Vancouver property management business launches housing co-op for staff

‘For certain people the co-op model is what works well and what helps them feel like they’re part of a community’

A property management firm in Vancouver, Canada, is providing its staff with subsided accommodation in an innovative housing co-op.

Atira Property Management rents out the 31-room co-op to its employees, including staff at its parent company Atira Women’s Resource Society, a not-for-profit organisation which provides support services for women affected by violence and abuse.

The privately owned five-storey building in Gastown, which was previously used for short-term rentals, was sitting vacant during the pandemic when its owner approached Atira to ask if it had a use for the site. 

Atira CEO, Janice Abbott, said high rents in Vancouver mean staff have always struggled to find affordable housing close to work.

“We just thought this could be a good use for this building,” she told Co-op News,“ and it’s a crying shame in a city with a housing crisis that we’ve got empty apartment buildings in the downtown area.

“We decided to lease it and we knew we’d have to subsidise the rent, because a studio bedroom in Vancouver goes for well over £2,000. We had operating surpluses related to wages because we’d been unable to fill all of our positions during the pandemic and we thought, this is a benefit to our staff – we can use this surplus to help house our staff adequately.”

Atira received support from Thom Armstrong at Co-operative Housing Federation of British Columbia to create the housing co-op’s bylaws. Armstrong said the workers’ housing co-op model Atira has developed is the first of its kind he has seen in the province.

Within a month of incorporation, an AGM was held where the building’s residents elected a board of directors, which makes decisions about the co-op, including reviewing applications from prospective members, who are all Atira employees.

Co-op members’ rent is tied to their wages at Atira, meaning no employee living in the co-op will pay more than a quarter of their income on rent. 

Abbott says the impact of the housing on the staff who live there has been notable. “We have absolutely seen that, for the folks who live there, staff were able to be more present at work because they have adequate housing they can afford, so they’re not stressed about their rent. We have staff who are able to attend work on a more regular basis because they’re not commuting from an hour and a half away.”

Abbott believes that the workers’ housing model is “absolutely” a replicable model, and should be considered as part of the wider housing market of Vancouver. 

“In any city like Vancouver, where rents are so high and where housing is so scarce, the more types of housing models that we’re able to offer people, the better,” says Abbott.

“For certain people the co-op model is what works well and what helps them feel like they’re part of a community, like they belong somewhere.”