A co-op in Victoria is offering three bedrooms for $1,000 a month — if you can beat the waiting list

Nicole Cardinal pays $1,010 a month for her family's three-bedroom townhouse in one of Vancouver Island's largest co-ops.  (Emily Fagan/CBC - photo credit)

Nicole Cardinal pays $1,010 a month for her family’s three-bedroom townhouse in one of Vancouver Island’s largest co-ops. (Emily Fagan/CBC – photo credit)

For at least one family in Greater Victoria, housing affordability is not an issue. Nicole Cardinal and her husband pay $1,010 a month for their family of four’s three-bedroom townhouse.

In a region where the average one-bedroom rent is $2,073 per month, Cardinal’s housing situation may seem out of reach to many. And that’s it — she lives in the Marigold Housing Co-op, which has a five-year wait list for applicants.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are models around the world — some, like Marigold, already exist on a smaller scale on Vancouver Island — that experts say could go a long way in increasing affordability for those struggling to find affordable housing .

In BC there are only 269 cooperatives with about 15,300 units. Demand for a place – as evidenced by the five-year waiting list at Marigold, the largest and oldest co-op on Vancouver Island – has risen sharply in recent years.

When you get inside, it’s one of the cheapest places to live in BC

Emily Fagan/CBC

Emily Fagan/CBC

Co-op president Jay Watts says how much each resident pays each month depends on the co-op’s total expenses and the household’s income level.

Once the co-op members determine how much the mortgage, water and sewer bills, and other expenses will cost the nonprofit for the year, they divide that number by 86 units to get the average co-op fee per household for that year. For Cardinal, the monthly rental fee is $1,010.

Lower-income residents, such as fixed-income retirees, pay subsidized rates as low as $600 a month.

Cardinal first moved into the Marigold Housing Co-op five years ago. She and her husband were about to give birth to their second child, and they were drawn to the co-op because of its reputation for affordability and community spirit.

To move in, they had to buy shares, similar to a deposit that is fully refunded when they move out. The unit price varies by unit size, ranging from $3,110 for a two-bedroom condo to $5,120 for a four-bedroom townhouse.

Emily Fagan/CBC

Emily Fagan/CBC

Living in a cooperative differs from traditional renting or home ownership. Local residents lend a hand to carry out service and maintenance. Getting along with neighbors in co-ops can be a lot at stake, as residents may also need to work with them.

“We all own the cooperative collectively, and therefore have a collective responsibility for running it,” Cardinal said.

“So nothing gets done in the co-op without the members’ work, whether it’s fixing a fence, whether there’s a social event, whether it’s getting your gutters cleaned… it doesn’t work if the members don’t make it work.” .”

A waiting list of 300 people

According to Watts, the application process has become increasingly competitive over the past three years. Only two or three members resign each year, and about 300 applicants are currently on Marigold’s waiting list.

Marc Lee, senior economist at the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, said most non-market and social housing – like co-ops – were built before the 1990s, when federal and provincial budget cuts halted investment in these types of housing. Currently, affordable housing not available on the market accounts for only four to five percent of BC’s housing stock.

Emily Fagan/CBC

Emily Fagan/CBC

Models such as co-ops and other non-market housing have been introduced internationally to ease the financial burden of housing on residents. According to Alexander Vasudevan, associate professor at Oxford, countries like Austria are thriving by adopting widespread social housing and cooperative infrastructure.

Around 60 percent of the Viennese live in subsidized housing, almost half of the housing market consists of owner-occupied or cooperative apartments that are below the market rent.

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For the past 15 years, Finland has followed a “Housing First” strategy that aims to provide housing for everyone in the country by 2027 through the creation of permanent subsidized housing and social support.

Juha Kaakinen, the head of international affairs for the Y-Foundation – a public housing provider and the fourth-largest landlord in Finland – said this strategy has reduced homelessness by 80 percent since the 1980s and is expected to save the government €15,000 ($21,500 Cdn) per person and year.

According to Thom Armstrong, CEO of the Co-op Housing Federation of BC, BC has seen a resurgence in co-op housing since 2017 due to provincial funding

The Federation Community Land Trust has opened seven new co-ops since 2015, representing 1,143 new co-op homes across BC, allowing for continued co-op growth.

Submitted by Y Foundation

Submitted by Y Foundation

However, he says this emergence of new cooperatives on the island has yet to be fully realized. Although two new cooperatives are planned for North Cowichan, investment in new cooperatives does not match pre-1990s levels.

“Today, it’s difficult to build affordable housing,” Armstrong said, due to a lack of land and money.

Andy Yan, director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University and an expert on urban housing, says more cooperative housing could be an important tool in alleviating the housing shortage.

“I think it’s particularly geared towards an income bracket that unfortunately isn’t addressed in a lot of off-market housing,” he said. “We’re talking about people with a stable income who are excluded from the housing market.”

He says co-op housing could offer some relief for working and middle-income residents, who have been stripped of rents and home ownership in recent years. This type of living can be an alternative to owning while still offering more stability than renting, says Yan.

Access to subsidized housing through her co-op has allowed Cardinal and her family to explore opportunities they might not otherwise have afforded. She and her husband can both work part-time and have more time to care for their two young daughters instead of putting them in childcare.

“Instead of investing in housing, we were able to invest in raising our children,” she said. “It’s a decision we’ll always be glad we made.”


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