Co-op Staff and Covid 19

On March 23, 2020 the City of Toronto declared a State of Emergency in an effort to slow the infection rate of COVID-19.  Furthermore, the Province of Ontario ordered the mandatory closure of all non-essential workplaces effective as of March 24, 2020 at 11:59 p.m.

The Ontario Government has included co-operative housing providers in their list of essential services.

On Friday April 3rd, the Ontario Government revised the essential services listing which took effect on April 4th:

20. Maintenance, repair and property management services strictly necessary to manage and maintain the safety, security, sanitation and essential operation of institutional, commercial, industrial and residential properties and buildings.

Furthermore, on Tuesday April 14 at 3:30 p.m. EDT, the Ontario government extended the State of Emergency for a further 28 days until May 12, 2020.

The link:

The question is:  “What is truly an essential service?”

How has your co-op responded to COVID-19 and the City of Toronto State of Emergency? 

Some practices and measures co-op staff and boards have put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are:

  • Co-op office closures
  • Cancellation of in person board and committee meetings
  • Board meetings held by conference calls
  • Staggered staff hours
  • Payment of housing charges by pre-authorized payments
  • Co-op staff working from home whenever possible
  • Monitoring of voice messages and emails
  • Performance of emergency maintenance only
  • No routine maintenance or repairs in residential units
  • Regular sanitizing of multi-residential common areas
  • Closure of Social Rooms and common washrooms
  • Limiting the number of people in enclosed areas like laundry rooms and elevators
  • Avoiding travel on public transit, taxis and ride shares

At the end of this post is a list of links to various tools and protocols that co-ops have implemented.  If your co-op has any documentation that you would like to share with other staff, please send it to

Let’s face it, this isn’t going to be over soon.

Please stay home whenever you can to help stop the spread of the virus.

To all of our members and supporters, we wish you and your family members and friends continued good health.

Don Area Co-op Protocols
DonArea Co-op Covid Unit Entry

Windmill Line Covid protocols

Cawthra Mansions March 13th Covid info for members
Cawthra Mansions March 19th Covid quick update for members

Hugh Garner Notes from staff on Covid protocols

Workshop: Flooring Solutions

Presented by Kent Price
October 25, 2019

What types of flooring are available? Which one is right for this particular application?

Flooring can be a challenging issue for co-ops when it comes to durability, installation, cost, and the ability to repair or renew it. There are many different solutions for covering a floor and many factors to consider before investing in new flooring.

CoAction offered a half-day workshop to discuss and compare common types of flooring found in co-op units.

View the presentation on SlideShare

CoAction Board Report for 2018

Presented to the April 5, 2019 CoAction Staff Association Annual Meeting

Welcome to CoAction’s 40th Anniversary Meeting.

CoAction was formed 40 years ago, in 1979, as a way for housing co-op staff to meet one another and talk about our work. Formal incorporation took place 9 years later in 1988. We are a democratically-run non-profit co-operative.

CoAction provides a community structure in which staff find support, knowledge and skills development through our social and educational events. We have 36 members.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of CoAction. Our thanks go out to all those who contributed their hard work this year, and to the many members who volunteered their time and passion over the last four decades. CoAction would not exist without its dedicated volunteers.

A special thank you goes to retiring director Gerri Pennie. Her continued commitment and energy has been of immeasurable benefit to us all. We wish her the very best.

And a big thank you goes out to our Executive Director, Brian Eng for his excellent guidance and support.

The Income Statement for 2018 shows a deficit of just over $500, the bulk of which was due to the one-time expense of website development. Aside from that expense, the organization came close to breaking even last year.

In 2018, board members were:

  • Gerri Pennie, President

  • Lana Nwaokoro, Vice President

  • Karen Hurley, Treasurer
Denise Bezaire, Secretary

  • Kent Price, Director

  • Emily Wong, Director

  • There was one vacancy

The board met nearly every month, receiving financial and other reports from our Executive Director, and planning educational and social events. The board conducted a member survey about how the organization could better serve its members. Seven new CoAction members were welcomed over the year.

