Community success: Ford Road Housing Co-op comes back

Ford Road’s path to becoming a co-operative enterprise that builds a better world — the slogan of the International Year of Co-operatives (IYC)  — and December's Co-op of the Month, was one that brought it back from the brink of financial ruin.

Six years ago, the co-op’s current president, Ruth Meyer, was living in a small one bedroom apartment with her son, paying rent well beyond her means.

Then she heard about Ford Road, a 160-unit housing co-op in Pitt Meadows. She put in an application.

“But I had no idea that the co-op was experiencing a massive vacancy loss that put the future of the co-op in jeopardy.” 

It wasn’t until she was accepted for a subsidized two bedroom unit in the co-op and then became involved with the co-op’s interview committee that she realized the extent of the vacancy losses.  At this time, the co-op’s “family building” and townhouses were under green nets while the co-op completed building envelope repair. The adult building, with smaller units and an adults-only policy for members, was finished and “looked amazing.” But it took at least another year before all the nets came down. 

“By then we had almost as many vacancies as filled units,” she recalls.

The co-op worked with its management company, COHO, which brought in an administrative assistant “whose sole purpose was to fill units.” 

“It took advertising, incentives — such as offering one-month free, and $200 off next month’s housing charge for referrals — and a lot of hard work,” says Ruth.

The vacancy rate slowly decreased.

As the tarps came off, Ruth recalls, the building’s appearance was more appealing, and members began to show more pride in the complex. 

The co-op became more social too. “The overall atmosphere of being a small community within a larger community was growing.”

Ford Road turned 30 this year and still has some long-time members who've stuck with the co-op through the tough times. Suzanne Kuboniwa, the co-op’s most recent past president and current interview committee liaison to the board, is one of them. In 1988, she moved into the co-op from Vancouver with three children under four years old.

“It was a place where we could have "free range" children who could safely play outside and still be living close enough for my husband to commute to work.”

When a fourth child arrived a year later, the family stayed because Ford Road offered housing that was affordable on a single income. Two of Suzanne's children have special needs.

“I could stay home and be there for my children,” Suzanne says. “My youngest son has mosaic Down syndrome and autistic spectrum disorder so being available for him was important.”

She notes that even now co-op members and neighbours in the Pitt Meadows community watch out for her now adult son when he walks his dog.

Community and neighbours are the greatest thing Ford Road offers,” she says.

Last summer the co-op celebrated a major victory  all its units were full!

Ruth credits the success to the hard work of office staff and the efforts of many members. 

“That is what makes our co-op special: we’ve had some hard times, but by pulling together as a team we came through it all. We look forward to many more years of living together as a community known as Ford Road Housing Co‑op."