The solution to Toronto’s housing crisis – in our own backyard?

By Nicki Ward, President, City Park Co-operative –

I’m honoured to serve as presi­dent of City Park Co-Operative Apartments in downtown To­ronto. City Park, the largest co-op in Canada, is a proven (and scalable) model that can help solve Toronto’s housing crisis.

Encompassing a full city block just north of Maple Leaf Gardens, City Park’s five-acre site includes three midrise tow­ers and about two acres of inter­nal park space. It’s home to over a thousand residents, evenly split between deeply affordable market and subsidized rental apartments.

Working with the Co-opera­tive Housing Federation of To­ronto (CHFT) for the past 30 years, City Park is now mort­gage-free, and self-finances Aging in Place, library services and community development programs. It has a 2,000-square-foot meeting space for art class­es, exercise groups, seminars and more.

It’s inclusive and independ­ent of provincial or municipal governments … so why aren’t we building a lot more housing co-ops?

Politics has a part to play. It’s hard to find a politician from any party who thinks co-ops are a bad idea, but there’s been little to no increase in co-op support in the past 30 years. Each of the major parties has had a chance to fix this.

So the answer has less to do with the party in power, and more to do with partisanship. The key word is “co-operative” – every small leap forward in co-op housing has happened when the government of the day got cross-party support.

Another reason for the lack of support for co-ops has been competitive lobbying. Co-ops are not-for-profit, so lack the re­sources to effectively lobby lo­cal, provincial and federal gov­ernments.

In the social housing arena, competition for resources is fierce. Co-ops are frequently outgunned by lobbyists for gov­ernment-owned providers such as Toronto Community Housing (TCHC), the Shelter System, etc.

TCHC and Shelters are wor­thy endeavors that both need and deserve support. But in an ideal world not characterized by chronic underfunding and scar­city, co-ops would get a fairer share of resources. Sadly, in the current system, co-ops are not even at the table – let alone get­ting equitable access.

Two recent examples demon­strate this amply:

In December, the federal gov­ernment set aside $471 million to “Build more homes faster.” How much of that is earmarked for co-ops?… $0

In February, the Ontario gov­ernment gave the City of Toron­to an additional $114 million to build more homes. How much of that is earmarked for co-ops?… $0

What could co-ops do if given the same levels of seed funding?

City Park’s 30-year history of success is a matter of public record. We cannot return a defi­cit, but sustainably house about 1,000 people for about $12 mil­lion a year.

The last two months of federal and provincial initiatives – total­ling nearly $600 million – could seed co-op housing for 50,000 people. According to experts, 50,000 is about how many units needed to stabilize housing in Toronto.

At City Park, we believe that we have a successful formu­la for sustainable housing. We cordially invite Prime Minis­ter Trudeau, Premier Ford and Mayor Chow to visit our back­yard at any time.


Nichola (Nicki) Ward

President, City Park Co-operative