Propolis Housing Cooperative offers a blueprint to combat B.C.’s housing crisis

The non-profit housing co-op is raising $1.1 million to be able to acquire and develop its first property in Kamloops

Having spent most of her career in the nonprofit sector, Lindsay Harris finds it hard to identify as an entrepreneur now. “That’s a label I hold a little bit of tension with because I have always seen myself as somebody working from the grassroots level to support the community,” she explains. 

But the work she’s doing is clearly entrepreneurial—together with seven other like-minded folks, Harris incorporated Propolis as a non-profit housing co-operative in 2020 to help address the housing crisis in Kamloops. The idea is to establish a network of multi-family buildings in the city, ranging from five to 50 units, with all residential units jointly managed by residents and offered at below-market rents. “And we also have a goal for all of our buildings to be net-zero because we really see the ways that affordability and sustainability can go hand-in-hand,” she adds. 

In November 2023, Thrive Impact Fund, which invests in B.C. organizations generating positive social/environmental/cultural change, made a $270,000 commitment towards Propolis’ mission. The co-op has also sold $475,000 in community bonds and secured $200,000 in pledges, according Propolis president Harris, bringing it closer to the $1.1 million it needs to purchase its first property in the heart of Kamloops North Shore.  

“It’s in an excellent location,” says Harris. “It’s a neighbourhood that’s experiencing a lot of pre-development. We want to contribute to developing it in a good way where it can continue to be a neighbourhood that remains affordable for people.” 

Propolis Housing Co-op has its eye on this Kamloops site

Naturally, anti-displacement is one of Propolis’ core values. Harris explains that there is a restaurant and performing arts space in the building that the co-op plans to work with. It also plans to transform the property into a mixed-use development with commercial space, essential amenities like daycare and 50 units of housing (ranging from bachelors’ units to three-bedrooms) priced at 20 percent below median market rents. 

“And because the building will be a co-operative, we’re also thinking of ways that we can create community-building opportunities on the site,” adds Harris. “Lots of us in the organizing group have a background in food security, so we’re really excited to include rooftop gardens, a shared community kitchen space, and we’re also working on a car share program.” 

Developing housing is a complicated project to take on, especially for a group of people who have never done it before. But Propolis’ approach is a great way to deliver community-focused solutions, and it sounds like the co-op is open to learning and adapting along the way. “This is the biggest thing that I’ve ever tackled,” Harris admits. “It feels like there are a lot of moving parts and it’s very ambitious, but I think that level of ambition matches the scale of the crisis that we’re facing.” 

Harris’s own background is rooted in community economic development: she’s the food policy implementation lead for Kamloops Food Policy Council and she holds a PhD in interdisciplinary studies from UBC-O. Her dissertation, she says, was about the history of the food security movement in Kamloops, and she has been working as a community organizer and researcher in the area since 2014.  

“A few years ago, I really started to look at the ways that the housing crisis was interconnected with our ability to develop strong local economies or to address community food security,” says Harris. “People need affordable housing. If they want to have a food secure household, if they want to have money to invest and spend in the local economy, housing is really at the root of a lot of those issues. And so in the work that I was doing in the food system, I started to realize that we could take some of the things that we were learning there about how to organize as a community and we could look at a cooperative model and approach the housing crisis in the community in a way that nobody else was in Kamloops.”