Tim Ross, Executive Director for the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada

The cost of housing is gearing up to be a top issue in the coming federal election.

Surveys show that several cities in Canada rank amongst the world’s least affordable housing markets. For many, home ownership is completely out of reach. Meanwhile, unaffordability in the rental market is making it harder for people to feel secure and save for the future.

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Canadians are looking for a place to call home that is affordable, attainable and sustainable. Often, we consider only two options: renting or buying. But there is another choice. Housing co-ops offer people a chance to get ahead, have control and live affordably.

Today, over a quarter of a million Canadians call a housing co-op their home. Housing co-ops are owned and controlled by the people who live there, and the rents are set by the members to cover the costs of maintaining the co-op today and for future generations.

This means that housing co-operatives stay affordable. Living in a co-op in Canada costs less than either renting or owning, on average. Furthermore, co-op costs are more stable, with smaller year-over-year increases.

Most importantly, co-ops provide a stable place for families. Members can’t be evicted just because a landlord wants to renovate, and a family can’t be forced to move so that a landlord can increase the rents. Co-op members can continue to live there as long as they follow its rules or bylaws and pay their rent on time.

Co-ops bring people together from diverse social, economic and cultural backgrounds and they are built on mutual respect and support. A young professional family that is saving up for a house can be neighbours with a low-income senior who otherwise would have been isolated.

Demand for the new co-op on York Street, in downtown Toronto, was so great that members were chosen by lottery. For 12 units, over 1,200 applications were received.

To address this unmet demand, we need a rebirth of co-op housing in this country.

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Last month, the federal government announced the extension of the Federal Community Housing Initiative, to continue rental subsidies for 55,000 households in co-ops and community housing until 2028. This is very good news, as this investment will provide additional support to house vulnerable households for many years to come.

But there’s still more work to do. We know that 1.7 million Canadian households’ needs are not being served by today’s housing market, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Housing co-ops are ready to do their part. The majority of co-ops in Canada are very close to retiring their first mortgages, and many are now considering options for how to renew their communities and also develop more co-op homes to address unmet demand.

Co-ops can accelerate new development opportunities with supportive government policies and programs. What’s really needed is for every jurisdiction and every level of government to prioritize housing. Governments need to look at leveraging surplus land for the public good. Long-term development grants and financing are needed to build a more affordable housing supply, including co-operatives. Income- and rental- assistance programs need to be made permanent and more generous. And we need to continue to advance the right to housing for all.

This will not be easy, and governments of all levels have a responsibility to come together to respond to the public demand for solutions.

We want more Canadians to understand what it means to live in a housing co-op, and why political parties of all stripes must take action to ensure more affordable housing in Canada. As Canadians head to the polls, we encourage everyone to remember there’s another choice: to buy, to rent and to co-op.