Canada: Housing coops are getting more affordable, says report

OTTAWA– A recent report comparing housing charges in housing coops housing with rents in similar private market rental buildings was released. It looked at Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Toronto, and Ottawa between 2006 and 2021.

The report shows that rent trends in non-profit co-op housing differs dramatically from that of the private rental sector, where rents have increased nationally by 11 percent in the last year alone.

The report found that housing charges (rents) in coops have been consistently lower than rents in comparable buildings in the private market, and that the gap has widened over time.  While in the early years, the co-op housing costs were, on average, C$150-$200 less per month than similar market rental buildings, this gap widened to upwards of C$400 to C$500 per month in the later years in all cities, except Edmonton.

“Of course, co-ops benefitted from public investment which supported their construction and operation in their early years” said Tim Ross, executive director of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada. “But the long-term payoff of that investment is clear. We now have permanently affordable co-ops across the country that enable people to put healthy food on the table and save for their children’s education, along with living securely.”

“Because individuals and families living in co-ops tend to have lower than average incomes, the affordability of co-op homes has an outsized impact” added Tom Clement, Executive Director of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto.

The report did not consider the impact of separate rental assistance often provided to low-income households living in co-op housing through federal and provincial programs. These programs bridge the gap between the co-op housing charge and what the household can afford. But as governments increasingly support low-income households through rental assistance programs [sometimes called housing benefits], the value of co-op housing is clear.

“Because of the relative affordability of coops, the cost to government of supporting low-income households in co-op housing is much lower than supporting those same households in the private market. And based on the trends outlined in the report, we expect the savings to government to only increase,” said Thom Armstrong, chief executive officer of the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC.

“Not only does the mixed-income model of co-op housing create inclusive, supportive communities, it makes financial sense” added Jovette, fournier, executive director of the Co-operative Housing Association of Eastern Ontario.

And there was no trade-off in the condition of the co-op buildings with their affordable rents. 97 percent of co-ops in the same administrative area as those studied in the report were rated as being in excellent, good or fair physical condition in 2020.

“Co-operative housing has long been a source of affordable, secure housing in a community setting, but given the inflationary situation all Canadians are facing – along with the insecurity that comes with rapidly rising rents in the private market – the benefits of co-operative housing have never been clearer. Now we just need to build more of it,” concluded Ayanna Inniss, executive director of the Northern Alberta Co-operative Housing Association.

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