Two Canadian housing co-ops at risk from sell-off to private landlords

The Co-operative Housing Federation of BC warns that 425 affordable co-op homes are at risk

The residents of two housing co-ops in Burnaby, Canada, are worried about losing their homes when the properties leased by their co-ops are sold on the commercial real estate market.

The first co-op at risk is the 115 Place Co-operative Housing Association, which includes two towers on Cardston Court near the Lougheed Town Centre. The co-op includes 244 member households and has been providing affordable homes since the early 1980s on land leased from the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 115 Pension Plan.

With the lease ending on 31 October 2021, the Pension Plan has listed the property on the private market with the intention of selling it to the highest bidder.

The co-op warns that many of the residents of 115 Place are seniors on fixed incomes who cannot afford anything in Burnaby’s current rental market. In a recent survey by the co-op, a third of the 115 respondents were over 75 and had concerns about the impact of a move from co-op to market rents. One in four members said they would be at risk of homelessness if rents rose to anything approaching market levels.

Among them was a senior resident who has been providing pastoral care as a chaplain to more than 25 senior care homes for 31 years. “I would literally be forced into homelessness in my 71st year. It just seems incredulous!” he told the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC (CHF BC).

Another co-op at risk is Post 83 Co-operative Housing Association on Mayberry Street near Metrotown, which provides 181 homes.

The co-op leases its land from the IUOE Local 115 Pension Plan, which will expire a year after the 115 Place lease. While the Pension Plan has not yet revealed its plans for the co-op, existing residents are concerned they will be faced with a similar situation to 115 Place Co-operative Housing Association.

One of the co-op’s early members is 84-year-old Joyce Narayan, who moved into Post 83 shortly after it was established in 1983. She takes part of various co-op games and summer barbecues and sees the other members as her family.

“I can dream as much as I like but it doesn’t make any difference,” she told CHF BC, adding that she would find it very difficult to find somewhere else to live if the property were sold. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Burnaby is currently CA$1,830.

CHF BC has been actively campaigning for an alternative option to ensure that none of the existing co-op members are forced from their homes and communities. Through BC Housing, the provincial government has already offered to buy the 115 Place property for its appraised value. However, the pension fund has chosen instead to list the property on the market.

“The province has made an offer that would reward the pension fund for its long-term investment in the property while protecting low-income seniors from losing their homes,” said Thom Armstrong, CEO of CHF BC. “This is an immediate crisis for 115 Place, and it’s only a matter of time before Post 83 faces the same threat. Together these two co-ops represent 425 affordable homes that can’t be replaced on the market. No one wants that on their conscience.”

He added: “The financialisation of housing has a real human cost. We’re asking the province, the City of Burnaby, and the IOUE Pension Plan to work together on a solution that will ensure families and seniors can continue living in the communities they’ve called home for decades.

“The Pension Plan has said it believes that ‘no senior who spent their lives working should have to retire in poverty’. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the outcome of that mission was to create more homelessness in the community?”

While most leasehold co-ops in BC are on publicly owned land, eight co-ops are on private leasehold land the they provide almost 1,000 homes.

A spokesman for the City of Burnaby said: “Co-op housing is an important part of Burnaby’s housing inventory, as it offers secure tenure, and community building opportunities. Co-op housing provides more affordable housing options for residents. There are 26 housing co-operatives in Burnaby and while most are now older housing stock, they remain a vital part of our affordable housing inventory.

“Our draft Housing and Homelessness Strategy recognises this and encourages the renewal of existing co-op housing.”

He added that the council had had discussions with the current owners of the properties housing the two co-ops and the province and would continue to “work with them to find a good solution for the people living there”.

IUOE Local 115 Pension Plan has been contacted for a comment.