B.C. co-op tenants fear soaring costs if rent subsidies disappear

Patty Shaw has been a resident of the 17-unit Kailasa Co-op in Saanich for more than 20 years, grateful for the stable, affordable housing that helped her turn her life around when her children were little and her marriage ended in divorce.

“There was no way I could afford a house here” — even back then and having owned a home Up-Island, she said.

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Now president of the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C., she’s fearful of the coming expiration of federal government subsidies that give others — seniors, people with disabilities, single parents and new Canadians — the same chance.

Shaw received subsidized rent for only a couple of years and now pays market rate, as do about two-thirds of the non-profit co-op’s residents.

But people dependent on subsidies from the federal government could see their rent rise by hundreds of dollars a month, putting them at risk for homelessness, she told Saanich Council this week.

“Where are they going to go? she asked.

“I can’t imagine what they’re going to find in the CRD.”

One of her neighbours who lived in a Kailasa apartment for 33 years moved into a one-room assisted living place out of financial fear, she said.

With co-op housing, members own the co-op and the co-op owns the housing. Members work together to create a viable business and co-op community. There are 34 co-ops on the Island and all 1,172 units are in the Capital Regional District. In the rest of B.C., there are 230 co-ops with 13,328 units.

Saanich unanimously endorsed by Coun. Fred Haynes’s resolution to write to officials and politicians in the provincial and federal governments.

It is requesting that B.C. and Canada work together and separately “on mechanisms to maintain a rent supplement program” and call on Ottawa to reinvest the $20 million saved nationwide from the expiring contracts to share the cost of funding this program.

In B.C., the subsidies to co-ops amount to only $2.5 million — “we’re talking peanuts” — Shaw said, but are make or break for many low-income residents. Even though co-op mortgages are also expiring, there is so much delayed major restoration for roofs, windows, plumbing and more that the rent can’t come down, she said.

The Conservative government of Brian Mulroney cancelled new social housing in 1992, but Ottawa has continued to provide subsidies for existing projects.

Many, such as Kailasa’s, expire in 2017.

Coun. Judy Brownoff, also a CRD director, said the issue is more than an end to subsidies and mortgages. “Affordability is also about the operating costs of these dated facilities,” such as utility bills.

She also wants to see Saanich work within the CRD framework. Its Housing Databook and an analysis of the gap in the existing housing stock will be coming to a CRD committee in September. An update to the 2007 Regional Housing Affordability Strategy is also expected to be completed this year.

The CRD’s Housing Corporation is working on a long-term financial and asset-management strategy that includes expiring operating agreements, a housing official said in an email.

The crunch has already come to Cameo Co-op in View Royal. Six residents — mostly over 70 or living with disabilities — lost their full subsidies on July 1, with about 10 more losing partial subsidies, said president Doug Caley.

The co-op has a little bit of money to provide some relief to the six long-term residents “who are really in need,” but after that, the increase would be $400 a month, Caley estimated.

“We’re hoping someone steps in and helps these people,” he said.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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