You’ve got to hand it to Nicholas Gazzard, the grizzled CEO of CHF Canada, for intervening in the notorious affaire Bridlewood.
Come to think of it, that’s exactly what the judge did. He handed Bridlewood to CHF for $6 million. Gazzard couldn’t have been more pleased. He called the court decision a “key victory.” So it is, in more ways than one.
First and foremost it’s a great victory for the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, which has acquired a complex of homes in the town of Essex just southeast of Windsor, Ontario for less than half its market value.
It’s a victory too for low income families in and around Essex. CHF has pledged to rent all the units, including those that urgently need repair, to needy residents of the town. Tenants will be getting a break with rents set at $845 a month, roughly $100 a month lower than average monthly rents for three bedroom apartments in the metropolitan area. But it won’t be near the break that Bridlewood’s members had been allowing themselves. They had kept their occupancy fees at the cooperative to a subliminal $560 a month for more than a decade.
Bridlewood was a 131-unit housing co-op developed in the mid-1970s with a federal low-interest mortgage subsequently improved by a rate reduction and forgiveness of 10% of the principal. Members levered this public assistance in a variety of ways since the mid-1990s in attempts to acquire the units at less than half of their market value. In the latest scheme, the co-op stopped paying its mortgage in 2010 hoping, CHF Canada alleges, “to trigger a mass sale of the houses by the lender to recover what was owed. This would have depressed the market and reduced the price members would have to pay to buy their houses.”
CHF Canada went to court in 2011 to prevent this from happening because it saw ”the self-serving track record of Bridlewood’s members as a betrayal of the co-op’s social purpose.”
And betrayal it was. But like those Vietnamese villages back in the day when Bridlewood was but a dream, the co-op had to be destroyed to be saved. What has emerged from the court proceeding is not a renewed housing cooperative. It’s a low cost housing development with CHF Canada as the landlord.
Is this a victory for cooperative housing overall? Only time will tell. As of now the count is 131 units removed from Canada’s stock of co-op housing. The units are in good hands at CHF, no doubt. But the Bridlewood tale won’t have a true happy ending until they are back in the hands of a new crop of co-op members pledged, needless to say, not to attempt personal enrichment from the public investment in their homes.