CoAction’s domain name was changed from “.org” to “.ca” and a gmail account was set up. We launched our new website in 2018, with many thanks to Brian Eng for the beautiful web design.

A Website/Communications Committee was formed to provide content for the newsletter and website. Serving on the committee are Denise Bezaire (chair), Lana Nwaokoro, and Kent Price.

Our Executive Director, Brian Eng, moved to the west coast last summer. Working remotely, he continues to provide board support, keeps the website current, and publishes our electronic newsletter “CoAction News”. Brian attends board meetings by phone, sometimes aboard the ferry to the mainland. We understand he was outside in shorts for our March meeting.

With Brian out of town, directors are fulfilling local duties while the board considers what the best staff complement would be. Job descriptions are under development and we might begin the search for a second staff person in the coming months.

Two members’ meetings were held in 2018. A brief AGM was held in February, where by-law amendments passed and board elections took place, and an April GMM made further changes to the by-laws and approved a new simplified dues structure. A board review of the Organizational By-law is currently underway.

Also in 2018, Karen Hurley was appointed as CoAction’s representative on the CHFT board for a two-year term.

In keeping with CoAction’s commitment to the principles of co-operation, we occasionally collaborate on projects with the other three staff associations in Ontario: CASO (London area), CSACO (Kitchener/Waterloo area), and CHCHNA (Hamilton/Niagara area).

We have a joint website, And if you’ll be attending the CHF Canada conference in London this June, drop by the staff associations table to say hello. We’ll be there promoting CoAction with our new brochure.

CoAction delivered several educational events in 2018. Visit for workshop materials.

In March CoAction and CHFT hosted a joint staff education day. Workshop choices were:

  • Co-ops and e-Transactions

  • Fifteen Favourite Messy Human Dramas

  • Preventative Maintenance

  • Preparing for Your Board Meeting

  • Living Through Capital Projects

  • How to Survive Working in a Co-op

CoAction presented a new workshop in May: Can We Ask That? Protecting Personal Privacy.

September’s full day event was called Accent on Accessibility:

  • Your Co-op and the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act)

  • Planning for Accessibility – Asset Management Planning

Future Energy: A Workshop about Incentives and Other Possibilities was delivered in October.

We have a great educational program lined up for 2019.

In March we held a joint CoAction/CHFT Education Day.  The workshops we offered were:

  • Financial Management for Non-Financial Managers
Legal Issues Facing Staff
By-law Basics

  • Writing Business Plans

  • and there was a group discussion on working with volunteers.

This morning’s workshop was called: “There’s a New Board in Town”.

On May 10th we’ll bring back a popular workshop called Workplace Violence and Harassment.

CoAction is planning fall workshops on topics to interest maintenance and administrative staff alike. We are working on the following topics:

“Flooring Solutions” will examine and compare different types of flooring commonly found in co-ops and their pros, cons, and alternatives.

Sustainability is a topic we will address by looking at ways co-ops can encourage better participation in waste reduction, recycling programs, reduced car use and other topics that can lead to environmental sustainability.

Energy Reduction is another topic up for discussion with a look at specific programs and incentives such as lighting upgrades from Toronto Hydro.

And, we plan to offer First Aid / CPR training again.

Please give some thought to any gaps in your training that we could help fill with a workshop. Suggestions for new topics are always welcome.

We hope everyone is subscribed to our newsletter. You can sign up on our website at

Everyone is welcome to join us at the Pear Tree on Parliament Street after the meeting for a CoAction and Friends Social and help celebrate our 40 years.
In the meantime, let’s enjoy a slice of cherry cheesecake after the board elections.

