COO Aims to Balance ‘Financialization of Homes’

“Housing, for me, should be a roof over your head and a safe place that you can afford to live in,” says Michelle Cooper Iversen.1 The Chief Operating Officer at the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC is passionate about her job and the purpose-driven work it entails. She recently spoke to Goldbeck Recruiting about the importance of the co-operative housing model, recruiting for non-profits, the role of COO, and attaining a Master’s degree.

An Overview of Co-Op Housing

Although people equate co-op housing with low-income housing, Iversen says that’s not necessarily the case. Instead, rent is set based on people’s incomes, which makes it an attractive option for many. With the high price of housing currently precluding many from home ownership, Iversen considers advocating for more co-op housing to be part of her role.  

“It’s a great option for people that can afford a reasonable monthly allowance for rent, but may not have the down payment to get into home ownership,” she says.

Iversen explains that co-op housing holds an important position in the housing continuum.

“On one end is homelessness, and on the other is private ownership,” she says. “Co-op housing is a rental concept, which puts it in the middle.”

The concept allows owners to vote for a board and contribute to decision making regarding their home. People can stay as long as they want, but do not build equity under the arrangement. Iversen says there are currently 15,000 co-operative housing homes in British Columbia.

“They are embedded in most neighborhoods of Vancouver,” she says. “Although they may not have a huge sign saying ‘co-op housing’, they’re definitely part of the community.”

Motivated by Passion for Mission-Based Work

Iversen believes that there is room in the marketplace for real estate as an investment, but maintains that this should not come at the expense of a safe living space for all. She says that housing is a social determinant for health, allowing other vital aspects of life to fall into place.

“Once you have home security it sets the stage for education and family lifestyle,” she says. “You shouldn’t have to choose between housing and how much food you buy.”

Iversen points to historical discrimination as a determining factor in home ownership and believes that it’s everyone’s duty to respond accordingly.

“People have come to us in the co-op housing world having come from different lived experiences,” she says. “I think it’s our responsibility as a community to put supports in place to help others help themselves.”

Recruiting for Non-Profit Involves Highlighting Purposeful Work

According to Iversen the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC has about 140 employees. Although they are unionized, she says there have been zero grievances in the last seven years, a lack of friction she attributes to a natural alignment between the solidarity and co-op movements.

The organization conducts a market analysis every three years, with the goal of having their wages fall into the 50th percentile of the marketplace. Although they can’t compete with the highest-spending for-profits, Iversen believes that talented individuals are attracted by the organization’s purpose.

“They want to come to the non-profit sector because our work is not evicting somebody,” she says. “They find themselves in alignment with our mission and our vision and the changes we’re making. We offer employees an opportunity to use their skills for purposeful work and they’re coming in droves.”

The Role of COO

While the CEO may be the face of the company, Iversen finds that , as COO, she’s tasked with ensuring that things remain operational.

“It’s important that staff are aware that they have somebody that they can come to that is readily available and accessible, because the CEO’s role is more strategic and involves a lot of external work in building partnerships,” she says.

She also sits on the board of directors of a number of not-for-profit housing societies and sometimes finds herself speaking publicly on the topic. If that weren’t enough, she recently completed her Masters Degree in Management and Cooperatives.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” she says with a laugh. “It was a lot of work!”

Iversen says that she always wanted to pursue a Masters degree, but wasn’t sure it was possible. Eventually she decided to go for it and reports having no regrets.

“It really elevated me in terms of reputation within the sector, which is something that I hadn’t anticipated,” she explains.

Driven by Overcoming ‘Financialization of Homes’

At the end of the day, Iversen finds fulfillment in advocating for co-operative housing and seeking to expand perceptions beyond what she describes as the ‘financialization of homes.’

“There has to be a balance between private wealth and the ability for people to have a safe space that they can afford to live,” she says. “This is what drives my work.”

Cited Source

1 Direct communication with Michelle Cooper Iversen