Thousands of low-income families in B.C. face loss of federal co-op housing subsidies

Haruko Okano has lived in a subsidized housing co-op in Vancouver for the last 20 years. The 68-year-old loves her one bedroom suite at China Creek Co-op near Commercial Drive, but is now worried she will no longer be able to afford to live there.

Okano is one of thousands of British Columbians fearing she will have to find a new home as federal housing subsidy agreements with 1,500 B.C. households come to an end between now and 2017.

Ottawa stopped funding social housing nearly two decades ago, but continued to provide operating subsidies for existing projects. Those time-limited funding agreements are now expiring.

Okano joined the Co-Operative Housing Federation of B.C. at a press conference Monday to urge all candidates running in the upcoming May provincial election to commit to supporting co-op housing subsidies for low income families.

“I won’t be able to live in my house if I have to pay market rent,” said Okano in an interview.

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“My pension is a little over $1,000 a month and I would be left with $193 a month after paying market rent. It doesn’t leave me much money at all.”

Okano said she pays $343 with the subsidy for a one bedroom suite at China Creek, but that would increase to just over $800 a month without the subsidy. If that happens, she said, she would be forced to move away from the home and community she loves.

In an effort to lobby for rent assistance for low-income families, the Co-Operative Housing Federation of B.C. used the press conference Monday to launch a “You Hold the Key” campaign. Their goal is to seek a commitment from all provincial election candidates and parties to continue rent-geared-to-income support for low income co-op members. Members are planning to attend candidate meetings and events to ask questions and push the issue.

“One-quarter of co-op homes in B.C. will come to the end of their federal housing agreements — 1,500 households by 2017 and 3,000 by 2020,” said Thom Armstrong, executive director of CHF.

“This will disrupt thousands of communities. Their low-income members will be at risk.”

Without the subsidies, Armstrong said low income families, seniors and many people with disabilities would no longer be able to afford the rental market of co-ops, adding that without them the diverse communities that co-ops now enjoy would become a thing of the past.

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Vancouver city councillor Geoff Meggs said the 25-year-old co-op housing movement has helped create affordable housing in Vancouver and, while the city regrets the federal government’s decision to stop providing rent assistance for low-income households, the provincial government is now central to ensuring it continues “whether it likes it or not is not.”

“We see the need for the next provincial government to sit down and form an effective housing strategy to protect and enhance the (affordable housing) stock we have,” said Meggs.

He said the city is willing to continue to be a partner in that endeavour and noted in many cases Vancouver has contributed land in which co-ops have been built.

According to Armstrong, between 2011 and 2014 the federal government committed to contributing $90 million toward housing in B.C., but none of those funds have yet been earmarked to support low-income housing.

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