By Kathryn Stocks

For Barb Tulk, co-operative housing is the best form of rental. She lives in the West Rouge Co-operative at 8 Clappison Blvd. near Port Union Rd., a neat little enclave of 50 townhouses nestled into an area behind Centennial Plaza. It’s in a great location within walking distance of playgrounds, the waterfront, the community centre, schools, parks and the plaza. “I love this place,” she said. “I’m very passionate about it.”

Etleva, the manager of the co-operative, explained that the property is owned by the co-op and the people living there pay housing charges. But they are also members and as such they get to be part of the decision-making process. “They have a say in a democratic way,” she said.

They have a board elected by the co-op that governs the community. Members have regular meetings and they have the power to get things fixed right away. They also help with outside work and have regular cleanups to rake leaves, pull weeds and pick up litter. “You don’t want it to be unsightly,” Barb said.

The co-op has a yearly budget and the housing charges are set from that. This is affordable housing with 1, 2, 3 and 4-bedroom units that range from $995 a month for a 1-bedroom to $1,596 for a 4-bedroom. The housing charge includes cable and other amenities. The co-op is a mixed project that has rent-geared-to-income and market rate units. Some used to get financial help but as their jobs got better, they were no longer eligible.

Barb is an original member since the co-op was being planned. “We have a lot of members from the very beginning,” she said. “People move in and tend to stay.”

Scarborough Community Legal Services was the instigator for getting the co-op built and they got a lot of flack for it, Barb said. It was supposed to be a three-year project but it took eight years and was finally built in 1994. At the time, “the negativity from the community was unbelievable,” she said. “They called us undesirables.” When it was finally built, eggs and rocks were thrown at the windows to try to prevent them from moving in. “We wanted to be an asset to the community,” she said, “and we were surprised by the backlash.” She believes it was due to a lack of knowledge about co-ops.

There was a housing crisis at that time and conditions were deplorable in available housing. It was especially bad for women who were fleeing domestic violence and wanted to move. The co-op was originally intended to have five units for women who needed decent, affordable housing. But that was lost when the co-op got handed down from the federal government to the province and then to the city. Now it’s just part of the city’s regular assisted housing.

Etleva said the co-op is a diverse, family-oriented community and its members participate in events in the meeting room throughout the year. It’s usually potluck as they celebrate Canada Day, national holidays and other special events. The 98 people who live there are close, she said. “People care about each other.”

She is a part-time manager who has been there for five years. The co-op also has a part-time maintenance worker, Reza, who has been there from the beginning and obviously cares about the place and the people who live there. He handles the day-to-day maintenance work but the co-op will call in contractors when necessary for bigger jobs.

Barb said that “everyone knows everyone in the community” so there’s lots of support. “Every day I get up and I’m so thankful that we have our co-op.”