Co-ops and land trusts would help make Windsor housing more affordable, advocates say

Windsor housing prices have increased 233 per cent since 2015.

Anyone interested in either subject can attend an online workshop Tuesday

Housing prices have increased 233 per cent since 2015. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

One option could give people the chance to own a home at 25 per cent less than the market value. With the other, residents are members who band together to make group decisions.

Both are unconventional housing models being floated as ways to make housing more affordable in Windsor. And they'll be discussed at a workshop Tuesday for anyone interested.

The Windsor Law Centre for Cities is hosting a workshop about land trusts and co-op living, two ways people can find cost-effective ways to live.

Real estate figures show it's needed. In August 2015, the average price of a home in Windsor-Essex was $216,957. In March of this year, that same statistic was $723,739, shows data from the Windsor-Essex County Association of Realtors. That's an increase of 233 per cent.

The types of housing being discussed at the event wouldn't be subject to inflation or being flipped for profit.

James Calderone says co-operative housing isn't a "silver bullet," but a piece of the puzzle. (Jason Viau/CBC)

In Chatham, a group is working on a land trust living arrangement that would essentially provide people, with low to medium incomes, the ability to get a mortgage for a home that would be 25 per cent less than market value.

"It starts off with just a few people, but I think the concept of this could mean that millions of people across Canada could have more of an opportunity," said Rose Linseman, project manager with the Opportunity Villages Community Land Trust.

"If you think of having fair market value, if we can hit 25 per cent below market value, how many more people could afford something if it was 25 per cent less?"

What a land trust looks like in Chatham

With the land trust model, the resident would own the property itself through what's known as a "life lease," while the non-profit land trust would own the land to ensure the homes remain affordable.

In the future, the homes could be sold by the property owner, but the land trust would take 25 per cent of the sale and apply it to the future occupant, so the affordability cycle continues.

The Opportunity Villages Community Land Trust plans to build an affordable housing community in Chatham where the non-profit owns the property, and residents build equity in owning homes that cost less than 25 per cent of the market value. (The Opportunity Villages Community Land Trust)

For Linseman, who's an architect, getting involved with the Brickworks project was personal after suffering a head injury.

"I was just coming out of that and had difficulty on the financial side of having my head injury. It's hard to get a home and since I have myself been able to purchase a home it's gotten even more difficult," said Linseman. "So I wanted to personally help other people in trying to get them into the market because once you can, you can create a little bit of equity."

She said potential buyers could get one of these homes on a first-come first-serve basis.

Co-ops aren't 'to line someone's pocket'

The land trust community will be constructed at 10 Taylor Ave. in Chatham with 30 units, with single-family homes as well as duplexes and triplexes. There will also be some accessible homes. Construction is expected to start next year and could take upwards of a year-and-a-half to complete the homes.

A different model, with the same goal of keeping the cost of living affordable, is what's known as a co-op. That means the residents living inside the co-operative building would be considered members and vote on things such as the cost of rent and putting board members in place.

Rose Linseman is a project manager with the Opportunity Villages Community Land Trust. (Jason Viau/CBC)

James Calderone has worked as an operator and manager in the affordable housing industry for several years. Since people living at a co-op can essentially vote on the price of rent, he said, it wouldn't be advantageous for them to make it too low because then maintenance of the building would suffer.

The money residents pay in a co-op rental it isn't "to line somebody's pocket," said Calderone.

"If you were to keep rents low for a significant amount of time, what happens is costs continue to go up, but the revenue doesn't allow you to meet the needs of the organization and your housing environment deteriorates," he said.

Just one piece of a puzzle

Rental co-ops are also often tied to federal or municipal funding, especially when they're first started, said Calderone.

Calderone said co-op rental housing isn't the "silver bullet" to the housing crisis, but rather one piece of the puzzle.

"I think it has a lot to do with land tenure. Even from a tax system, you can make an argument that there's a huge incentive toward ownership housing as opposed to rental," he said. 

"And until there's more of a levelling of a playing field on that front, you probably won't have as much interest in rental housing."

The event runs Tuesday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on the centre's website


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