SOUTHWEST COAST – Can a co-operative housing initiative in the Codroy Valley prove a viable alternative to affordable housing? Is there enough interest to move ahead with a feasibility plan? These are two of the key questions that were being asked by the Leading Edge Credit Union (LECU) on Wednesday evening, Oct. 28.
The virtual chat was led by CEO Cory Munden, who stated that the idea for a possible co-operative initiative was sparked after asking residents in the region what role the LECU could play to help make communities a better place to live, work and play. One of the challenges identified in the Codroy Valley area centred around housing.
Specifically, Munden pointed out that seniors may be unable or unwilling to keep up with their private homes, and may choose to relocate to larger urban centres that offer different housing alternatives.
“This was a similar exercise that we did in the Port aux Basques area, when we assisted a group of concerned citizens who were very concerned about the lack of child care services,” noted Munden. “We assisted them in forming a co-operative to provide child care services and it’s in its second year of operation, and it’s performing extremely well.”
Under the co-operative housing model, members are shareholders and are elected to board positions. They each pay a monthly fee, called a Housing Charge, and are both tenant and landlord. Members set policies and when one chooses to vacate, their shares are returned to the co-op, which then invites in a new member.
This can be particularly appealing for seniors living on a fixed budget, since their monthly charges are always tightly controlled. Others who tend to explore co-op housing include long-term renters who would like to explore ownership instead, low-income families or young couples just starting out.
Rosalind Langer is executive director for Co-operative Housing Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (CHANAL).
“There’s no down payment, but you do have to buy shares in the housing co-op,” stated Langer, who has been living in co-operative housing unit since 1983. Currently the shares in her co-op are around $1,000. “The price of shares is considerably less than a down payment.”
The Housing Charge is always determined by the elected board at their annual budget meeting. Operating costs are the only real reason for any increases to the monthly payment, and since the model is non-profit, the charge is almost always lower than the traditional for-profit private rental.
“My co-op’s housing charge right now is at $695. We are in an area where the same type of units are at $1300 and $1400,” shared Langer.
In her presentation, Langer noted that there are currently 21 housing co-operatives in the province, for a total of 396 units. The type of units built can vary, from larger apartment style complexes to duplexes to stand-alone units. She said the sense of community within a co-operative housing structure is ultimately a large part of the appeal.
Langer also offered some suggestions for finding initial investment money to kickstart co-operative housing units in the region.
“You might do some fundraising, approach a politician, approach Newfoundland and Labrador housing,” she said. “I know with the new national housing initiative that’s on the go, there’s some funding that you can avail of.”
Langer pointed out that there’s lots of ways to raise money towards the initiative beyond just seed money for the mortgage, and lots of other logistics to figure out first too.
“The property that you are going to own – are you going to have that donated? Are you going to look to the government, if they have the surplus land?” she asked rhetorically. “You can go to your town. Sometimes they will give you a startup donation. There’s lot of different things you can do.”
Langer says that launching a housing co-op usually boils down to the commitment and determination of the people involved.
Given the lack of affordable, accessible housing in the region, the LECU is keen to help facilitate a co-operative housing initiative.
“This is definitely a good alternative – I think it’s the best alternative – to address the housing requirements,” concluded Munden. “For the business community especially in the area, and for the well being of what makes up a community, having this type of housing in the area I think would be fabulous.”
Anyone interested in learning more about the co-operative housing initiative are invited to contact Candace Matthews, Member Relations and Communications Specialist at the LECU, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (709)695-7061. Copies of the presentation in its entirety are currently available on the LECU’s Youtube channel.