Well the last post for the minute anyway. Until I have worked out what it all means.
So – an all too brief foray into Québec City concluded my travels. Québec is a country of its own – not least it being an opportunity for me to inflict my somewhat rudimentary French on the Québécois (and a million apologies guys if I have misspelt something here). So, some differences in the co-operative housing sector – but the same spirit of endeavour and exploring new ideas that I had been encountering across Canada.
I was the guest of Confédération Québécoise des Co-opératives d’habitation (CQCH – pronounced say queue say ash), and many thanks to Jocelyne, Jacques and Rene for their first-rate hospitality. They particularly outlined their excellent work on an equity co-op model – enabling low cost home ownership and affordability in perpetuity through Fonds Co-op Accés Proprio (Le Fondation) – a community land trust set up by the Federation with support from Québec Province and Desjardins – a major co-operative financial player in the Québec region (and elsewhere in Canada). A testament again to the spirit of Canadian co-operative endeavour – anything can be made to happen if the co-operative will is there — Le Fondation is currently developing four schemes, with the first – Havres Des Pins – a scheme of 120 homes in Estrie due for completion in Summer 2019. Many thanks also to Louis – a member of 29 home Co-operative D’Habitation L’iot Fleuri and also a member of the Boards of La Fondation and of CHF Canada – who acted as translator for me so I could get some understanding of the model. The wide ranging discussions I had with Louis were helpful in my developing an understanding of the Québec co-operative housing sector.
CQCH is made up of six regional federations across Québec and my host on the first day was Romain from one of them – Fédération des Coopératives d’habitation de Québec, Chaudière-Appalaches (FECHAQC). He took me first to the impressive Co-opérative de Solidarité Habitation Les Noveaux Espacés – their 130 homes across three buildings built from 2014 to 2017. Many thanks to the President – Renée, and her fellow Board members -Therese and Denise – for showing me round. Next up was the seniors co-op – Co-opérative de Solidarité Habitation le Mieux-Vivre where I was indebted to Claudette for our tour. Particular features in this co-op included another worker co-op providing a meals and personal security service for co-op members – and the Petanque Court outside. Both of these co-ops had been developed by one of the Groupes de Ressources Techniques – support bodies that had operated across Canada until the Federal Government had ceased funding co-operative housing development in the mid-1990s. That Québec Province had continued to fund co-operative housing development through its AccèsLogis programme points towards the strong co-operative framework that exists in Québec.
Our third host – many thanks to Eveline from the excellent Cohabitat Québec – described as a community of neighbours in an urban village. Similar to some UK cohousing schemes, members first moved into Cohabitat’s 42 owner occupied homes in 2013 – the end of a journey that started its conceptualisation ten years previously. Entirely self-funded, the scheme was reliant on its founder members taking financial risk in order to get the scheme off the ground. Members buy into the scheme – getting a mortgage if necessary – and if selling have to offer the unit back to the co-op. Potential new members are required to participate in a two-day induction course into sociocracy – a method of governance where members are asked to state they do not object to decisions it is proposed the co-op takes. Membership of the co-op is about more than just the buildings members inhabit – it is also about the community formed – with numerous community facilities throughout the scheme.
And last but by no means least, the last co-op I visited was the 36 unit Co-opérative d’habitation La Grand’Voile – the big sail. Meeting up with our hosts Mathilde and Martin on the roof terrace elicited many “wows”! This is a co-op right in the heart of the old port area – now heavily gentrified and a mecca for tourists – so the roof terrace has views to die for of the St Lawrence River. The co-op was set up in the 1980s as the building changed ownership several times as the area’s value increased, and the municipality were keen to see a local community initiative develop to ensure the whole area did not just become the preserve of tourism.
I was introduced in Québec to Le Rabais – a system used by many Québécois co-ops to encourage active participation, not just in governance, but also in cleaning or other tasks in communal areas and other community activities inherent to being a co-operative housing scheme member. Le Rabais is a “rebate” or reduction in rent charged. It is assumed that all will get it at the outset – but can be removed by the Board (and so full rent would apply) if it considered that a member was not participating. My first thoughts were that it would be a legal minefield – which it might be – but it is used as a means of encouraging active participation – which seems to happen in many cases – but Le Rabais is rarely lost by any members.
Everyone had been telling me that Québec City is beautiful and they were not wrong! It was also a lively and happening city when I was there. Not sure if that is always the case – there happened to be a big music festival going on which meant I got to see Femi Kuti on the last night I was there as well as various street performers and a blues band in a local bar that Jacques from CQCH took me to.
So, there we have it. Work needs to be done to take everything I have learnt – discuss it with others in our UK sector – and move forward. But now is not the time to even think about that – I am currently jetlagged and desperately trying to stay awake so I can get some reality tomorrow. But I am sure I will circulate my findings in due course in some way!!!
Many thanks to all those who have been following the blogs – and of course a million and one thanks to the vast number of wonderful Canadian co-operators who have been so welcoming and forthcoming on my visit. None of it would have been possible without you guys.