Vancouver council takes first step towards preserving, expanding co-op housing

Click to play video: 'Vancouver exploring how to add more co-op housing'
Vancouver exploring how to add more co-op housing
Vancouver city council has passed a motion asking staff to identify new opportunities to build and preserve co-op housing on city-owned land. John Hua reports on the growing demand. – Mar 13, 2024

Vancouver city council has passed a motion aimed at preserving and expanding the city’s limited stock of co-op housing.

“The biggest complaint we hear about co-op housing complexes is that there just aren’t enough of them,” Thom Armstrong, CEO of the Co-op Housing Federation of B.C., told Global News.

“Some of the co-ops we deal with have been closing their waiting lists over the last several years because it’s just not fair to someone to say put your application in and we might have a space for you in 10 years.”

Click to play video: 'Vancouver to get more co-op housing'
Vancouver to get more co-op housing

Offering some of the city’s only family-sized units at affordable monthly rates, co-op housing projects are seen as one potential solution to the city’s housing crisis.

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They’re also beloved by members because they offer long-term security, along with a sense of community.

Yaron Butterfield has lived in a False Creek co-op for 10 years with his 15-year-old daughter and said it’s been a relief not to face the constant threat of potential eviction.

“The stability is huge because it has more of an impact in somebody’s life than you realize,” he said.

“It’s like a family, it really is. People support each other, we have spring parties, winter parties, different people have different roles, like a garden role or cleanup role.”

But the sector could be at risk.

There are currently about 6,400 co-op units in the City of Vancouver, mostly built with federal funding between the 1970s and 1990s. Many are aging, and about half of the units are on city-owned land, many with long-term leases coming due.

“Some leases are up now, and they have been holding over month by month waiting for a strategy like this to come forward,” Armstrong said.

Click to play video: 'B.C. government uses Rental Protection Fund to buy two Coquitlam Co-ops'
B.C. government uses Rental Protection Fund to buy two Coquitlam Co-ops

“Many more are up for renewal in a year, two years, five years, some another decade or more, but now is the time to start planning.”

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ABC Vancouver, which holds a majority on council, pledged during the 2022 election campaign to double the city’s co-op housing stock.

On Wednesday, council inched towards that goal, directing staff to come back with options to expand the number of co-op units by building on existing co-op sites on city-owned land.

The city will also look at piloting a new co-op model in partnership with the Co-op Federation that keeps land in city hands while taking advantage of community land trust models.

“The unique thing about co-op homes is they really become the affordable housing of the future,” said Sarah Kirby-Yung, who sponsored the motion.

“Unlike market rental, which is always pegged to market rates, co-op housing, once the financing has been secured, the buildings are built, the mortgages are paid down, those rates can continue to remain below market and they become more affordable over time.”

Kirby-Yung said the motion also aims to have the city look at opportunities to leverage the provincial government’s BC Builds program to develop more co-op housing.

Click to play video: 'Burnaby co-op residents fear for future with building up for sale'
Burnaby co-op residents fear for future with building up for sale

Staff have also been asked to come back with an updated plan for the False Creek South area, home to much of Vancouver’s co-op stock, with an eye on key housing pressures including co-ops.

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Armstrong said his organization is better resourced than it has ever been, and is keen to get to work with the city.

“Without a further reinvestment that supply of housing could be threatened,” he said.

“This motion really makes it possible to imagine a future for co-op housing that not only preserves existing homes but adds many more affordable homes in the future.”

Butterfield, meanwhile, said he hopes more people will one day be able to take advantage of the type of community he’s raising his daughter in.

“Health-wise it’s just good,” he said.

“The stress just goes down, you feel healthy, you have support. I think there should be more places like this.”

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