“What does it mean to be a good housing provider?” and “How does unstable access to housing impact communities?” are just a few of the questions Grebel Peace Incubator participant, Union: Sustainable Development Co-operative (Union Co-operative) seeks to address. This spring, Union Co-operative invites members to engage more deeply in affordable housing discussions through a new series of online and in-person events, bringing co-operation into this co-operative!
Much has changed for Grebel Peace Incubator participant, Union Co-operative since it launched in 2018 and joined the Peace Incubator in 2021. The housing market has appreciated at an incredible rate, leaving home ownership unattainable for many households and rental rates increasingly unaffordable. Reflecting the increasing desire for sustainable solutions to this housing crisis, Union Co-operative’s membership has taken off, with over 175 members committing to create a better future for Canadian communities through co-operative ownership.
Union Co-operative's work is predicated on bringing community members together with a shared vision for a better way forward in housing. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Union Co-operative members connected with one another in a variety of ways, but organizational capacity limitations meant these connections were not as robust as Union Co-operative staff knew they needed to be. This changed in 2022 when Union-Co-operative accessed funding through Mitacs Accelerate Entrepreneur and the Peace Incubator Fund. Both funding streams were made available to Union Co-operative through their participation in the Grebel Peace Incubator. Through this increased funding, Union Co-operative was able to hire Event Coordinator, Kathie Must to launch a series of events aimed at bringing members together to collectively address housing accessibility in the Waterloo Region.
"Support from the Peace Incubator Program enabled Union Co-operative to hire a dedicated person to focus on what events could be and the needs of our community. Previously, other tasks took over in importance for team members, despite our awareness that we were missing out on valuable connections."
“We have had a huge growth in membership over the last year, but the majority of members haven’t had an opportunity to meet. We felt we were all missing out,” reflected Member Engagement Specialist, Melissa Bowman. “One of the great things about being a co-operative is that each individual is an important member of the community. We are excited to share knowledge from our diverse skill sets and backgrounds to learn together.”
Member-only events range from conversation cafés to book clubs with the aim of fostering connections between members, promoting community-based learning, and helping guide Union Co-operative’s understanding of what it means to be a good housing provider. “We often hear from new members that they are excited to learn and become members. Many want to learn more about housing issues in general and what steps we need to take as a co-operative to create a sustainable model for permanent affordability,” explains Bowman.
"So many people want to do something to address the overwhelming issue of housing affordability but don’t necessarily know where to start. Becoming a member of a co-op is a great way to take action together."