Pacific Heights has beauty, location and community spirit too

Our International Year of Co-operatives (IYC) Co-op-of-the-Month for June 2012 is Pacific Heights Housing Co-op in Vancouver. And it has a lot to recommend it.

The co-op’s 91 units are fronted by jewel-coloured heritage homes perched above the Burrard Street Bridge where False Creek spills into English Bay, setting the co-op in one of the most highly prized neighbourhoods in the city.

Barbara Molson moved into the co-op 12 years ago and is now the co-op’s vice-president.

“We get the sun – South, Southwest. There is at least one balcony for each unit or a porch for units in the houses; the central courtyard is perfect for the kids, very safe, everything’s gated. The little ones have a blast. And we’re close to everything. It’s a great urban location. Most of us recognize how bloody lucky we really are. They’ll have to carry me out of here in a pine box."

But there's more to the co-op than a home in a great location.

“I love the concept of co-operative living,” says Molson. “Not everybody can afford a house; not everybody wants to own one. Times are hard and it makes a lot more sense that a person live in a community, a village, where you know your neighbours. We’re there when we need each other.”

A recent example of the co-op’s community spirit is a collaboration to build a new playground.

“A group of members saw that the play area that we have in the courtyard was shabby and not safe anymore,” says Molson.  The group created a budget, found designers and got approval from the membership; they now have a corporate sponsor that will contribute to the cost.

“The co-op is paying for it but it’s a lot less than we expected so kudos to that committee – they were fabulous!”

Pacific Heights became a co-op in 1986. Two years ago it celebrated its 25th anniversary as a co-op and the 100th anniversary of the original houses. A young person living in the co-op created a video that celebrates the co-op for that anniversary. 

Pacific Height's operating agreement will end in 2020 and the co-op is taking part in the 2020 Compass program through CHF BC.

The 2020 Compass guides co-ops through the first steps of the 2020 Vision program – to develop a new mission and vision and to prepare for when it is no longer governed by an operating agreement. In 2020, the co-op's original mortgage will be paid, but the co-op will no longer receive any government subsidy.

"There's been a lot of debate about what we should do," says Molson. One question the members are tackling is whether the co-op will provide an internal subsidy. Molson explains, “We are willing as a group to support the financially less fortunate members because they contribute in other ways.” So far it looks good for the co-op to create an internal subsidy pool after 2020 to continue to support those members who need help to cover monthly housing charges.

“To me the co-op is a village," she adds. "There is always change and change is good, but it’s discussed; it’s a group effort.”

The co-op’s board encourages its members to attend CHF BC education events and meetings. The co-op also makes annual contributions to Rooftops Canada, a group that works to improve housing conditions and build sustainable communities in the developing world.

“We’re extremely fortunate and we know it," says Molson. "And we recognize that co-operative living does work.”