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Spotlight on Canada’s Student Social Entrepreneurs: Union Co-operative

Union Co-operative is working to buy residential & commercial properties in Waterloo Region for permanent affordability through community ownership. reports that the cost of renting a vacant apartment in Waterloo Region has increased by over 24% in the past year alone. Average residential rents increased by 41% between 2009 and 2019. Inflation increased by 19% during this same 10-year period. The City of Kitchener reports that on average rents increase by $250 between tenants.

Union Co-operative purchased its first building on October 3rd, 2022. The building includes 58 newly renovated 2 bedroom units and permits are underway to add 3 accessible units. They are working to add cooling and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by retrofitting the property with air source heat pumps. They are targeting rents from $1,000/month to $1,500/month with the goal of being affordable for households earning minimum wage to a living wage.

Union Co-operative was a Finalist for our NU Board National awards and is an outstanding example of a student led social enterprise. We had the chance to connect with Executive Director Sean Campbell on Union Co-operative’s spectacular journey. Sean holds a Bachelors of Business Administration from Wilfrid Laurier University, and a Master of Environmental Studies at the University of Waterloo. Sean is currently a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Waterloo where he researches the governance and financial strategies of community organizations. Sean says:

“As a new organization we are doing everything for the first time. As a new and innovative model, others (including community partners and government decision makers) are working with us for the first time. Things take a bit longer and are a bit harder the first time around, but we are confident that this work will set us up for success with property two and beyond!”

Sean explains his biggest learning so far:

“Partnerships are really important! This includes working with charities to welcome new tenants when there is a vacant unit. This lets us provide housing for people who face multiple barriers to finding a home.”

Looking to future, Union Co-operative has many exciting things on the horizon. Sean discusses their next steps:

“We are working to improve the property through energy retrofits in partnership with our local public utility, to naturalize the greenspace and make it a more engaging space for tenants through a partnership with a local environmental charity, and to add additional units to the property. We will also begin to work towards our second property purchase.”


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