Saskatoon seniors forming housing co-op: Calls for province to change rules

Reported by Bryn Levy, NewsTalk 650 CKOM July 24, 2013 - Seventy-nine-year-old Dan Danaher is ready to spend more time on the golf course and less time mowing lawns and shovelling snow. "Today's 80-year-old is more like the 65-year-old of 25 years ago," he said in an interview held after he completed 18 holes with a group of friends.

Danaher said he and his wife want a smaller place, but are facing the crunch as their fixed incomes run up against rising prices for seniors' living spaces.

"They're talking about, per-person, about $3,000 a month. Now how many people can afford that?"

Shaun Dyck, executive director of the Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP), said Danaher is among a growing number of seniors caught in a market where they have too much money and equity in their homes to qualify for low-income housing, but not enough to afford market prices without sacrificing their quality of life in retirement.

"People that were middle-to-high incomes back when they were working are now looking middle-to-low incomes. So the ability to actually pay for housing, even with some equity from selling their house, is not necessarily there."

This comes despite a vacancy rate of 7.4 per cent in the city's seniors units reported by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

"That vacancy rate for seniors is for people that can afford the $3,000-a-month bill for housing ... when you look at what seniors can actually afford, that type of housing isn't available for them," Dyck said.

It's a situation that's led Danaher and about 30 other seniors to form the Second Avenue Seniors Housing Co-Operative. They're working with SHIP to navigate the process of securing financing to put up a building containing between 33 to 100 new units.

Dyck said because seniors aren't usually looking to build equity over a long-term investment, a co-op structure can present an ideal solution. That's because co-ops essentially involve a trade of future equity for near-term price stability.

"They move in, they buy a share and they live together as one community. It's a non-profit corporation, which brings a high benefit to the people living there," Dyck said.

Dyck said the Second Avenue Co-Op being proposed by Danaher and the other members is viable because most of them have equity in previous homes that they can pool together.

But he said Saskatchewan's laws governing co-ops are failing seniors who aren't as lucky.

"Right now a co-op cannot sell individual titles for units," Dyck said.

He explained the rules effectively mean people who want to start co-ops have to finance the entire project. Dyck said it's a capital-intensive proposition compared to being able to secure financing from different avenues for individual units in a manner similar to a traditional condominium development.

Dyck said it's a change that's been in place in other provinces for decades.

"I know that B.C. and Alberta have been quite far ahead of the curve on that one, and that's why you see more co-operatives out west," he said.

Danaher said the Second Avenue co-op is eyeing potential locations on 33rd Street and 17th Avenue or as part of a possible remodel of the Saskatoon Community Clinic on Second Avenue North. He said he thinks they'll see interest grow as they move through the process.

"It's like one of those things, once you build it the people will come," he said.

Dyck said SHIP is working to encourage the province to change the co-op rules. He said he's expecting change to take time, but once it happens, he said he's confident seniors will benefit.

"If we can find better ways to put their money to efficient use in affordable housing, they will have a better quality of life."

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