By Judith van Berkom –
The Co-Operative Housing Association of Eastern Ontario (CHASEO) describes housing co-ops as “welcoming places where all members have the right to live with dignity, free from harassment and discrimination.” Housing co-ops are communities of people working together where “all co-op members play an important role in making sure their co-op is a safe place to live.”
CHASEO has served its members since 1996 and exists to lead, serve and support housing co-operative communities. They provide education, advocacy, and other value-added services to 49 co-ops in Eastern Ontario.
The Kitchissippi ward – particularly Westboro – is privileged to have two long-standing housing co-operatives established in the 1980s. There were three waves of federally funded housing co-ops for families during the 1970s to early 1990s, ending during the 1990s when austerity measures and cutbacks by both the federal and provincial governments stopped the growth of housing co-ops across Canada.
The Dovercourt Housing Co-operative, which consists of 40 units in three clusters near the intersection of Carling Avenue and Kirkwood Avenue, celebrated 34 years of existence this year with the Century of Co-operation Awards (or Centurian award) for long-standing members who have achieved a total of 100 or more years by combining their age with the number of years lived in the co-op.
Julie Vaillancourt, HR liaison to the Board of Directors of CHASEO, presented four out of five recipients with Centurian Awards at a meeting of Dovercourt Housing Co-operative on November 16, 2017.
Joan Denison – one of four recipients – thanked CHASEO for recognizing the old timers in the co-op. All four award recipients became members of the co-op from its inception in 1984. Housing co-op members volunteer time to the various committees – Board of Directors, Membership, Finance, Social and Subsidy Committees – which run the day-to-day operations of the co-op.
Joan volunteered on the Finance Committee and Board of Directors and finally called it quits at age 75. Roberta Bigras explained that she lived in the co-op all these years because it was affordable, in a nice neighbourhood, and because you have good neighbours you can depend on when needed: “We all know each other, watch out and help each other out.” Iza Dmochowska remembered how hard everyone worked to establish the co-op in the 1980s. She, too, has served on various committees and the board and she recalls when six husbands – including her own – left the co-op. “I blame it on the closeness of the power lines for the short circuit,” she says. Dovercourt Coop backs onto the hydro easement that runs between Dovercourt Avenue and Clare.
The co-op, and other co-ops like it, face the challenge of not having prepared for the mortgage being paid off (which for the Dovercourt co-op will happen in 2019). At that time, the government subsidy which allowed low-income people to live in the co-op will end. “This has been a very good place for people with modest to low incomes to live. They’ve been family homes for life. I hope we can stay here until we die,” Iza adds. “The co-op is changing; newcomers don’t understand what a close-knit community we are. We made friends for life.”
Monique Villeneuve and her husband, Yves, watched the co-op being built. “My boys grew up here and were very happy,” she says. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to stay in my unit as long as I can.”