In the late 1960’s the Canadian labour movement worked with others to address the creation of affordable housing. Under the leadership of David Lewis, the NDP supported the minority government formed by Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals from 1972 to 1974. One achievement was the approval of Federal community-based non-profit and co-operative housing program. From 1973 until 1995 over 100,000 social housing homes were built to provide affordable housing for more than 300,000 residents.
The Labour Council decided to make a practical contribution to this effort. In 1974, it created the Labour Council Development Foundation (LCDF) to develop, build (with union labour) and manage non-profit housing co-operatives. The LCDF had a board of directors that included volunteer labour leaders, as well as, development professionals. The staff included experienced construction, accounting, management and development personnel.
In the 20 years of its existence, the LCDF developed over 3,600 housing units in 40 projects. Over 11,000 people in the Toronto area have affordable housing today because of this initiative. Many of the projects were named after labour leaders who worked to improve the lives of working people.
The Fred Dowling Co-operative is 52-unit co-op in midtown Toronto. It was initiated by members of Local 114 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. This was the first Foundation co-op that was sponsored by a union local. It was named in honour of Fred Dowling, Canadian Director of the Canadian Food and Allied Workers, and was fully occupied in August 1981. The land was assembled and developed by the City of Toronto. The City charged the co-operative a payment to recover the City’s costs. The land is still owned by the City and leased to the co-operative for 99 years with annual rent of $1 – a great example of government action to make affordable housing.
In 1978, the LCDF bought 3 apartment buildings and renovated them to provide 90 homes for residents in the Scarborough Bluffs Co-operative. The total cost for purchase and renovation was about $2,750,000. The government provided a 20% grant and the rest was financed with a 50-year CMHC mortgage at the ‘preferred’ interest rate of 10%. This $2,100,000 mortgage will be paid off by the residents in 2028!! CMHC will have received over $6,500,000 in interest payments by residents – remember this when someone says that social housing is government subsidized! Today the residents pay about half the rent they would pay for the same homes from a private landlord. The co-operative owns 3 of the 4 apartment buildings on the street. In 2020, the unrenovated last building was sold by the private owner for $7,500,000.
David Archer served for many years as President of the Toronto and Lakeshore Labour Council and went on to lead Ontario Federation of Labour. In 1979, The LCDF developed this 190 unit project near St Lawrence Market in downtown Toronto. The St. Lawrence community, featuring a number of non-profit and social housing units, is widely seen as one of the best examples of mixed use planning in the country. The land is owned by the City of Toronto and leased to the co-operative.
The market rent for 3 bedroom townhouses in the area today is over $3,500 per month. The co-op residents pay one-third of this cost because they are paying operating costs and the balance of the original mortgage, and not siphoned off for profit.
In 1996, the Mike Harris Conservative government cancelled the program, and the Federal government backed away as well. If the non-profit housing programs had continued, it is estimated that we would have an additional 75,000 units providing affordable housing for over 225,000 residents!!!