Sonny had found a housing system that would allow
Alexandra Park’s residents to realize their goal of tenant
After much discussion, the APRA board decided to pursue
the idea of converting from public housing to a housing co-op. They formed
a co-operative and asked the community to vote on a name. In 1994, the
Atkinson Housing Co-operative was incorporated. The board also decided to
seek political support. Although, Rosario Marchese, their M.P.P.,
supported the idea of co-op conversion, Evelyn Gigantes, the Minister of
Housing did not. The municipal councillor, Olivia Chow, and the federal
M.P. Tony Ianno, both supported the idea. They both worked to ensure that
their levels of government supported the conversion.
APRA did not give up. They decided to hold a referendum
to show that the residents of Alexandra Park supported the co-op concept.
APRA wanted the residents to make an informed choice. However, to make an
informed choice, the residents would need to understand how living in a
co-op would differ from living in public housing. APRA would have to
provide basic information about non-profit co-op housing. A grant from the
Metro Toronto Housing Authority allowed APRA to provide this education
On April 22, 1995, the residents were asked to vote on
the question, “Do you support Alexandra Park becoming a housing
co-op?” The results showed strong support for proceeding with the
In June, a new provincial government was elected. APRA
met with Al Leach, the new Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. In a
letter to APRA dated October 18, 1995, the Minister gave his approval in
principle to proceed with the co-op conversion project at Alexandra Park.
Final approval of the co-op plan would depend on the submission of an
acceptable business plan. The letter also stated that the provincial
government was not willing to fund any further costs associated with the
APRA decided to forge ahead and try to raise the
conversion budget from private sources. By the fall of 1996, APRA had
submitted a conversion plan. Sadly, at the end of December 1996, Sonny
Atkinson died of lung cancer. Irwin Downs, first vice-president of APRA,
became the new president.
Finally, at a press conference at the Alexandra Park
Community Centre on June 5, 1998, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and
Housing announced that the provincial government had approved the
conversion plan. Alexandra Park could become Atkinson Housing
Soon after, the Co-operative Housing Federation of
Toronto (CHFT) was invited by APRA to set up a Co-op site office in the
Alexandra Park Community Centre to provide educational support for the
conversion. CHFT has developed over 55 new and rehab housing co-ops and
provides services to over 160 member co-ops. The members of CHFT were
happy for the opportunity to provide support to a community that was
embracing the co-op model.
CHFT undertook the job of co-ordinating the outreach
and education. CHFT also agreed to raise funds to cover the transition
costs. Organizations that provided assistance are:
CHFT, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada
– Ontario Region, Atkinson Foundation, F.K. Morrow, the Co-operators
Insurance, Toronto Community Housing Corporation, the CHFT Charitable
Fund, Metro Credit Union, Lewis and Collyer, CEDTAP.
Since it had been over three years since the
referendum, the board of APRA wanted to make sure that the co-op still had
the support of the residents. The Board decided that they would provide
more education on the co-op alternative, and then circulate a ballot
asking the residents to vote for or against the co-op option.
By the end of the first week of December 1998, 66% of
the households had voted and, of those voting, 79% had voted in favour of
becoming a housing co-op. The ballots were provided in 19 languages:
Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, English, Farsi, French,
Greek, Hindi, Italian, Oromo, Portuguese, Punjabi, Somali, Spanish,
Tagalog (Pilipino), Tamil, Tigrinian, Urdu, and Vietnamese.
In 1999, Atkinson Co-op elected its first board of
directors. Desmond Wilson was elected as the first president. The co-op
passed an organizational by-law and tabled a draft operating agreement
with the Metro Toronto Housing Authority.
In 2000 the Co-op elected Latchman Ramkhalawan as
president. The co-op passed an occupancy by-law and proposed a detailed
operating budget and a capital improvement budget.
The co-op moved forward providing education to
residents, signing up members, and setting up committees to prepare for
the transfer of management.
Members received information about the co-op through
the Co-op Conversion Newsletter which published 46 times since 1998, and
was often published in 5 languages: English, Chinese, Portuguese, Somali,
Spanish, and Vietnamese. Pamphlets describing the principles of co-op
housing, the role of the Board of Directors and generally how co-ops work
were also distributed to all households and available in five languages.
In 2002, a long time resident and community leader,
Nazeer Ahmad was elected president. The co-op organized their most
extensive outreach campaign. The membership grew to over 500 members and 5
working committees. The continued growth of the co-op membership set the
stage for negotiation of the operating agreement.
In the fall of 2002, T.C.H.C. provided the board with a
proposed operating agreement. The Atkinson Board worked through the fall
and winter to negotiate the agreement. In November, 2002, the Co-op
elected a new Board. This Board would be responsible for negotiating the
final details of the conversion plan. The Board consisted of: