Client Profile: Women’s Community Co-operative Inc.

Posted Jul 25th, 2019 in Recent News

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Women’s Community Co-operative Inc. is a 46 unit mid-rise building in Hamilton. The co-op houses a diverse group of women, some of whom have lived there since the beginning, choosing to age in place and others who have joined more recently. They come from all walks of life and many corners of the world – in short, they are like every other housing co-op in 2019. Despite difference, they have all chosen co-operative living.

Managed by Niagara Peninsula Homes, Women’s came to our firm a couple of years ago to help resolve some interpersonal issues among its members. Like many of our clients, it seemed to the Women’s board that the co-op world had shifted from one where their by-laws were paramount and they could largely operate in isolation from the bigger world. Now there were obligations imposed on them from the outside that they didn’t understand. At the same time, their members were using language of human rights and harassment that made the board uneasy, afraid to ignore for fear of legal implications, but not sure how to respond. The Women’s Board and the co-op staff were routinely drawn into disputes and away from broader community concerns. Their meetings were filled with lengthy discussions about members’ complaints leaving little time for discussing building related issues, City relations, upcoming federation events, and so-on.

They were like many co-ops: when the community fabric has broken due to inter-member disputes, turning to a lawyer seemed a logical next step. They came to us with hopes that we could help them navigate these complicated waters and re-direct their co-op community back to the healthy, compassionate, caring place they have been so proud of in the past.

The Board and staff felt frustrated with some of the behaviour that was reported and saw few options remaining, other than eviction. As Women’s found, eviction is often not our recommended course of action. Evictions, especially for behaviour, are very difficult to achieve at the Landlord and Tenant Board. But perhaps more importantly, evictions are not a co-operative solution.

Sometimes with the help of outsiders and some education on what it means to live in a diverse co-operative community, communities can find ways to mend that don’t involve the exit of one or more members.

Women’s Community Co-operative Inc. is that success story. We began by helping the board understand some of their obligations to all the members, especially human rights related ones. We did this first in a letter and then in a follow up discussion with the board of directors. Not too long after that, the Women’s board arranged for us to attend a general members’ meeting to provide a 20 minute refresher to all members present on how human rights works in a housing co-op. A few months after that, the board was even more proactive by engaging us to conduct an hour long human rights workshop to all members, directors and staff who wanted to attend.

At the same time that we were providing education, the community was coming together to problem solve and take the first steps towards understanding the new and often unfamiliar framework that co-ops find themselves working in. Human Rights was one piece of that puzzle along with AODA, Health and Safety Regulations and the impact all of these legal obligations have on member relations, volunteer efforts and community building in general. That was a year and a half ago. Women’s Community Co-op is proud to say that while interpersonal disputes have not disappeared, they are now much more easily managed. They are a stronger community. And we’re proud too to play an ongoing small part in their success.