Canada is in a housing crisis. On one hand, it’s hard to afford a home — the average price of a house hit $716,000, and the average rent reached $2,149/mo. On the other hand, there are problems with availability, as many communities lack the rentals, seniors housing, or affordable homes they need. In fact, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) says that by 2023, Canada will need 3.5 million homes beyond those currently planned for development. All signs point to a bad situation getting worse.  

But it’s possible to create local solutions. Across Canada, tenant-owned housing co-ops have a long history of ensuring access to affordable homes. A recent study by the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada shows that housing co-ops charge rents that are up to $500 less than the average rent in Canada’s major cities. However, there have been few new housing co-ops created in recent years, and it’s difficult for tenant-led groups to maintain momentum.   

Getting Creative  

Communities need to get creative to tackle both the affordability and availability challenges. Fortunately, co-operators have a long history of thinking outside the box, and communities are already innovating new solutions to address their housing needs. To solve local housing crises, people are taking a new approach: community-led housing.    

The type of co-op you create should reflect the solution you want to find and the people involved. When we work with communities to solve their housing shortage, the most involved members tend to already be homeowners. They’re municipal leaders, economic development staff, and business owners who recognize a problem in their town and want to make it better. Often, they’re also willing to put their money where their mouth is and start a community investment co-op or a community service co-op to help solve the problem.   

Sangudo Opportunity Development Co-op  

The small town of Sangudo in central Alberta had a common problem. According to local leader Dan Ohler, “We had a great supply of crappy homes,” and that lack of supply limited the town’s ability to attract new families. Recognizing this problem, the Sangudo Opportunity Development Co-op  — a community investment co-op — raised funds from community members and purchased three vacant lots with the goal of building new homes. The first of these homes was built with support from local contractors and the hardware store, who agreed to delay payment until the project was completed. The home was rented for a time, then sold to a new family. Not only did the co-op members receive a return on their investment, the project created jobs, brought money into the economy, and added to the housing supply.  

Financial capital is often available in small towns. Community members can direct a portion of their personal savings to local economic development through a community investment co-op. The Sangudo case shows us that leveraging funds that are available in your community and partnering with local businesses and contractors is a viable solution for building more homes.   

Southeast Manitoba Seniors Community Service Co-operative  

Maybe your project needs to go the non-profit route to access the grants available through CMHC. That was the case in the RM of Piney in Manitoba’s Sunshine Corner, where a lack of seniors’ housing meant people couldn’t age in place. Often, they moved to Winnipeg or Steinbeck to access the care they needed. Community members wanted to create seniors’ housing, but recognized the need for government assistance to ensure suites would be affordable. So, in 2020, they created the Southeast Manitoba Seniors Community Service Co-operative (SMSCSC), a not-for-profit co-op that’s owned by community members.   

To date, SMSCSC has secured over $800,000 from municipal government, local housing supporters, and through fundraising. They’ve obtained grants to cover their start-up costs and are working toward an application for CMHC’s National Housing Strategy funding. Their not-for-profit structure aligns with the criteria for most granting agencies, and the community’s network of volunteers ensures the co-op has the people power to keep moving forward.   

Here to Help  

At Co-operatives First, our team has the connections, resources, and expertise to help you find the co-operative solution for your housing development. Plus, we’ve organized some helpful resources, like webinars, for communities that want to work on housing. If this sounds like a fit for your community, get in touch with us to move things forward.