Early in 1992, the federal government announced the end of its last program for developing new housing co-operatives. One year later, the other federal housing programs came to an end. The federal Budget of 1996 offered control of these legacy housing programs to the provinces and territories, but mentioned a possible role for third parties. Anticipating devolution, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada (CHF Canada) had presented the federal Minister Responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation with a proposal in the fall of 1995 for an independent agency that would administer CMHC’s co-operative housing programs on behalf of the federal government.
The new agency promised to deliver client-centred service, taking a risk-based approach and making use of up-to-date information technology. Although Members of Parliament and co-operatives alike supported the plan, during 1997 and 1998 agreements were signed with the territories and several provinces to devolve responsibility for federal programs in their jurisdiction—and just over 10 % of total federal-program co‑op units left CMHC’s oversight.
In 1999 the Minister halted further transfers and opened a discussion and study of the CHF Canada proposal. Slowly, with the support of later ministers responsible for CMHC, the idea gained acceptance. On May 7, 2004, a letter from CMHC President Karen Kinsley approved the first steps toward the creation of the Agency for Co-operative Housing. The Agency was incorporated as a co-operative in July 2004 with a well-qualified board of directors guiding its formation and setting policies for its future operations.
On May 3, 2005 the Agency signed a service agreement with CMHC. After a year of preparation, the Agency opened offices in Ontario, Alberta and BC and began to ramp up to full service delivery. The Agency’s initial services were
- providing information on the co-op housing programs
- managing clients’ compliance with their operating agreements
- managing CMHC’s risk as the mortgage lender or guarantor
- default prevention
- default management.
More recently, the Agency added a self-serve benchmarking and best-practices service, available through the HomeRun website. In 2017, we assumed responsibility for managing CMHC’s rent-supplement programs for Ontario and Prince Edward Island housing co-operatives. In 2020, the Agency began to manage a new rental-assistance program (FCHI-2) that CMHC now offers to housing co-operatives as their operating agreements expire. By covering a portion of their housing charges, this program makes it possible for lower-income members to remain in their co-op homes.
Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.
– Frederick B. Wilcox
The Agency takes a risk-based approach, focusing most of its attention on co-operatives that are not performing as well as they could. Following a unique model, we rate each co-op’s risk profile, drawing on rental-market information and financial data provided by the co-op itself. The Agency then hones in on any co-ops at higher risk, with the goal of intervening early to return them to financial health. Co-ops at low or moderate risk learn how the Agency has rated them and receive encouragement to continue their effective practices.
To not look at the data is foolish….
– Tim Kurkjian
The Agency has developed a sophisticated information system that largely automates the process of receiving and evaluating financial data from housing co-operatives. Every co-op’s auditor completes an annual information return (AIR) on line, reporting financial and other information about the co-op. The Agency’s information system analyses the information, alongside data on the co-op’s buildings gleaned through periodic inspections and other means, and assigns a preliminary risk rating to the co-op.
The co-op’s relationship manager reviews the preliminary rating, adjusting it as necessary to take into account everything known about the co-op’s circumstances and the local marketplace. Any co-op in poor physical condition or with accumulated losses or insufficient current earnings is rated as at risk, even if it has other strengths. The Agency sends each co-op a report comparing its current and past performance with that of its peers. With the help of Agency staff and such sector organizations as CHF Canada or a local federation of housing co-operatives, the co-op is invited to work to correct whatever problems it has.
Love like you’ve never been hurt.
– Satchel Paige
The Agency is committed to serving its client co-ops and other stakeholders in a way that honours the ideals of the co-operative movement and keeps the Agency accountable. Client-centred service puts the needs and concerns of housing co-ops at the core of everything we do. Before the Agency began its work, we surveyed housing co-ops to find out what they liked about CMHC’s service and what could be improved. We learned that co-ops valued prompt responses, respectful treatment and ready access to the person they needed to talk to. The Agency committed itself to providing service of this kind, not forgetting the importance of giving information firmly grounded in fact.
Recognizing the common interest of co-ops, their federations, CMHC and the public in our clients’ success, the Agency believes that partnerships lead to better results. Since the Agency became responsible for working with CMHC’s portfolio, our clients have steadily improved their operations and are following the terms of their CMHC program more closely.
The Agency tests the quality of its service through feedback forms, periodic interviews and client-satisfaction surveys administered by a third party every three years. We report each year on how close we came to achieving our published standards for client service.