hearing so much about?”
First, some background.
History of co-op housing in Newfoundland & Labrador
Ros has been with CHANAL as a Property Manager for 25 years! So safe to say, she knows a thing or two about co-op housing in this province.
In the regular run of a day, she manages eleven housing co-ops from Corner Brook to Central to the Avalon. Ros does it all from inspecting units to helping housing co-op members with issues and paying the bills of the co-ops.
Housing co-ops began in the province as far back as the sixties, but for Ros she was introduced to them in the late seventies and early eighties.
She and others were not satisfied with the landlord and tenant relationship of the time and most of their group could not afford houses at the time. Ros and her husband were invited to join a group of like minded people who had organized the beginning of a housing co-op. They were invited by the City of Mount Pearl to discuss the start of the Easton Housing Co-op. It was Ros’ husband who convinced her to attend the meeting which she calls “the best thing that happened to us as a family.”
Ros was elected to sit on the board of the Easton Housing Co-op as Treasurer. She quickly learned the ropes and all of a sudden as Ros puts it “co-op housing made sense. “I had a say in how my co-op was going to be run, how my house was going to run.”
Ros still lived in the Easton Housing Co-op with her family for 22+ years and now lives in the Barbour Manors Housing Co-op and has been living there for 20 years. The love for housing co-ops has been passed down to her three children who also live in housing co-ops raising their children!
To Ros and her family, co-op housing means “home.”
Ros explains that she has security of tenure; that her home can never be bought out from under her, never taken over by a landlord to be forced to move or increase their rent unexpectedly.
Ros has served on her Co-op Boards in every position and still sits as Treasurer of Barbour Manors Housing Co-op. She has enjoyed helping other Co-op Boards learn the difference between Governance and Management. She provides education every chance she gets. She says that education is one of the main factors that lead to successful Housing Co-ops.
CHANAL was born in 1990 and is still a vibrant Association providing a myriad of services to the sector, from Financial and Property Management to Minute Taking and everything in between. In 1999 Ros was approached by NLHC to help them provide a service to co-ops in difficulty. That position was as a Co-ordinator working with one co-op who had more than half of their homes vacant and needed help in every aspect of how to live in a co-op as well as how to operate a co-op.
From those humble beginnings, she was hired by CHANAL as Property Manager where she gets to interact with housing co-ops and their members on a daily basis.
How do housing co-ops differ from traditional housing?
Housing co-ops are legislated by the Co-op Act. They have their own policies, procedures, and bylaws. Collectively they are a group of members who own their own homes and are not bound by the tenant-landlord relationship.
Ros goes on to say, “You are not a renter. You are a homeowner and a business owner. As a housing co-op member I could never leave and sell my home, rather I would get my shares back. But why would I want to leave my co-op home? They’ll have to carry me out in a box,” she jokes.
Ros explains how with private home ownership when an issue arises such as a roof or windows needing to be fixed the cost falls on the homeowner but not so in housing co-ops. “For example, my roof needed to be replaced. I didn’t have to come up with five or six thousand dollars when they got up on the roof. The bill got sent to my co-op and my co-op paid the bill. I paid a portion just like everybody does. My roof got done, but it wasn’t solely my responsibility.”
Everything is budgeted for; each housing co-op is run like a business.
“We don’t pay rent.” Ros smiles. “We pay housing charges. For every person who pays, a portion of that goes into our replacement reserve, capital repairs, pays our taxes, mortgage payment, insurance, financial management, and property management. We maintain our current market rents at about 72% of current market. We’re well below the current market. It’s just sensible and it works. That’s the difference!”
What is the current landscape of co-op housing in NL?
The need is certainly there as Ros says she gets calls and doesn’t even give out co-op housing applications anymore because she feels as if she’s giving people false hope as all the housing co-ops have a full occupancy rate. “We can’t seem to be able to acquire land.” Bemoans Ros. She explains that for a housing co-op to maintain affordability, the land must be given to the co-op.
“Government needs to become more proactive and knowledgeable about the merits of co-op housing.”
Ros continues that the government could find land to dedicate to co-op housing. “The land would be the government’s initial investment. I did a presentation a while ago on the co-ops in Mount Pearl and St. John’s. What they spend in their respective communities, supporting their daycares, shopping centers, cabs, schools, including their taxes, is over $6 million a year.”
Though the acquisition of land is one hurdle in new housing co-op development, there is still a phenomenal opportunity for co-op housing in the province, Ros explains. “It’s just a matter of people saying hey we want to build; how do we go about doing it? You reach out to CHANAL who would help you with everything from a mission statement to policies and procedures and working with lenders and project managers. With the new national housing initiatives and programs around the CMHC has lots of money.” In fact, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has an $82+ billion, yes billion, dollar national housing strategy to create a new generation of housing in Canada giving more Canadians a place to call home.
“It’s just a matter of a group of interested people saying we want something different. Getting your plan and design completed and just go from there. It’ll take a while, it’s not going to happen overnight, but at least you’ve got people working for you that would be able to help you.”
What is the future of co-op housing NL?
Ros hopes that we will see more co-ops in both metro and rural areas in the future as the demand for affordable housing is phenomenal. “I have to turn people away; it just breaks my heart to think that somebody can’t have what I have in my housing.”
What Ros sees in the future is apartment style units four to five stories that are multi-generational with universal design. We do not need to look too far to see a successful model for co-op housing.
“Our neighboring province Quebec started in the sixties and they build co-ops every single year. They’ve never stopped.” The Federation de L’Habitation Cooperative Du Quebec state that over 50,000 people reside in close to 1,200 co-operatives.
Ros sees a wonderful opportunity for future housing co-op development within the student population. She says, “there’s no reason why the students themselves couldn’t get together and work on starting at a student housing co-op that can meet their needs. When a student leaves, another student comes in, so you’re always going to have members, and give them their rights and their responsibility to be homeowners and have a say in their housing.”
We spoke about rural areas that are seeing a housing crisis with increased tourism and short-term rental properties.
“In rural areas we should put into all our new co-op housing, units for tourism and not have them as seasonal rentals.”
There are so many ideas for the future of co-op housing in Newfoundland and as Ros reiterates, “We just need the land.” We chatted about what if Government did invest heavily into co-op housing. “There would be enough competition that landlords would not be able to do what they’re doing today.”
Looking back; looking ahead.
Ros’ fondest housing co-op memory was an easy one to recall. “When we first moved into the co-op, we got to see the hole in the ground where our basement was going to be, then the concrete was poured, then the kitchen went in. I thought, I’m going to be a part of this, and this is my home! This is where I will live, and my children will grow up playing on this street in this neighborhood and city!”
In a province where the price of a home continues to rise, the number of new homes inadequate, and the dream of homeownership becoming more unattainable, co-op housing is an opportunity too good to pass up. With increased investment from government, or a donation of land, co-op housing units could be built across the province. Motivated groups and municipalities could start their own housing co-ops – all it takes is desire and co-op education to achieve a longterm solution to affordable housing in our province!