Tips for Getting Into a Housing Co-op

  • Written by Steph

Co-op housing is a hot topic in Vancouver these days, with a lot more people interested in snagging a spot in one. As a long-time co-op resident, board member, and huge fan of the system, I’d like to shed some light on the process, explain a bit about the inner workings of co-ops, and give some tips for making it through the sometimes arduous application process.

First of all, the basic principle behind co-ops is co-operation – as there are no landlords, co-ops require participation from the members in order to function. Due to being run by volunteers who also have jobs and lives, things often take time! Committees generally don’t meet too frequently – monthly with occasional breaks is very common – and an application has to go through a few stages/committees prior to approval. Commonly you will have the office staff/volunteers process applications and invite people to interviews, the membership committee do the interviews and make recommendations, and the board of directors make final approval, which can easily take several months. So my first tip is to be patient, and also apply at several places!

Second, it may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure you meet the requirements before applying. Co-ops frequently have very specific requirements for things like minimum and maximum incomes, credit score, references, pets, and so on. Every place is different, so check before you apply!

So you’ve been invited to an interview – now what? Well, make sure you bring everything requested with you – typically things like pay stubs, references, an application fee, and so on. It doesn’t look good for you if you can’t follow basic instructions, and it’s frustrating to the volunteers if you show up unprepared.

Interview questions will generally be situational (What would you do if your neighbour did X?), or regarding your understanding of co-ops and how you would fit into that. So research co-ops ahead of time, and show that you’ve done your homework!

Open-ended questions can take so many directions, but there are a few general principles which will serve you well. As a general rule, due to there being no landlord, people who live in co-ops are expected to deal with neighbour issues on their own, so you want to avoid coming across as someone who will waste a lot of the office staff and board/committee’s time with petty bullshit. Some of the questions might seem somewhat personal compared to typical landlord/tenant interactions, but try to avoid getting offended or being evasive – being open and direct will get you far, and the interviewers really need to make sure you’re a good fit for the co-op.

A final tip for interviews is to keep in mind that they’re looking for reasons to accept you, not simply the absence of downsides. In the normal rental market, landlords tend to look for more of the latter – someone who doesn’t smoke, party, make noise, cause damage, etc. In a co-op interview, that’s not always enough. To stand out from the crowd, go beyond simply not being a liability, and demonstrate a genuine desire to be a part of the co-op and volunteer your time and skills to help the community flourish.  “I want cheap rent” is most certainly the WRONG answer to “Why do you want to join this co-op?”!

Hopefully these tips help anyone looking to make the jump to co-op living. It’s one of many great options for affordable housing here in Vancouver.

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