Their mortgage is almost paid off, so this Vancouver co-op considers its options with pleasure! Starting in 1983 as a small rental conversation in a fairly modest neighbourhood off Main Street, View Court has kept its ambitions small and its budget tight.
But the view at View Court is looking better by the day. Not only is the co-op due to pay off its mortgage in June of 2006, it's also benefiting from Main Street's new reputation as the city's latest hot spot. With a bright future in several respects, View Court president Peter Royce is excited about the prospects for renewal and revitalization. "The numbers look really good for after the mortgage," says Royce as he sifts through files and emails on his laptop.
His small but charming one-bedroom is actually one of the larger of the co-op's 32 units, most of which are bachelor suites. In comparison, nearby Quebec Manor Housing Co-op has the same number of units but twice the total amount of living space. View Court isn't what you'd call a family-oriented co-op: most of the residents are single and there is only one child in the entire community.
View Court wasn't built as a co-op. This 100-year-old red brick four-storey started out as rental apartments called Ryan's Court. It changed to View Court in the 30s when a church across the street burned down, prompting the owner to entrench the new mountain and city panorama if only in name.
The co-op conversion created some interest hurdles concerning community space. There is no dedicated common room, so meetings take place around a long table next to the laundry machines in the basement. The co-op also includes a house next door so the two buildings share its back yard as a bit of common green space. Social get-togethers usually happen here or in the hallways and stairwells of the main building.
Royce says that both the demographic mix and the old rental-style layout of View Court pose challenges for co-operative community building. But these are just a few of the things they might be able to tackle with a post-mortgage financial windfall.
CMHC gave View Court a short 25-year mortgage partly due to their assessment of the age and condition of the building. "They thought we didn't have long," says Royce "but these old sturdy buildings have really proven themselves, especially in contrast to all the recent stories of flawed and leaky construction. We're in good shape."
So View Court is on the leading edge of what will eventually be large numbers of co-ops facing mortgage-free, operating agreement-free budgets. This will present all sorts of options as operating costs drop significantly, but it also presents the end of external subsidies. Will co-ops choose to generate their own subsidies from mortgage savings? Will they reduce housing charges? Will they use the funds to invest in building improvements or to catch up on deferred maintenance? Are there other choices? "The two main options we see are increased affordability and improving the building," says Royce. "But we have some other progressive ideas floating around as well. We've always been a big social justice community so we're talking about the possibility of dedicating some funds to community and co-op sector initiatives."
Royce, as one of several View Court leaders who seem to have spearheaded the co-op's current soul searching, has his own shopping list of ideas, one of which is a co-op-funded mortgage guarantee fund to finance new housing co-ops (see his opinion piece in the spring 2005 issue of SCOOP). But he says he doesn't want to prejudice or dominate an open discussion by members. "We're really only in the initial stages of seeing what could be done," says Royce. "We've hired a consultant, Jamie Ritchie, to help us discuss our options. He told us, rightly so, that the first thing we had to do was come up with shared values."
Royce says the first meeting left it far from clear what these shared values will be. One couldn't tell whether members might lean towards creating an internal subsidy system, social justice initiatives, or a new co-op rooftop garden and common room, or some combination of these.
What is clear is that the co-op is engaged in a happy conundrum: how to handle a vastly improved financial picture. The first meeting attracted the best attendance in years, and as one veteran member said afterwards: "I sensed the vitality of our community more than I have in the past 20 years."
Royce says he realizes that View Court is one of the first to tackle the post-mortgage frontier, putting it in a precedent setting position. "This is where we learn about creating self-managed housing for the long term. It's like the exciting time when people were creating BC's first housing co-ops." "It seems to me that this is a real challenge and opportunity for CHF BC, to help co-ops tackle the overwhelming range of options, to offer leadership and expertise in an area that will soon present a huge issue."
Written by Scott Jackson and published in Scoop Magazine.