Year Round Educational Events for Co-op Staff

Lana Nwaokoro
Manager, Oak Street Housing Co-op
Director, CoAction Staff Association

  • Stay up to date with legislative changes affecting the management of your co-op
  • Learn how to maintain aging properties in a financially reasonable way
  • Learn how to deal with the day-to day challenges that come along with running a co-op
  • Network with colleagues in the sector and learn from each other

All good reasons to take advantage of educational opportunities throughout the year! Here are several that I highly recommend.

PM Expo is Canada’s biggest Property Management Exhibition and takes place every late November or early December. It offers a variety of workshops on property management related topics such as Fire Code or Building Code changes, tendering for capital projects, managing capital projects, building envelope deficiencies, and how to minimize and manage the impact of capital repairs on residents. Workshops range between $50-150. Entrance to the trade show is free if you register early.  Watch their website for registration details.

It is a huge trade show that runs for three days with 100-150 exhibitors from every product and service that co-ops use. This is where to meet new contractors (especially when you need three quotes), learn about new services and products, and reconnect in person with contractors that you are working with.

The next PM Expo takes place December 4-6, 2019 at the Toronto Convention Center (conveniently accessed through Union Station).

PM Springfest is what I call the little brother of the PM Expo, offering a similar trade show and roster of seminars. It is a one-day yearly event, this year on March 27, 2019. Entrance is free if you register by March 15th.

The ONPHA Conference and Trade Show, put on by the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association takes place every late October or early November. This three-day event draws mostly non-profit housing providers, but is also a great resource for co-ops.

It offers a huge variety of workshops on topics such as property management, current developments in the social housing sector, governance, resident engagement and dealing with difficulties. There is a trade show on the first two days with 30-40 exhibitors, many from ONPHA’s Best Deals program, which is similar to our CHFT Cost Cutters program.

The fees are quite high and range between $400-$600 for the full attendance package which also include a gala with dinner and entertainment in the evening. Partial packages are available with special pricing for tenants of non-profit or social housing providers.

This year’s ONPHA conference and Trade Show will take place November 1-3 at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto.

Staff Education Forum

This annual event in Ingersoll, a tradition for co-op staff throughout Ontario, is organized jointly by the Co-operative Staff Association of Central Ontario (CSACO), the Co-ordinator’s Association of Southwestern Ontario (CASO), and the Co-operative Housing Co-ordinators of Hamilton-Niagara Area (CHCHNA).

The Forum provides two days of interesting workshops (maintenance and legal issues as well as work/life balance and survival tactics), a small trade show, group discussions on the day-to-day challenges of co-op work, a great keynote speaker, and lots of entertainment.

The unique location of the Elm Hurst Inn offers lovely accommodation and fantastic meals – and you can book a Spa session! For my money, this conference is the best value. It is not only a source of learning, but of wellness and inspiration as well. Meeting so many great co-op staff from all over Ontario with so much experience and devotion to co-ops makes me proud to work in the sector. I have a lot of respect for the volunteers who put the conference together every year.

It’s just around the corner on February 6-7, 2019. Send an email to or visit the forum’s Facebook page

In March 2018 CoAction and CHFT delivered their first joint Staff Education Event at the Oakham House, Ryerson University. It was a big success, offering a full day of workshops with topics such as Managing Capital Projects and Preparing for Board Meetings. A panel of experienced co-op coordinators spoke about working long term in housing co-ops and shared self-care advice. The event was a place to network and exchange ideas and experiences.

The next one is coming up on March 6, 2019. Come back to our site soon and watch your inbox for details.

As an accredited Property Manager with the IHM, I never miss the Foundations of Housing Annual Educational Conference in the spring.

The conference hosts interesting workshops in administrative and maintenance streams to offer something for everybody. A small trade show with 10-12 exhibitors is part of the event, a GMM for IHM members, a banquet in the evening with a dinner and entertainment, and a final day breakfast and keynote speaker. The event is 2½ days long. Although non-members are welcome, IHM members receive a discount. As the locations change every year the conference takes place in a hotel and accommodation is offered at a discounted rate.

The 2019 event will take place in Niagara Falls on May 2-3, 2019.

