A very inspirational week in Vancouver hosted by CHF BC (Co-operative Housing Federation of British Columbia).
Even before I came here, I was particularly interested in exploring the work of Vancouver’s Community Land Trust to develop new co-ops and to regenerate and support existing ones. I was not disappointed. Their achievements are inspirational. 700 new co-operative homes and a further 1,900 co-operative homes in the pipeline speaks for itself. These are the sorts of targets we need to be setting in the UK. But not just that – all of these homes taken out of the market to protect their long term affordability (massively important in Vancouver where housing costs have exploded) – imaginative solutions provided for seven existing housing co-ops with long term asset management problems caused by difficulties in the Canadian system – other co-operatives and federations in Canada exploring the model – the establishment of a long term support framework for co-operative housing supported by municipal, provincial and federal Government – rigorous attention to ensuring the establishment of community autonomy in the new co-operatives – mixed income memberships to ensure viable communities and reduced need for subsidy. All in all – a sustainable model of co-operative and community-led housing.
How has this been done? Well – on a basic level – it was as simple as saying – what’s preventing us from doing this – what’s the vision we need – right – let’s make it happen. On a more detailed level – development of a partnership with the City of Vancouver – innovative mezzanine finance provided by foundations keen to lend to community led solutions – incredibly dedication from the co-op staff and members involved – and long-term partnership building with co-operatives to explore how to build trust in a sustainable future for the sector.
The approach was pioneered in the excellent 84 home First Avenue Athletes Village Housing Co-op (in the former Olympic Village), a development set up in 2011 – pre-dating the establishment of the Community Land Trust, but which enabled the development of a co-operative housing model focussed primarily on the community that lies at the heart of all co-operative housing schemes. With community facilities that include extensive meeting spaces, a roof garden – the gardening committee is one of 11 social committees set up by the co-op – laundry rooms – a library – a communal kitchen space – have I missed anything? – this is a vibrant community with its members drawn from a range of income levels. This approach is being replicated in the newly forming 135 home Railyard Housing Co-op – (which will enable members of the Aaron Webster Housing Co-op – a co-op with major structural defects – to move in alongside other new members – potentially temporarily – whilst their homes are redeveloped) and the 278 home Fraserview Housing Co-op (aptly named sitting alongside the Fraser River).
The Community Land Trust is not the only co-operative housing show in town. I am also grateful to Nancy and her fellow co-operators for showing me round the seven False Creek Housing Co-ops and Rita from Coalharbour Housing Co-op, all of them bastions of excellent affordable co-operative housing in areas that would otherwise be the preserve of property speculators. But I am particularly indebted to Thom Armstrong – the visionary Chief Executive of CHF BC – who hosted most of my study visit to Vancouver – and with whom I participated in an interview at Each for All – a co-operative radio station (the photograph shows myself, Thom and Each For All’s wonderful Robin Puga). Many thanks also to Thom’s wife Jacquie from the Songhees Nation who accompanied me on a visit on my last day to the University of British Columbia’s First Nations museum.
I am now into a week’s holiday in Okanagan and the Rockies (and yehay – the sun has come out) prior to heading to Winnipeg and Manitoba to investigate developments there.