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Why Choose Co-Operative Housing as a Place to Live?

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Tricia Morley works as a Community Access Facilitator (CAF) with BALANCE in Toronto. As a CAF, Tricia teaches BALANCE participants the in's and out's of searching for an apartment and has worked with many individuals, facilitating access to both subsidized and market rent. Tricia currently resides in a co-op in the Toronto area. Image: Side view of two-storey brick condominiums with well-trimmed front yard.

Your home is a reflection of who you are: a place one can call a refuge from the challenges of living, a space to create to your own specifications, do as you please, a door to close to the outside when you want to rest. Home is your private world.

Then there is the community, past that door, a place where people know each other and work in that little village way, and they all watch out for each other. It is where people call you by name as you pass by.

A healthy home is part of a community. Communities are everywhere, created by the people who live in them. The kind of community depends on the interests, abilities, talents and opportunities, etc. of the people who live there. Toronto's mix of race, religion, ethnicity and tradition enhances, expands and excites our communities, increasing our exposure to new ideas and cultures. The best homes are in communities where the people work together for a common good, where everyone has a vote in what goes on, where safety is everyone's concern, and you have a say where the resources are directed.

One option for this kind of living is found in co-operative housing.

Simply, by the nature of its set-up, people are expected to work together for the good of the co-op. These communities are made up of residents of mixed ages and backgrounds.

Janet Gardiner, who is blind, is living in a downtown Toronto co-operative. She is a past participant of the BALANCE program, who moved to Toronto in the early 90's. While working with BALANCE to learn independent living skills, she started her path of volunteering by participating on numerous committees for BALANCE and eventually as a Director on the BALANCE Board. Today she is the Chair of the Diversity Committee for the Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto and a member of their Board.

When asked what co-op living does for her, she replied, "Living in a co-op gives me a sense of living in a more tightly knit community. There are more opportunities to get to know your neighbours, and to do volunteer work. I have a willingness to challenge myself to take more risks in terms of volunteering for committees. In a landlord tenant situation there is no incentive to do this."

Co-operatives are called not for profit housing. This means they are to provide quality housing for the people who live in them and not profits for an investor.

The oldest co-ops were developed with the assistance of the federal government. People living in older, low rise, walk-up apartment buildings got together and created these co-operatives through conversion projects with the assistance of government funding. Unfortunately, most do not have elevators. Because they were converted older buildings, many are not wheelchair accessible.

Most of the federal co-ops have paid off their mortgages, and the market rents are very low. They continue to operate independently, generally in smaller buildings with low population densities. If you want to know where they are, ask your local MP for a list of federal co-operatives in your area.

Later, the provincial and municipal folks got into housing, and they assisted community groups to create new buildings following certain building codes. Consequently, accessibility has improved.

All co-ops have some subsidy. The percentage of subsidy to market rent varies according to when they were created. If you can afford market rent, you just apply to the co-op of your choice. If you need subsidized housing, you now apply through Toronto Social Housing Connections. Your wait might be lengthy due to recent provincial downloading and Toronto's increased social housing responsibility. Co-ops are listed in the Toronto Social Housing Connections housing guide.

You can look for co-ops that have been developed for people with similar religious, cultural or language traditions. In addition, some partnerships have been with: shelters for abused women, persons who are terminally ill, the homeless and those with intellectual disabilities.

Housing has also been created with built in assisted living for persons who need attendant care and for persons experiencing mental health issues.

A co-operative is managed by the people who live there. They are called members, not tenants. There are several general members' meetings in a year where everyone gets together to vote on co-op business. A co-op usually hires a couple of staff people to run the day to day business. They are supervised by the board of directors which is elected by the members.

Each member is expected to contribute to the co-op in some manner.

Generally, there are social, membership, maintenance, landscaping, newsletter, finance and other committees. These groups work together to bring information to the board of directors. Depending on the co-op, there may be different activities during the year where the neighbours get together to socialize.

As in all of life's situations, not everyone does his [or her] share. The best one can hope for is that people will learn from their neighbours and do more.

The important point is that one has the opportunity to do something for and in their communities to make it a better place to live.

Co-op living is an excellent opportunity for vision- impaired persons to get involved in their communities in a safe environment close to home. For single people this creates an avenue to meet others. For families it provides venues for kids to meet and play in safety. For seniors there are units specially designed for their needs with services and resources designed to assist them in creating desired social activities.

When you live in a co-operative community, you get to watch and experience all these things. It is nice to live in a place where you have opportunities to make a difference, and everyone knows your name.