Original article at http://www.vancourier.com/issues06/055106/drive/055106dr4.html
By Cheryl Rossi-Staff writer
Visit the corner of West 10th and Ontario, marked by both leafy bike routes and vivid pink rhododendrons, and you'll see a pleasant, century-old brick building, also known as View Court Housing Co-op.
The well maintained co-op will be an even more pleasant place to live after it pays off its mortgage June 1. As only Vancouver's second housing co-op to achieve financial freedom, it hopes to be a model to other co-ops in Vancouver facing a similar future.
Sitting on the hardwood floor of the bright ground-floor one-bedroom she shares with her cat, Kari Hewett, who volunteers on the co-op's membership committee, says she sees three or four applications per week from people wanting to live at View Court. This form of housing is so popular the co-op closed the waiting list for its two-bedroom units that comprise a duplex behind the main building. The co-op houses a range of professionals and artists, and at least one tenant receives a disability pension. Members purchase a $1,000 refundable share in the co-op and pay monthly charges, or rents, of $500 to $700 for studio and one-bedroom units and just over $900 for a two-bedroom suite.
Hewett is a big fan of co-op housing, and she's lobbied the city, provincial and federal governments to provide more support for what many regard as an affordable mixed-income form of housing. But she says all she's seen is "an exercise in finger pointing" by government and politicians.
With a precious form of housing at their disposal, co-op members took charge when they realized their mortgage was about to be paid off. View Court's president, Peter Royce, suggested it be a guinea pig for a wave of co-ops that will also be paying off mortgages and becoming free of both government obligations and subsidies. The co-op sought help from the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C. and hired a facilitator to help determine the co-op's mission, vision and values, evaluate the physical structure and develop a financial plan.
Whatever plan it creates may form a model for other co-ops to follow. Thom Armstrong, executive director of the B.C. federation, said most housing co-ops were established in the 1970s and '80s and secured 30 or 35-year mortgage agreements with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
"Between the years 2015 and 2020 you'll have about 55,000 to 60,000 units of co-op housing coming to the end of their contract with CMHC, paying off their mortgages and then... that's the end of their subsidy as well from CMHC," he said. He added 70 of B.C.'s 260 co-ops are leaky and must pay off second and third mortgages. Eighteen of the 260 co-ops are newer and funded through B.C. Housing.
View Court was already 70 years old when it became a co-op in 1981, so its mortgage was set for only 25 years.
View Court hasn't received the engineering reports about the structure, its plumbing or electrical system, so the members don't know if any surprises are in store for their capital plan. They'll review the monthly housing charge rate at their annual meeting in September.
Approximately 22 per cent of the co-op's 32 suites receive subsidies. The co-op will maintain an internal subsidy pool that could support two additional households in times of need. Its membership requirements are being reviewed and the emphasis will be on active, ongoing participation in the co-op, Hewett said.
The co-op has allotted $1,000 for community building, which could include street parties, gardening or traffic calming, and $1,000 for promoting co-operative housing.
"It's really exciting to be a part of and to see that we can do this ourselves, that this is possible and that other people can do it too with a similar kind of support," said Amy Kiara Ruth, co-op treasurer.
Kristin Penn, who has lived at View Court for 24 years, says she's proud of the hard work the members have put into the co-op. "I'm very pleased with how we've been doing this toge
(Photo-Dan Toulgoet: L-R: Kari Hewett, Amy Kiara Ruth and Kristin Penn sit outside their soon-to-be mortgage free View Court Housing Co-op.)
published on 05/31/2006