We know communities across Canada need more housing – and by starting co-operatives, people can create the housing they need.  

As people struggle to find a place to live that fits their budget, the stability and affordability that housing co-ops can offer is becoming more attractive. In a housing co-op, the focus isn’t on individual ownership or increasing property value, but on ensuring members have stable places to live that emphasize community. There just aren’t enough co-ops to meet the demand.   

While creating housing is a big task, there is support for those who want to try it. And it’s a great time to start — the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) recently announced the new Co-op Housing Development Program, which is a great source of funding for new housing co-ops. 

 If a housing co-op sounds like a good solution, here are the steps you can take to get started:  

  1. Identify your purpose 

First, you need to know who you’re building housing for. Knowing who will live in your housing co-op will help you define its purpose. Is it to provide housing for seniors who want to downsize and need extra care? For young families who are struggling to find an affordable place to live? Folks who are looking for a like-minded community? People experiencing homelessness?  

In Sprague, Manitoba, the community wanted to build housing for seniors who wanted to age in place. In our webinar, “Moving Your Housing Co-op Forward”, Economic Development Manager Monique Chenier said knowing their purpose helped them choose a structure.  

“[Co-operatives First] suggested a community services co-op rather than a housing co-op that would be very community-driven, not necessarily owned by the people who lived there but that the whole community could contribute,” she said.  As a result, a non-profit organization called East Borderland Community Housing, the municipality, and Chamber of Commerce came together to form the South East Community Services Co-op (SECSC) to meet their goal of creating a 20-room assisted living facility.  

Like this great co-op, being clear on your co-op’s purpose will help you figure out what type of housing co-op you want to start  

2. Find your people

Next, find a group of people to form a steering committee that will move the project forward. This can be energetic supporters of the housing co-op – or, like with the SECSC, organizations that are dedicated to community growth. These bigger entities have resources and experience they can use to support the project that individuals may not.  

According to Chenier, having three organizations spearhead their project “gave us a very diverse group of stakeholders to drive this forward from three different perspectives, which also allowed us to apply for lots of different grants.”  

What people or organizations in your community would be committed to increasing the housing supply? Make a list and start reaching out.  

3. Do some initial planning 

You don’t need to get too detailed yet, but start to think about basics like sites where the co-op could go, how many units it will need, and whether you’ll be able to get enough people involved to make it happen. If you haven’t already, reach out to your local municipality to let them know about your idea and ask if there are ways they can help.  

4. Incorporate the co-op 

It’s time to make your housing co-op a real thing! On paper anyway. Co-operatives First can help with this process of filling out and filing paperwork with the government to make your co-op a legal entity.  

Once your co-op is incorporated, it can start to do things like open a bank account, raise funds, acquire land or property, etc.  

Chenier said completing this step helped SECSC to position itself as a legitimate initiative and start applying for funding: “Getting incorporated and showing the world that you are an actual organization has been helping in a big way.” 

5. Getting shovel-ready

Now it’s really time to plan. What will operating your housing co-op look like? It’s important at this stage to consult some experts – housing developers, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, and government agencies will have the information you need to plan your co-op so it meets standards and regulations. CMHC’s Co-op Housing Development program requires projects to clearly articulate their plans, so getting ready to apply for that funding is a good way to move the project forward.  

Of course, Co-operatives First can also help you create a business plan with business coaching for applicable projects or our free Biz Plan Generator resource site.  

6. Find money

Now the big one. How will you pay for this huge undertaking? That depends on the type of co-op you’ve decided to create. If you’ve started an investment co-op, you’ll need to find investors. With a Community Service Co-op (ie. not-for-profit) you can look for grants and other funding options.   

With an estimated project cost of $5 million, the SECSC has applied for funding from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the Co-operators, the National Housing Strategy, and the Manitoba Co-operative Association. They also received funds that the East Borderland Community Housing organization raised for housing projects and will obtain a mortgage from a financial institution for the remainder.   

And of course, there’s CMHC’s new funding program that you can read about here.   

Lastly — be patient 

This is going to take a while! But it’s an important endeavour that will fill an important need and make your community stronger. And Co-operatives First can help you every step of the way.