Canada’s Ugly Duckling Co-ops Still Swanning About In Pandemic

Beach Hall housing co-op taken in Autumn
More Autumn Leaves (64257198) photo by Diego Torres Silvestre is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Beech Hall, a housing co-operative in Toronto.

The desperate financial pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic have amplified a loud and growing chorus for social and public housing solutions to deal with unaffordable housing.

For going on half a century in many countries, the role of providing most new truly affordable housing has been ceded to the private sector. As a result, mixed income communities have become a necessary evil — evil if only because they have demonstrated they generate only handfuls of truly affordable social/public housing in projects dominated by housing for those with moderate or better incomes.

These days, the battle lines in the fight to build much more truly affordable housing appear to be drawn between new, “pure” (social housing only) projects with 100% truly affordable housing, versus “more of the not-enough same” public private partnerships (PPPs) that with 5% or 10% truly affordable housing at best.

Overlooked in this limited choice is the role that might be played by PNPs — Public Non-profit Partnerships such as co-ops being one example. From 1978 to 1993, public money in Canada was invested in co-operative housing projects that anticipated the mixed income models that have been a feature of PPPs.

And where are they today? Under-financed and run down like much of the country’s “pure” social housing? Nope. Some 2,200 Co-op housing projects serving a quarter of a million people are doing surprisingly well, in spite of the pandemic. Is this a more robust model for mixed income housing that can return a greater percentage with social rents?

Read more in the COOP News: Canada’s housing co-ops find success in the face of despite Covid-19 challenges

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