VIDEO: How Co-op Housing is Addressing our Affordability Crisis

  28 June 2024

At the recent British Columbia Co-operative Association‘s (BCCA) 2024 Annual General Meeting, BCCA Co-Executive Director Elvezio Del Bianco interviewed co-op members to learn about the incredible work they are doing in their communities. In this interview, Elvy talks with CHF BC’s Thom Armstrong. They discuss how co-operative housing provides solutions for the housing crisis.

Interview Summary

Interviewer: Elvezio Del Bianco, Co-Executive Director, BCCA
Interviewee: Thom Armstrong, CEO, CHF BC

Key Insights:

  1. 💡 Housing market challenges stem from a focus on investment rather than addressing deep affordability needs.
  2. 💡 Recent federal budget announcements lack significant impact due to delayed delivery and ineffective financing structures.
  3. 💡 Provincial investments in community-based housing mark a unique approach that holds promise for addressing housing crises.
  4. 💡 The Rental Protection Fund’s role in bridging equity gaps and expanding housing options showcases innovative strategies for sustainable housing solutions.
  5. 💡 Community Land Trust initiatives offer opportunities for converting private rentals into co-op housing, fostering growth and affordability.
  6. 💡 Collaborative efforts between the Federation, government, and municipalities highlight the importance of partnerships in tackling housing challenges.
  7. 💡 Calls for increased federal funding to complement provincial initiatives underscore the need for a comprehensive approach to housing affordability.


Tom, for those who haven’t had the opportunity to bask in your sunshine, can you tell us who you are, what you do, and the role of the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC in our province?

Tom Armstrong: Sure, happy to. My name is Tom Armstrong, and I’m the CEO of the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC (CHF BC). We are a province-wide federation representing 271 nonprofit housing co-ops, encompassing about 15,500 homes. We provide a comprehensive range of services. These include education, long-term asset management planning, refinancing, government relations, communications, consulting on governance and management challenges, and a robust group buying program.

Additionally, we run Canada’s largest co-op management company, COHO Management, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. COHO provides services to nearly 6,000 co-op homes across 90 co-ops. We also have a very active Community Land Trust with 2,000 occupied homes, 720 homes under construction, and another 750 homes in development. Across these groups, we employ about 135 people. We are also excited about our ongoing relationships with the broader co-op sector and all levels of government.

Market Solutions vs. Community-Based Approaches

Housing is undoubtedly one of the most pressing issues today. Many governments tend to lean on market solutions to address housing needs. In your opinion, what are the limits or problems associated with these market-driven solutions?

Tom Armstrong: The real challenge with market-driven housing solutions is that the housing market isn’t necessarily designed to deliver homes. It primarily serves as a vehicle for investment. Everyone from individuals relying on home ownership for their retirement plans to real estate investment trusts and pension funds is treating multi-unit residential housing as an international asset class. This investment-driven approach doesn’t address the deep affordability needs of people.

More than a third of renters in BC pay over 30% of their gross income on shelter, and one in four renters pays more than half of their income on shelter. This crisis-level spending means they can’t afford basics like medication, education, and a decent quality of life. Canada has fallen behind in non-market or community-based housing, with only about 4% of the housing stock in this sector. This compares to 15-20% in countries where housing markets deliver solutions across a broader range of incomes. This is the objective we need to work toward here.

Impact of Government Budgets on Co-op Housing

Recent provincial and federal budgets have allocated some resources for social and cooperative housing. What do these budgets mean for cooperative housing, CHF BC, and housing co-ops?

Tom Armstrong: Starting with the federal budget, while they announced a new federal co-op housing program in 2024, it’s essentially the same program they announced in 2022 but haven’t yet delivered. The funding includes one and a half billion dollars, but a billion of it is in financing, which is less effective now due to higher interest rate. The remaining grants are delivered through programs that haven’t historically worked well in BC.

The Rental Protection Fund’s Significance in Expanding Housing Options.

Tom Armstrong: On the other hand, the provincial government has made historic investments in community-based housing. This includes a half-billion-dollar Rental Protection Fund managed by CHF BC, the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, and the Aboriginal Housing Management Association. This fund helps non-profit housing providers and the Community Land Trust purchase existing rental buildings and move them into the community housing sector. We aim to acquire 2,800 homes in the first 18 months of this fund’s operation and are positioned to request further funding to amplify our impact.

Community Land Trust and Municipal Partnerships

How does the Community Land Trust contribute to cooperative housing, and what role do municipal partnerships play?

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Tom Armstrong: The Community Land Trust is a growth engine for the co-op housing sector. They build new homes, acquire existing ones, rescue distressed assets, and redevelop existing co-ops to increase density. This primarily happens in the Lower Mainland, but we are expanding our reach.

Municipal partnerships are crucial, as municipalities often have land assets but lack housing development capacity. They seek more permanently affordable outcomes than what can be achieved through private sector partnerships. These provincial-municipal collaborations have been very productive. If we could secure matching federal funds, we could significantly amplify our impact.

About BCCA


The British Columbia Co-operative Association (BCCA) is the knowledge and resource centre for co-operatives across the province. As a community service (not-for-profit) co-operative, they help co-ops and credit unions come together to collaborate, network, access support, learn, and contribute knowledge to shape British Columbia’s co-op movement.

BCCA provide a collective platform for our members to participate in customized programs and services, receive the latest sector information, connect and share ideas, and benefit from our ongoing advocacy and lobbying efforts.