An Introduction to Co-operative Living

An Introduction To Co-operative Living at West Hills Co-op

Co-operative Housing was initiated to provide affordable housing for low and middle income families who could not afford to purchase their own homes but wanted more control and responsibility for their environment.  Co-ops are subsidized by either the Federal or Provincial government, and provide Geared-to-income housing charges for a portion of the community.  Ideally, in any Co-op, you will find a mix of people that includes working families and those on social assistance, all working together to keep their community safe and in good condition.
With the help of the related government agency (in our case, The Agency for Co-operative Housing), Co-ops are formed by groups of interested people who organize a corporation which assumes a mortgage to purchase land and build the complex.  Once built, the corporation which is made up of the people who live there (know as Members), is solely responsible for the administration, maintenance and mortgage re-payment.  No one OWNS a Co-op, and therefore there is no Landlord to whom we are responsible, or to whom we can turn when problems arise.  The Members of the Co-op must take care of everything themselves, much as a homeowner is completely responsible for the costs and problems, which occur with his house.
When you choose to live co-operatively, you should be aware of the responsibilities that are part of the deal.  You are REQUIRED to attend meetings when called (usually 4 times a year), and to contribute a minimum of 4 hours per adult member per month to Committee work for the Co-op.  You must, of course, pay your monthly housing charge on time, as this money must be available for mortgage payments and other costs.  You must also be prepared to care for your unit and back yard, and perform minor repairs your self. 
West Hills Co-op has 48 units: 36 - 3 bedroom units (including 2 handicapped units) and 12 - 2 bedroom units.  Within those 48 units, we normally have approximately 75 adults Members.  Since, at West Hills Co-op, we do everything ourselves, there is plenty of work to go around.  Each member must belong to at least one of our Committees:
Membership  Maintenance            Inspection  
  Social  Newsletter               Information  
Landscaping Cleaning Participation  
These committees take care of the things that need to be done in our community, and they are run democratically, with regular meetings and elected Chairpersons.  Records are kept of each member's participation, and failure to put in your time can result in consequences as severe as eviction form West Hills Co-op.
Since we cannot hold a vote for all the members for each decision that needs to be made, and since every group requires a governing body, the Co-op members elect from within themselves a Board of Directors.  There are 7 Directors elected to hold office, and these 7 members make all day-to-day administrative and financial decisions, monitor the effectiveness of the Committees, and deal with disputes or problems which the Members cannot sort out themselves.  Elections are held every year.  We also have a contracted Co-ordinator, who does not live at West Hills Co-op and is completely impartial to all members.  The Co-ordinator performs all of the administrative functions, banking, bookkeeping, record keeping and screens prospective members' references and credit history.
As with any large group of people existing together in a defined area, personal problems can and do occur.  Life in a Housing Co-operative requires that each of its members realize that any personal differences must be put aside when dealing with Co-op issues.  You may disagree with your neighbor in the morning about what time your music was turned down the night before, but you must find a way to put that aside and work together for the common good at a committee meeting the same evening.  Because we all meet and work together on committees, we tend to know and socialize with our neighbors more than we might in another neighborhood.  Social interaction is encouraged within the entire complex, and social occasions are planned for all to enjoy.  If you are a very private person, Co-op living may not be what you are looking for.
Another benefit of knowing and working with our neighbors is that we tend to recognize strangers within the Co-op, and watch out for one another's safety and security.  We also know all the neighborhood children, and can step in if their safety is threatened while playing in the Co-op.
Living co-operatively in not a decision a family should make because they are looking for a nice place to live, or because they require affordable housing.  Other options are available for those who want only to rent a home.  If you choose to apply to live at West Hills Co-op or any other Housing Co-operative, do so because you believe in the concept of working together for the common good and are willing to do your fair share.  Your choice is a commitment to this way of life.  Like anything, it has its drawbacks, but we feel the benefits are far greater.