An Old-New Twist on Affordable Housing


Harriet Brooke, a Crofton resident, says it is time to develop cooperative housing associations with a self-governing property management model right here in the Cowichan Valley.

The issue of affordable housing has been in the news lately. During the recent municipal election it was a topic on the agenda of a number of candidates who were elected to both the Duncan and North Cowichan Council.


The Province of British Columbia has published a 30-point plan to tackle housing affordability that includes addressing issues such as curbing speculation, closing tax loopholes, and creating security for renters. Part of the plan put forward is to work with communities and housing providers to expand the availability of housing.


The cost of shelter has hit almost all demographics. Seniors, many on a fixed income, face rising taxes and have much of their retirement equity tied up in large homes they can no longer afford to maintain. While they could sell, they then face the quandary of finding a smaller less-expensive replacement home. Young people, couples or singles, are having difficulty finding affordable homes because they are working at minimum wage.

Young families face the predicament of finding larger homes on a limited budget .One idea being put forward by a local advocate is an old idea that may well present one of the best approaches for increasing the availability of low cost, secure homes for seniors.


Harriet Brooke, a Crofton resident, says it is time to develop cooperative housing associations with a self-governing property management model right here in the Cowichan Valley.
This cooperative housing society model is a tried and proven concept of Harwood Ltd. which has provided over 900 units to seniors in the Fraser Valley at 20-30 per cent below average market cost in the last 40 years. Brooke’s parents lived in one in Abbotsford for 33 years; one of the 12 housing complexes built in the Fraser Valley by Harwood Ltd.


“It was fantastic for them as retirees,” said Brooke. “It was in 1984 that my parents paid their housing society fee of $45,000 in exchange for a Promissory Note which entitled them to live in their unit for life. When my father left the complex at the age of 97 years, the housing society paid out his Promissory Note in full.  Then, the unit was offered to a new qualifying housing society member for only $75K – which was now 80% below average market price!!  The non-profit, non-speculation, affordability parameters of 33 years ago had been paid forward!”

The only additional cost was the monthly maintenance fee which covered all utilities, building insurance and services; all of which were purchased in bulk rather than individually.


A key factor of this housing society concept was that, as this was cooperatively owned and operated by the self-governing property management board, the members received Promissory Notes in lieu of Title.


According to Brooke, what makes the idea work is the non-profit nature of the association. It owns the land and buildings and all utilities and service costs are purchased in bulk.  By having a non-profit, self-governing property management board as owner, speculation is naturally eliminated and the cost of the membership shares remain stable over long periods.


“For example,” she explained, “let’s say you pay $200,000 for your “share” in the cooperative housing society. That money entitles you to live in the unit you have picked — for your lifetime. Your guarantee is that whenever you leave, you or your estate gets back the amount you paid for your share.  In the meantime you’ve gotten lifetime use of the home.”


The Co-Operative Housing Federation of BC lists over 250 member co-ops in BC.  Most of these are located in the Lower Mainland and Victoria. The Island has none listed north of Victoria but Victoria lists over thirty.  Another dozen or so are scattered throughout the interior, primarily in the Okanagan, although there is one as far north as Fort St. John.


Brooke describes how the idea could work locally. “Essentially the co-op looks like any other housing development. The difference is the non-profit nature when it comes down to building the residences.” Brooke said.  “The association builds with an eye to people’s needs, so the housing can be small footprint, low-energy, or any number of features that often people want but builders don’t offer because there’s no profit in those things,” she explained.


Her idea is that North Cowichan should try a pilot project. She envisions that someone with 2 to 3 acres could develop an eco-friendly small footprint co-op somewhere in North Cowichan. The trouble, according to Brooke, is that no zoning really exists for this kind of project.


“The market doesn’t exist because developers can’t profit from it, so it’ll never get built unless interested individuals step up. Our last election had just about every candidate talking about affordable housing. Well, here’s a chance for the politicians to actually do something,” she said.


Brooke has a property that would be suitable for this kind of project in Crofton, but she explained that isn’t her goal. She would like any project to get some support of local politicians and create decent low cost homes for ordinary people.


“I believe we have an obligation to make sure that we provide opportunities for everyone to have a decent home.  Isn’t that why we all share things like garbage collection and roads?  Local government has a role in this and can help make it happen with some minor zoning changes.”


If you are interested in this topic and would like to contact Harriet Brooke you can reach her at


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here