Borealis Housing Co-operative — Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
Provide safe, affordable housing for families in a community setting where members share the work of running the co-operative.
Primarily families (mixed-income), but the degree of housing need is a consideration when accepting applicants.
Over the years, the Borealis Housing Co-operative has developed a comprehensive system for involving members in its operations and management, achieving savings and improving affordability. Members are required to participate in the work involved in running the co-operative. Participation is tracked to ensure work and volunteer activities are distributed equitably. Adequate participation is considered to be 52 hours a year for each household. Residents can meet this responsibility through a wide range of tasks, including participation on the board or in committees, office work, maintenance, general administration tasks, landscaping or snow shovelling of common areas, work parties, etc.
Background and Context
Built in 1982, the Borealis Housing Co-operative consists of 50 two-, three- and four- bedroom townhouse units. More than 50 per cent of its members are long-term residents. The co-operative primarily targets families, and by nature of the workforce in Yellowknife, a large proportion of the members are government employees.
In order to have its members contribute equally to its success, the Borealis Housing Co-operative developed a participation policy that sets the participation requirement for each unit.
Borealis Housing Co-operative: 50 two-, three- and four-bedroom townhouse units in Yellowknife, N.W.T.
How it Works
The Borealis Housing Co-operative’s participation policy is based on the belief that participation and sharing of work:
- brings members closer together, promoting harmonious and effective co-operative functioning;
- keeps housing charges lower than those in the private sector; and
- is the foundation of a housing co-operative, without which it cannot succeed.
The co-operative’s participation policy requires that at least one member of each unit:
- attend the annual general meeting;
- attend all other special general meetings; and
- participate in general cleanups and landscaping activities.
Written notice must be provided to the president or other board member, prior to the activity, in order to be excused from any of these mandatory activities.
It is also expected that residents from every unit will participate in other activities throughout the year, such as:
- serve on the board of directors, in committees, or as a block representative;
- do administrative tasks (work on the newsletter, make telephone calls, distribute notices, perform typing or data entry, etc.);
- help maintain the co-operative’s buildings and grounds (landscaping, snow removal, other tasks when required, etc.); and
- participate in organizing special events (parties, meetings, etc.).
The participation policy states: “It is a condition of membership that the residents of each unit undertake and participate equitably with the residents of all the other units in doing the work that is necessary to make Borealis Co-operative function effectively.”
Adequate participation is considered to be a minimum of an average of 1 hour per week (or 52 hours per year) from each household (this minimum may be adjusted from time to time, as required). Also, in the event of ill health or special circumstances, this minimum may be reduced for a specific household.
General maintenance and minor replacements and repairs in the unit occupied by the household, as well as maintenance of the yard and adjoining sidewalks, are expected of the residents and are not counted toward meeting their time requirement.
Ensuring Equitable Distribution of Effort
Members are required to keep a record of their participation in the various tasks and to report them every three months to a participation coordinator. Twice a year, the coordinator prepares a report on member participation and presents it to the board.
The board, composed entirely of members (each sitting for three-year terms), has the responsibility of ensuring that members meet the participation requirements. Encouragement and statements of concern are issued to the members in a unit when the minimums are not met over any half-year period, and participation is closely monitored over the next half year. If participation has not improved significantly, residents of the unit are charged a financial penalty of $10 for every hour that the participation rate is below the minimum. In addition, a letter of warning is issued to the residents in the unit that their membership in the co-operative may be revoked in a further six months if there is no significant improvement.
If this improvement does not take place, the board may propose at a special general meeting that membership be revoked. If this action is approved by the membership, the board will then give notice, revoke membership and ensure that the unit is evacuated.
The Borealis Housing Co-operative’s participation policy also requires that, in fulfilling their contribution requirement, each of the units have a member sitting on one of the co-operative’s committees. These committees address various issues, such as:
- administrative duties;
- parking enforcement and monitoring;
- planning of social events;
- unit inspection;
- residents’ participation; and
- respect and enforcement of pet policies.
Members are required to fill in a form giving a brief description of the activities and skills to which they are interested in contributing. The committee that residents will be allowed to join is determined based on their preferences and the openings available.
Borealis Housing Co-operative
Impact on the Provision of Affordable Housing
The significant savings achieved by the co-operative, through the implementation of a participation policy for its members to contribute to operations and management, are put toward achieving affordability. With 50 housing units, the minimum of 52 hours per year per household means over 2,500 hours a year of voluntary labour. In practice, some members put in considerably more than the minimum in any year.
At just over $29 per hour (in 2013), average hourly earnings in the Northwest Territories are the highest among all territories and provinces. For the Borealis Housing Co-operative, the accumulated voluntary work represents considerable savings over the use of paid workers, allowing for accommodation to be provided at below-market rates. The co-operative found that the cost of hiring a property manager at the current local salary level would be $65,000 per year. This cost is avoided through the work of its various committees.
Suitability for Replication
- There must be a willingness of residents to be part of a community and to collaborate toward a common goal.
- It is easier for co-operatives to implement comprehensive participation arrangements, as well as sanctions for non-participation, if they have a low turnover rate. More than 50 per cent of Borealis members are long-term residents.
- Non-profit organizations that are not structured along co-operative housing principles might find some of the arrangements relevant in regard to encouraging and organizing participation. However, their different mission, mandate, tenure (rental as opposed to co-operative ownership) and the circumstances and motivation of their clients will limit the extent to which they would or could enforce participation.
Sources of Further Information
- For additional information regarding the Borealis Housing Co-operative, see http://borealiscoop.com/.