CHFT Education Days

Each spring and fall CHFT conducts a Saturday full of workshops that is attended by co-op board members and some staff. I enjoy these events because there is always something to learn. I can connect with Co-op Cost Cutters contractors and network with colleagues and co-op members from across the GTA. The last Member Education Event in November featured workshops such as: Cannabis in the Workplace, Workplace Violence and Harassment, and Conflict Resolution and Land Trusts.

For more information please visit:

CoAction Education Events

And last but certainly not least, CoAction hosts various half and full day workshops throughout the year. We welcome new ideas, so if you feel the need to learn more about a specific co-op related topic, let us know with an email to

What I Learned from my Last Capital Project

A workshop on capital project management can be a very useful learning exercise, but a workshop can’t replace first-hand experience. One can learn a great deal by working closely with an engineering company to implement major capital repairs and building upgrades.

When a project is complete, why not take a few minutes to reflect on your experience and jot down a few things you learned? What would have improved results? What worked flawlessly? I invite you to send your thoughts to so we can share them, and look forward to reading the ideas sent in by others. Over time we can develop some valuable checklists and save each other a few headaches.

To start us off, below are some of the things I learned while working in several co-ops on a variety of projects. Do you agree with them? What other thoughts can you share? I look forward to your suggestions!

I find it pays to work with one engineering company over a longer time to establish a close relationship and develop a more consistent understanding your property, its history of repairs, and an awareness of ongoing issues. The engineering company will be at your side when you have property related questions (at no extra cost), even outside of projects, and can provide valuable contacts to qualified contractors when you are in a pinch to find one for a specific application.

When you introduce them to your board, let the engineer outline their role for the co-op, and include a summary in the minutes. New board members will often not understand why the co-op needs to involve an engineering company, and it is always good for them to hear it directly from the engineer.

Point out to the engineering company that they should not expect co-op staff or the board to have detailed knowledge of building systems. The engineer must make the co-op aware of any items that need to be added to the scope of work to ensure the component that is to be replaced works properly. For example, when you replace the makeup air units (MUAs), the MUA shafts that are not being replaced need to be re-balanced to ensure proper air flow on all floors. And if they have not been cleaned in two or three years, it will be cheaper to have that done at the same time. An engineer that expects you to know this and does not point it out or ask for it to be added to the scope is not the right partner for you.

If you are replacing a single mechanical component, the engineer has to consider the ducting or piping that connects it to other components, as well as the other components themselves. There may have to be changes made to ducts or piping that some engineers do not consider part of the scope of work for which they were hired. Remind the engineer that in addition to replacing the identified component, they are hired to make the building system work as a whole. They may then proceed to make recommendations for changes. If those changes prevent future trouble, or ensure that the component can run effectively, it can be worth the added cost. And the co-op can always ask another engineering company for a second opinion.

If things go south and you believe the engineer or contractor has not done a proper job, you can hire a different engineering company to perform what is called a Peer Review. They will review drawings, specifications, and the work performed, and will issue a report with their findings. This is an additional cost, but when the co-op is faced with problem components that are worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, it can be justified.

It makes a lot of sense to hold an information session attended by the engineer where members can ask questions about service interruptions or raise any other concerns in connection with the project. Of course, not everyone will attend, but at least members are given a chance to get first hand information.

It is also a good idea to regularly communicate progress on the project to keep everyone on board.

When a contractor requires access to a unit, they should be required to protect the floors from debris, dust, and dirt with drop sheets or other protective measures, especially in carpeted areas. Where appropriate, contractors can use boot covers. In units with known bug problems such as roaches or bedbugs, separate drop sheets should be used to avoid spreading the problem.

The co-op should include a provision in the tender that at least one fluent English speaking crew member, preferably the foreman, is on site at all times to serve as the contact for co-op staff in cases of emergency and for updates on work progress.

