For Grebel Peace Incubator participant, Union: Sustainable Development Co-operative (Union Co-operative), summer 2021 has been marked with progress. As Union Co-operative moves closer to purchasing its first property, Member Engagement Coordinator, Melissa Bowman met with Centre for Peace Advancement Communications Assistant, Katie Fry to discuss Union’s recent and upcoming developments.
The staff at the Centre for Peace Advancement last caught up with the Founder of Union: Sustainable Development Co-operative, Sean Campbell, in January 2021. Since the startup’s first months in the Grebel Peace Incubator program, Union Co-operative has seen significant growth in membership, public awareness of their cause, and more.
Catch up with Union by reading our first ever article about this startup: New incubator venture a local leader in housing equity.
Fry: It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Melissa. With most of our community working outside of the office since Union joined the Peace Incubator, can you give us a hint of what has been happening at Union Co-operative over the last few months?
Bowman: Hi Katie, and absolutely! One of Union’s most important accomplishments this summer happened at the end of May, when our offering statement was officially approved by the provincial securities regulator.
Fry: That’s great! For those who aren’t aware, what does the approval mean for Union and its members?
Bowman: Before potential supporters can invest in a co-operative, the organization first needs to provide them with an outline of the risks and benefits of purchasing shares in that company, as well as a description of the business and how it operates. In short, now that Union’s offering statement is approved, it means that we can raise funds to purchase our first property. Anyone with a connection to Waterloo Region can become a member and then invest in preference shares.
Fry: What does it mean to be a member with Union Co-operative?
Bowman: As a co-operative, Union’s goal is to buy residential and commercial properties for permanent affordability through community ownership. Ownership matters to us, and members are more than just investors; they help to make decisions and set the course for the Co-operative’s future strategy and properties. Members are not expected to perform operational tasks. We will contract qualified professionals to complete property management, repairs, and maintenance. Members are invited to participate in governance decisions. There are also volunteer opportunities for members who would like to support community and member engagement, research, marketing, and other organizational activities.
Being a part of our community is key. You need to have some connection to Waterloo Region, such as being a current or former resident, past student, or a grandparent with grandchildren who live in Waterloo Region, because we are solving a local problem and want local members shaping the solution.
Fry: So, if I wanted to help Union Co-operative provide affordable housing in Waterloo Region, I would need to become a member. But how is a preference share different from a member share?
Bowman: Anyone who wants to invest in Union must be a member, through the one-time purchase of a Membership Share for $500, which can be sold back to the Co-operative if you later decide to move on from membership. Your membership share is a type of common share. It allows you to vote on governance matters, elect directors, and purchase preference shares. Members may, but are not required to, invest additional funds. Preference Shares will be used to purchase Union’s property and those shares earn annual board declared dividends.
Get to know some of Union’s current members on their “Who we are” webpage.
Fry: Now that members can support Union’s efforts through membership and preference shares, what’s next for Union Co-operative?
Bowman: We have been fortunate to receive so much support from Waterloo Region community members. As of August 2021, Union had 80 members, so we are well on our way to reaching our goal of bringing together 100 members. Union Co-operative is actively looking for our first property to purchase within the next year, and is working to raise $1 million dollars from community members towards the down payment on a multi-unit residential property with existing tenants to permanently preserve affordability in Waterloo Region. Additional investments are also being raised through charitable foundations.
Plus, a portion of available units will be leased to a charity so they can provide affordable housing to the people they support. In our first property, unoccupied units will be sub-leased to arriving government-assisted refugees through Reception House. In the long term, we aim to purchase a combination of commercial and residential buildings to open up further opportunities for collaboration with various not-for-profit organizations.
Fry: I look forward to hearing more about your first property. However, not everyone has the funds on hand to invest in a formal manner. For those who membership may not work right now, are there other ways to get involved and support Unions initiatives?
Bowman: Absolutely! Becoming a member is the most direct way to get involved, but you can also support Union by interacting with us on social media, and helping to raise awareness about affordable housing in Waterloo Region.
To learn more about becoming a member, we invite you to attend one of Unions weekly info sessions . Current members are also invited to host a Kitchen Table Talk to connect with other members and introduce their social circle to the Co-operative. We appreciate your support in sharing our mission to permanently preserve rental affordable through community ownership.