Thursday, November 22, 2012

Housing co-ops and why they fail

   Some important stories just don't get reported because media deems them to be not worth the trouble: too small, risky, complicated and unsexy.
   So mismanagement at co-ops is constantly overlooked.
   In theory, a co-op is a great idea. The government puts up the down payment on an apartment building and the rents all eventually diminish as the rest of the mortgage off. Once it's paid off, the only rent tenants need to pay is to cover taxes and maintenance.
    But take the case of the co-op, pictured above, at Walkley and Cote St. Luc. It was, like other co-ops, built and funded back in the golden era when government funded the down payment of such places.
  After decades as a co-op, it's still staggering under a debt that should have been paid off long ago.
  Controversies, accounting questions and alleged misdoings along the line led the black ink on the ledger to turn red and administrators were forced to get another another mortgage to pay for repairs.       There were mysterious shortages of funds. Some former administrators, when confronted, simply wrote a cheque to end the squabble, others moved away and were not forced to answer difficult questions about the possible financial irregularities which were somehow not spotted by regular audits at the time.
   So now the co-op is renting out apartments to new tenants at full market rate, which represents a disappointing betrayal of its mandate.
   Some parents at the place are concerned with the atmosphere, which sometimes turns a blind-eye on drugs and other misbehaviour in the units.
   These things are endemic because the co-op system lacks people who are sufficiently invested to care about what takes place at the facility and negligence and malfeasance sift in.
   There are still many people who have benefited from living in this and other co-ops around town, enjoying with relatively cheaper rent without being on the government tit.
   This should really be a golden age for these places, as the tax and maintenance fees should really make a mortgage-fee rent minuscule.
   But sadly, in too many cases -- and I could cite other disasters but do not wish to get sued -- the co-op experiment has all-too-often proven that most people are too busy with their lives to act as effective part-time administrators of something as complicated as running a big apartment building and the results have, as a result, been far from ideal.


UrbanLegend said...

I suspect that due to the unfortunate history of this section of NDG (higher crime, more fires, etc.), the administrators over time have given up on trying to maintain and improve it and have grabbed whatever they could before abandoning the sinking ship.

By contrast, the Benny Farm complex--originally built for returning WWII veterans--despite being reasonably well-maintained, inevitably over time the structures became old and run-down. However, what happened in this case was that the entire complex was revamped, despite the controversy, and is today a showcase of urban living.

Perhaps our new mayor, who previously represented that district, will initiate similar improvements to less-fortunate housing projects island-wide.

Dare we hope?

Kristian Gravenor said...

Tiny quibble: this project is in the municipality of Cote St. Luc.

UrbanLegend said...

I misread your description about the housing project being ON Walkley and Cote St. Luc rather than At Walkley and Cote St. Luc.

In any event, those buildings really look out-of-place in wealthier CSL than NDG where that section of Walkley Ave. and further south have been plagued with the problems I mentioned.

The "spillover effect" perhaps? Must be jinxed territory. :-(

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps our new mayor, who previously represented that district, will initiate similar improvements to less-fortunate housing projects island-wide. "

The new Mayor, when he was a councillor, destroyed a proposal that many in the community had been working on for years, to turn Benny Farm into a mix of rental, co-op and affordable housing in the form of a Community Land Trust. The Chagnon Foundation was willing to pour in millions to fund community development activities and the banks had agreed to all the mortgages. Applebaum thought that the land was too valuable, that developers could make a bigger buck. Today there are nice new buildings and a lot of renovated buildings, but most people who used to live there can no longer afford to.

UrbanLegend said...

This subdivision of Cote St. Luc on the northern border with NDG has an oddball history.

Back in 1912 the Bellevue Land Company advertised lots for sale there. "Bellevue Park" was highly promoted with the street names laid out roughly in a continuation north from Montclair Avenue across Cote St. Luc Road.

There was to be a Harris Avenue and Wilson Avenue traversing the CPR tracks and then cross streets McCool, Lanctot, Duquette, Michaud, Labrosse, and Trudeau.

Lot prices were inexpensive and the sales blurb even used a photo of Theodore Roosevelt and one his quotes regarding a man's property being his wealth!

Such Americanized sales pitches were evidently more popular back then than today. Even the east end industrial district of Maisonneuve was promoted as "The Pittsburgh of Canada"! Perhaps in that era some of our real estate companies were American-owned or co-owned with Canadian management.

In any event, the Bellevue Park project never materialized as initially touted back then one hundred years ago. What does exist on that tract of land today includes your aforementioned co-op next to a somewhat similar street arrangement as projected in 1912 but with totally different street names.

Anonymous said...

Next door to where my Ma used to live. I guess it must have been much scarier than when I would go there, although I do remember one cab driver not wanting to hang around at the taxi stand for too long. It's a great location, really.