Ownership means more for members

Co-op housing creates a tight-knit community, says a Friendship Housing Co-op resident

Co-op housing fosters a great sense of community

Residents of Sidney’s Friendship Housing Co-operative pitch in and work together to create a sense of community.

That’s the verdict on co-op living by Lisa Wilson who has been living in Sidney at Friendship Housing Co-operative for more than three years.

Wilson has spent eight years in similar co-ops around the province and said what keeps her coming back is how the residents have a say in how the co-operative is run.

“It’s better than renting, she said in a recent interview with the News Review. “We have secure housing and no landlord but ourselves.”

Located on Fifth Street, the Friendship Housing Co-Op is a collection of units ranging in size from two to four bedrooms.

Fiona Jackson, communications director with the Co-operative Housing Foundation of B.C. told the PNR last month that it’s one of 262 co-ops in the province and the 34 on Vancouver Island. Most of those, she continued, are located throughout Greater Victoria.

Members of a housing co-op,  Jackson said, get security of tenure, meaning they can stay as long as they pay their housing charge and follow the rules.

Residents are also expected to take part on the local board of directors, helping create a better sense of ownership. In the case of Friendship, it is a non-profit business, managed by its members.

For Wilson, she said residents there pay around $1,100 a month, but that varies. Rents only go up, she continued, when there’s maintenance issues.

“We can usually (keep costs) at just below market prices in Sidney,” Wilson said, “generally speaking.”

That means there is almost always a waiting list of people wanting a unit in the co-operative. With 15 units in all, and a few that have subsidized housing charges, demand is there, she said.

Wilson said she has been on the co-op’s board of directors for two terms — the first time she has served on a co-op board.

“We are legally and financially responsible for running the co-op,” she explained. “It has been a steep learning curve.”

Keeping up with unit maintenance is only the beginning of the duties overseen by the board of directors, she said. They must stay on top of finances, approve capital expenses and follow their 10-year plan.

“It’s very involved. It’s worth it for me because you get to know your neighbours very well. For me, that’s very important.”

Wilson said Friendship has a strong community atmosphere. When she was living between co-operatives before finding a unit in Sidney, she said she really missed that.

“You have to find solutions to problems together and you have to get along.”

One of the questions she hears the most is from people asking if Friendship Housing Co-operative is a commune. Wilson said it’s not, in any way.

“We’re just a group of home owners.”

Like-minded home owners, she added.

“There’s some really great people here.”

Wilson said she would not have been able to afford to live in Sidney if it wasn’t for Friendship. She said she loves being a part of the entire Sidney community and enjoys living close to everything she and her family needs.

“It’s got that small-town feel. We have everything here.”

To learn more about co-op housing in B.C. and their ongoing You Hold the Key campaign — designed to raise awareness about looming losses of government funding for co-ops across the country, go to www.chf.bc.ca.

editor@peninsulanewsreview.com