Sandie Brown worries about many of her neighbours. She’s afraid that they may lose their homes at their Vancouver co-op.
Like others across the country, the Killarney Gardens Housing Co-operative, on East 54th Avenue, is facing a crunch. Low- and fixed-income residents will no longer receive rent supplements when operating agreements between co-ops and the federal government end.
“A number of us are very upset with the prospect of losing these people on subsidies,” Brown told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “Many of them I’m friends with, and they’re great people and they contribute to our co-op. And I just don’t know where they would be able to go if they have to make other arrangements.”
About half of more than 100 households at Killarney Gardens receive rent assistance. According to Brown, they’re mostly seniors, people with disabilities, and single moms with young children.
“In all likelihood, they will be displaced,” said Brown, who is the co-op’s president. “They will have to find another place to live.” The market rate for a one-bedroom apartment at Killarney Gardens is $862 per month. A three-bedroom townhouse rents for $1,257.
According to the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada (CHFC), the federal government provides capital and operating assistance to co-ops through programs created between 1973 and 1991.
Through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, it entered into subsidy agreements that are tied to the term of a co-op’s mortgage.
The national co-op federation estimates that a total of 20,759 households, representing 51,898 low-income Canadians, are at risk of losing their homes with the expiration of these agreements as the mortgages are paid off.
CMHC didn’t provide a spokesperson to interview. In November last year, the Crown corporation announced a measure to give co-ops “greater flexibility” when their agreements draw to a close.
According to CMHC, co-ops whose agreements allow for the establishment of a “subsidy surplus fund” will be able to retain all unused federal funding to subsidize low-income households. Previously, housing providers were only allowed to keep a portion of the surplus.
Killarney Gardens and many other co-ops don’t have this type of arrangement under so-called Section 95 agreements. According to the CHFC, Section 95 agreements cover 1,352 co-ops across the country. Excluding those in Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the territories, 16 of these agreements expired in 2012 and 2013. Twenty more will end this year.
The federation’s B.C. counterpart estimates that from now to 2017, about 1,500 co-op households in this province will see their homes become unaffordable unless their disappearing subsidies are replaced.
According to the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C. (CHFBC), that number will increase to almost 3,000 by 2020 if the provincial government doesn’t step in.
Deputy premier Rich Coleman, who is also the minister responsible for housing, didn’t make himself available for an interview.
The B.C. federation estimates that maintaining rent support for low-income co-op households will initially cost the provincial government no more than $2.5 million a year. By 2020, the annual cost will not exceed $20 million. “This pales in comparison to the social and financial costs of homelessness,” the group states in a campaign paper.
Fiona Jackson is the CHFBC’s communications director. She noted that although many co-ops would have paid down their mortgages at the end of their agreements with the federal government, they may not have the resources to maintain their buildings.
“Some of them were those leaky buildings,” Jackson told the Straight in a phone interview. “So they definitely have second or third mortgages.”
Killarney Gardens’ agreement expires in September 2019, but Brown and her neighbours aren’t going to just wait. They’re hosting a meeting with other housing co-ops in Southeast Vancouver on June 26 to talk about what they can do. (The meeting starts 7 p.m.)
Co-ops in the Tri-Cities are also taking action. Falcon Crest Estates Co-op in Coquitlam will host a meeting with other co-ops in that municipality, Port Coquitlam, and Port Moody on June 19 at 7 p.m.