Affordable housing in Calgary: a look at the co-operative housing model

The co-operative model is an attractive alternative to renting, homeownership, or transitional housing

By Krista Sylvester | November 15, 2021 |11:05 pm

Sunnyhill Housing Co-Op is one of 13 successful co-operative housing models in Calgary.

Photo: Submitted

It’s no secret that affordable housing is getting harder and harder to find in Calgary — but is co-operative housing the city’s best-kept secret?

If it is, the Southern Alberta Co-operative Housing Association (SACHA) wants to spread the word. 

The organization believes the co-operative housing model is the key to getting more affordable housing in the city because it provides a viable affordable housing option to those who are seeking an alternative to rentals, homeownership, or transitional housing.

“We believe that this is an exciting and valuable initiative that carries mutual beneficial results for all who participate,” SACHA executive director Brenda Davies explains. 

Wait, what’s co-operative housing? 

A housing co-op is a legal association formed for the purpose of providing homes to its members on a continuing basis. There is no landlord and they are run by the people who live there. Members are considered owners of the co-operative.

A co-op is different from other housing associations in its ownership structure and its commitment to co-operative principles. Co-op housing offers a home, not an investment.

SACHA, together with the members, forms a community working toward the same goals and operating by the co-operative principles.

There are about a quarter of a million people living in housing co-ops across Canada, but our province is falling behind on this initiative, Davies says. 

“In comparison to other provinces in Canada, Alberta is woefully lacking in housing co-operatives. Everybody’s super excited about them, but they never get built,” she said. 

“The nice thing about a housing co-operative is that you can use existing buildings. It doesn’t have to be a new build. It’s just a different way of providing affordable housing.”

What’s the co-operative housing situation in Calgary? 

Currently, there are 13 housing co-operatives in Calgary that amount to approximately 1,200 units, Davies says. 

“They’re spread throughout the city, and each one of them has been able to sustain itself well. They have subsidies or internal subsidies, and they’ve been able to house people successfully,” she says, adding they’re also well maintained with the help of SACHA. 

“It’s a good investment.” 

One of the things that SACHA would like to see is the further development of housing co-operatives in the city. 

The organization has partnered with the city to explore ways that they “could bring together a team that would serve on the council to further the development of housing co-operatives in our city.”

Calgary needs more affordable housing options, and this could help

“(The need) has been like that for a very long time. But it’s hit critical mass, especially with COVID. It was so surprising to see the cost of housing rise during a crisis like that, which was shocking to me,” she says. 

“The thing about housing co-operatives is the attractiveness of it… it’s also a form of homeownership. So rather than paying a damage deposit, or a down payment on the home, they invest in shares.”

People on the lower-income threshold are also able to live in these co-operatives because of the model. 

“Everybody has the same rights as everyone else,” Davies adds. 

Looking for partners 

SACHA is running a forum for interested organizations to receive information about co-operative housing in hopes of establishing a collaborative and independent Co-operative Housing Council.  

The purpose of the council would be to promote this successful housing model to further its development to meet the needs of persons and families seeking affordable housing.

“This is an opportunity to bring everybody together and talk about the different ways that housing co-operatives could be increased to address the affordable housing issue,” Davies adds. 

The Nov. 17 forum will provide information on co-operative housing and will include interactive small group discussions among the attendees. 

Email admin.sacha@shaw.ca if you’re interested in attending the forum.  

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Krista Sylvester

Reporter at Calgary Citizen

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