To be able to adequately explain to members how an upcoming project will affect them, discuss the work in detail with the contractor. Ask how the member will be required to prepare their unit, how often and for how long the contractor will require access, and what noise or other disruption residents and their neighbours can expect. For example, when several windows in a building are being replaced, the priority may be to get them all installed and foamed on day one, with interior and exterior finishing done when the contractor returns to the unit on a separate day. The contractor needs to understand that many members have busy lives and some may be wary of strangers in their homes.

Be careful about allowing contractors to store their tools, equipment, or materials in the co-op’s common areas to avoid possible liability when things are lost. Also, be cautious about giving contractors access to common area rooms.

It is good business practice to have a maintenance worker (or hired security) follow contractors around with a master key to provide access to units, instead of giving unit keys to contractors. Members feel safer when they see that a trusted person gives access and that the co-op has control of unit keys.

If you don’t expect that replacement parts for the items that are being replaced or installed will be readily available when something is damaged in future, order spare parts in advance so they will be on hand, such as window and patio door screens, kitchen cabinet hinges, MUA filters, etc.

Lana Nwaokoro
Manager, Oak Street Co-op
Director, CoAction Staff Association

November 2018

Report from Future Energy: A workshop about incentives and other possibilities

energy_efficiencyOn October 19, 2018, Windmill Line Co-op hosted a full-day workshop organized in collaboration with CoAction, CHF Canada, and the Agency for Co-operative Housing on the topic of Energy Funding. It turned out to be a great success with the room full of representatives from Toronto co-ops. Jane Davidson-Neville from The Agency and Ofelia Guanlao who recently joined the Asset Management Department of CHF Canada led the event and were instrumental in organizing it.

Presentation PDF’s
Courtesy of CHF Canada

In the morning, representatives from Toronto Hydro, Enbridge, Water Matrix, Novitherm and Project Neutral made presentations on products and services that can help our co-ops conserve energy and water, protecting the environment and saving our co-ops money. We were introduced to several government funded programs that provide incentives to co-ops that are replacing mechanical and building envelope components, as well as programs such as SuiteSaver, AffordAbility Fund Trust (AFT), and Home Assistance Program (HAP), that provide residents with LED light bulbs, power bars, insulation and draft proofing, thermostats and appliances. Enbridge offers to reimburse 50% of the cost of energy audits, Water Matrix offers free water audits and installs 3 litre toilets as well as aerators and shower heads, and Novitherm installs reflective panels behind convection baseboards, providing member comfort and lower heating bills.

Tracy Barber from Project Neutral introduced us to a website that measures the carbon footprint of individuals for free. She explained to us how simple changes in our day-to-day lives could have an effect on our carbon footprint.

In the afternoon David Spackman from CHF Canada provided information on the benefits of refinancing and informed us about Preservation Funding. This new program offers government funding to federal co-ops to conduct BCAs or respective updates, energy audits, operating viability analyses, age-friendly conversion assessments, etc. CMHC has sent out information letters to all affected co-ops. Applications can be submitted now and will be processed on an ongoing basis with no deadline until further notice

We were also informed that the government will start requiring housing providers to enter data on their power and water consumption starting next summer with the goal of bench marking and to motivate decrease in consumption. We hope that more details and possible training will be provided in the new year.

Jane informed us about a sample Sustainability Bylaw that can be used by co-ops to make environmental responsibility a community goal.

In between presentations we enjoyed refreshments while getting to know staff and members from other co-ops and asking questions of contractors and federation representatives.

For anyone who missed this great workshop, the presentation slides can be found above, as well as on the CHF Canada website.

I recommend all co-ops look into these programs without delay. Within two weeks of the workshop, Oak Street submitted a Preservation Fund application, had a water audit done, received information pamphlets for members on the HAP and AFT programs, and had a Toronto Hydro representative on site to evaluate what incentives we are eligible for. Resources and information are available; we just need to take action.

Lana Nwaokoro, Manager, Oak Street Co-op
Director, CoAction Staff Association

November 2018