Atkinson Co-operative


Research Description Atkinson Co-operative Conference Details Status Discussions


Alexandra Park to Atkinson Co-op: The Story

The Place

Alexandra Park is a 410 unit housing project in downtown Toronto. The project was built in 1968, and includes 140 apartments in two medium rise apartment buildings and 270 townhouses. Many people who live in the project have low incomes.

The residents of Alexandra Park entered into a process of converting their community from a government housing project into a non-profit housing co-operative. The co-op came to be called the Atkinson Housing Co-operative, named after Sonny Atkinson, a long time president of the Alexandra Park Residents’ Association (APRA). It was Sonny Atkinson who led the Alexandra Park residents as they began the process of converting from public housing to co-op housing.

The Story

The Alexandra Park Residents’ Association (APRA) knew that they could improve the quality of life in the housing project by expanding the residents’ role in the community. By 1990, the leadership of APRA was thinking about tenant self-management as an alternative to the current government-run system. The APRA board, led by Sonny Atkinson, started researching other housing options. Coincidentally, Mark Goldblatt, a co-op housing advocate, was working on the idea of converting public housing into co-operative housing.

In August 1993, Sonny Atkinson and Mark Goldblatt met. Mark outlined the concept of non-profit co-operative housing:

The residents are members of the co-operative.

The members elect a board of directors from among themselves and the board, therefore, is accountable to the members.

Members attend general meetings, sit on committees, and help with special projects.

Co-ops encourage the members to be involved in the co-op community.

Sonny had found a housing system that would allow Alexandra Park’s residents to realize their goal of tenant self-management.

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 program.

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 conversion.

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 conversion plan.

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 Co-operative.

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:

Nazeer Ahmad

Safiyyah Ally

Scott Barry

Cathy Brown

Phuc Canh Cung

Phillip Deneault

Mustafa Ali Khan

Velma Lee-Martineau

Mohammed Golam Mortuza

Shukri Musse

Geanie Sarjue

Brynne Teall

Thai Truong


In the winter of 2003 the Board hired a fully experienced management team to take care of the day to day administration.


On April 1, 2003, Alexandra Park public housing became the Atkinson Housing Co-operative, the first public housing project in Canada to convert to a co-op.

This article is reprinted from the original that appears on the CHFT web site,


For problems or questions regarding this web or the research project contact  [Converting Public Housing to Co-operative Housing].  Last updated: February 09, 2004.