Help us write our co-op application letter
July 17, 2012 9:49 PM   Subscribe

We are applying to co-op housing: Please help us write an appropriate (and awesome!) cover letter for our application!

My housemates (married couple, baby due this year) and I are starting the process of applying to co-op housing in Vancouver, Canada*. Please help us write an appropriate (and awesome!) cover letter for our application. I have the sinking feeling I am doing the housing equivalent of that first resume I sent out in high school that said my "objective" was to "obtain employment". I.e., What do these folks really want to hear?

Bonus points! Share your insider info about Vancouver co-op living: Good/bad co-ops? Your experiences?

*Geography note: These are not purchase co-ops. These are like long term, stable rentals. And yes, I have read this thread.
posted by tamarack to Writing & Language (3 answers total)
The number one thing is to be honest. If you're the kind of person who may leave last night's dinner cleanup for the following morning, mention that. If you like blasting music while you clean your room, mention that too. Talk about what you love doing in your spare time: they may be looking for someone to craft/cook/garden with. Leave the "responsible/timely/self-motivated" stuff for job resumes, and really tell them about yourselves.
posted by wintersonata9 at 11:30 AM on July 18, 2012

Best answer: I lived in a co-op in Vancouver (Levellers) for five years and live in and am on the board of directors of a co-op where I live now in Ontario.

My experience with co-ops in Vancouver are limited to the one co-op. Levellers is small (35 homes) and self-run. It had no staff at all. I liked the location and loved the mix of people. It's been a while, but I think it was about 9-12 months from application to moving in. I think I was interviewed in May, and moved in in September. I was working when I moved in (most co-ops require the household income to be high enough that the rent comes to 30% or less of household income) but lost my job shortly after that and was able to access a housing subsidy.

In terms of your cover letter, I don't remember exactly what I put in mine, but I can tell you what we are looking for where I now live: new members who are engaged with their community and eager to become a part of our community here. You want to mention tangible and intangible things here: volunteering for a neighbourhood watch, say, but also, taking care of the mail when a neighbour goes out of town.

Volunteerism is essential to co-op living. Most places will require you to do 5-10 hours of co-op participation a month, so mentioning any volunteer work you do now or have done in the past will stand you in good stead. That participation can take different forms; we have formal committees like the maintenance and membership committees or the board, but we also have members here whose volunteer work consists primarily of helping out older/disabled neighbours by shovelling their walks in winter, etc.

You will need to be able to get along with a wide diversity of people, not all of whom, frankly, are easy to get along with. You get to know your neighbours far more intimately when you live in a co-op. More intimately than you might like! Talking about your experience getting along with people who aren't like you might be good. It's really important to show that you will be a good neighbour.

Regardless of what you put in your cover letter, though, most places that are taking applications will interview people on a first-come, first-served basis. In other words: you're not going to disqualify yourself from the place of your dreams because you have a crappy cover letter. Where you really want to shine is in the interview, which will be done by current co-op members. If you can find out what committees the prospective co-op has, give some thought to which ones interest you; they will almost certainly ask you what kind of work you'd like to do around the co-op. If you have any special skills that could be useful to co-op living, let them know (group facilitation, preparing budgets, gardening, conflict resolution, etc.). If you're not sure what they are looking for, just ask them and work from there.

People can be funny about unrelated people living under the same roof. I've heard people in both the co-ops I've lived in express skepticism about roommate situations holding up over the long term (which is a concern because household break-up can lead to household income dropping and needing a subsidy and/or can make the remaining people be over-housed, i.e. in a unit that is bigger than they are allowed to have by the co-op by-laws). FWIW, I think that's bullshit, and probably discriminatory, but it's also the kind of thing that is nebulous. You might want to address that upfront by talking about your relationship and history with each other and why you want to live together instead of separately.

The most important thing is going to be household income, though, probably. No matter how much they like you, if you don't meet the minimum level of income they won't let you in. I can't think of a single co-op that can offer subsidies to new members, and by-laws require that the housing be "affordable" (which results in the ironic situation where people don't earn enough for their housing charges to be 30% or less of their household and so don't qualify for co-op living, and instead have to rent somewhere else and shell out 50% of their income every month) for everyone. It's worth your doing the math on this before you get your heart set on a place. We ended up in Levellers because the household who was ahead of us on the waiting list didn't pass the income test.

I have loved co-operative living. I'm three years into where I live now and it has been fantastic. My kid is an only child, and having her grow up among other kids around her age, that she has to engage with on an everyday, ongoing basis, in sibling-like power struggles has been invaluable. I also get to live in a fantastic townhouse, in a neighbourhood I could never afford to buy in, for about 60% of the local market rent prices. All the extra work and occasional bullshit are totally worth it. Good luck!
posted by looli at 7:45 PM on July 18, 2012

Response by poster: thanks, looli! my housemate and i just had a good read-through, and appreciate knowing that our application letter will not be the biggest determinant. lots for us to consider, but most of this reaffirms what we already know or thought to be true about co-op living. i think we are near ideal co-op applicants -- now we just need to convince the co-ops of this...!
posted by tamarack at 11:51 AM on July 23, 2012

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