I've been asked, from time to time, why we don't have more affordable housing options in Squamish like our Co-Op. Affordable housing is a complex topic. The very name is subjective and implies different things to different people. In my world, it simply means having housing options that are accessible to all. There are many different ways to achieve that: social housing, co-ops, covenants, etc.

    Our Co-Op was organized in 1974. At that time, the federal government was actively involved via Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and had programs to help establish non-market housing options. Co-Ops were key among them and depending on which section you organized under, there were different requirements, etc for each.

    CMHC provided mortgage loans to groups organizing as housing co-ops, usually 40 years at a fixed interest rate. In exchange for holding the mortgage, Co-Ops could be required to observe certain ingoing income limits or provide a certain number of subsidized units. Some Co-Ops also received ongoing subsidies with additional conditions (ours does not). Each grouping catered to different income levels.

    The great thing about Co-Ops is that they provide you with security of tenure (ie. they cannot, by law, be sold out from under you). As non-profits, 'rents' are limited to the ongoing annual costs (mortgage, taxes (yes, Co-Ops pay land taxes like anyone else), maintenance), so they tend to be cheaper (usually) than market rents, which provides breathing room in these financially stretched times. It is also a good thing to have maintenance and other bills structured and shared. Co-Ops also seem to have more of a sense of community about them than ordinary subdivisions or stratas. Members are required to participate and help make decisions.

    So why don't we have more of them?

    In a word: money. CMHC has been on a slow retreat from the housing business. The last Co-Ops are due to pay off their mortgages around 2020, completing the terms of their agreements and free to operate as they choose (within provincial laws), and the Agency for Co-Operative Housing (an arm of CMHC) is due to wind up shortly thereafter. There doesn't seem to be much interest at the provincial level. The provinces are already stretched with other housing priorities.

    It is entirely possible to organize new housing co-ops under current provincial legislation. The trick is finding funding. This is why I have been so supportive of new industry coming to town -- they provide new sources of taxes that could fund, along with some development cost charges, a future Squamish Housing Authority. That Authority could help acquire and secure land, provide guarantees or mortgages to organizers, even directly create housing on its own. Since Co-Ops are usually required to pay back what is invested in them, this ensures funding is recycled and made available to future groups.

    Let's get it going, Squamish!


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