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Prairie Housing, L'Avenir, and Second-Level Community Cooperatives

by David and Faye Wetherow

Revised September, 2000


Traditionally, individuals with disabilities have relied on public institutions and non-profit agencies to provide the organized development, coordination and management of direct support services. However, many consumers are finding that traditional services are not flexible or responsive enough to meet their needs. Some consumers have expressed a strong desire to be: more directly involved in day-to-day decision-making and in the management and direction of the services that affect their lives.

Historical Context

Recent advances in individualized funding and self-managed care have brought the objectives of self-direction and flexibility within reach; however, some of the consumers involved in these projects have encountered difficulties with the challenges of staff recruitment and training, payroll and bookkeeping, planning, management and safeguarding of services.  These experiences have highlighted the need for organized assistance and facilitation, which can help users manage these resources and which can facilitate the development of relevant services and support infrastructures in local communities.

About fifteen years ago, 'Centers for independent Living' (CILs) were developed to assist adults with physical disabilities who wanted to take control of their personal care attendant (PCA) services, equipment and transportation supports. CILs provided the training and support that allowed consumers to become more effective managers and employers. CIL services have frequently included education, peer counseling assistance in developing individual service plans, and assistance in recruiting, training and managing PCA staff.  One characteristic of CILs has been the dominant role that consumers play in governance.

However, in addition to the direct care issues addressed by CILs, some consumers and families express:

·        the need for the development and maintenance of strong personal social support networks

·        the need for assistance with some aspects of decision-making

·        the value of a ‘capacity-based' ‘community-building’ approach to life planning and service development

Some attempts to empower consumers through 'independent planning' service models still rely on traditional agency structures to provide the necessary hard services, and have little or no capacity to develop new resources. 'Lifetime advocacy networks' and 'circles of friends' provide some important safeguards and supportive personal relationships, but may not be in a position to create necessary support and service infrastructures in the community.

In Manitoba, consumer-directed service cooperatives provide direct services, but retain the authority and responsibility typically associated with non-profit provider agencies: personal care attendants are employed by the cooperative, rather than by the individuals served, and responsibility and accountability remain with the cooperative, rather than with the consumers.

In British Columbia, Vela Housing's exemplary role in developing and supporting 'microboards' constitutes an important advance in the management of individualized funds, but access to designated funding requires the members of a support network to form a legally constituted society and control over resources still remains at arms-length from the primary consumer.

Consumer-directed cooperatives have the advantage of being completely controlled by consumer-members. Cooperatives may invite the advice and assistance of non-members, but ultimately, control and governance remains in the hands of the people served

Separation of Housing and Service Functions

One critical direction is to separate the structures that provide housing from the structures that provide direct supports (attendant care services) or that provide 'second level' supports as outlined in the following proposal.


Ideally, housing should be obtained through normative mechanisms of home ownership, cooperative housing or ordinary rent. If organized 'social housing' is the only available option, the organizations that provide housing can (and in our opinion, should) be organized as consumer-directed cooperatives.


Direct supports should be provided through a process of individualized funding and directly controlled by consumers, backed up by CILs or second-level support services.  Second level supports may also be organized as consumer controlled cooperatives, as described below.

Three types of Consumer-Directed Cooperatives


Consumer-controlled housing cooperatives


First-level service cooperatives provide direct services under the direction and governance of the people served, however, individualized funding services, directly controlled by individual consumers, is seen as a more adaptive solution.  In an individualized funding model the individual consumer is in direct control of staffing and service provision on a day-to-day basis.


Second-level support cooperatives provide the supports which individuals may require to make the best possible use of individualized direct support services

If individualized funding is not seen as a current possibility, a first-level consumer-controlled service cooperative is a desirable fallback option.

Why a Cooperative Model of Organization?

In contrast to traditional agency structures, cooperatives are entirely governed by their consumer members. In a service cooperative, every individual served becomes a member of the cooperative. In the current proposal children with disabilities and adults who face ex2ensive communication or decision-making challenges would be able to share a joint membership with family members or other designated representatives.

The Board of Directors is composed entirely of consumer/members of the cooperative and is democratically elec2ed by the general membership. The board may employ a general manager or executive director, who in turn may employ subsidiary staff. Alternatively, a cooperative board may contract for management and technical services. In every case, the general membership retains the ultimate authority for direction and control of the cooperative as a whole the individuals served retain authority and control over the conduct of their own service arrangements.

All cooperatives are organized on the basis of a historical set of principles that support members in active and informed participation. The core principles (known as the Rochedale principles) are:

Open and voluntary membership (membership is not restricted on the basis of race, etc.)

Authority vested in the general membership and governing boards made up of members. 

Prairie Housing, l'Avenir and Second-Level Community Cooperatives

The following material on Prairie Housing and 1’Avenir Community cooperatives are excerpted with minor editing from Nicola Schaeffer's Book Yes! She Knows She's Here, copyright 1997, Inclusion Press. Toronto. Nicola is a parent activist who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Prairie Housing Co-operative

One ray of hope for [my daughter] Catherine was another of the initiatives of the early '80s designed to benefits people with disabilities. This was the founding, in 1982, of a housing coop in Winnipeg that incorporated a small percentage of people with physical or mental disabilities. It was named Prairie Housing Cooperative and was dreamed up by David and Faye Wetherow. As part of their role with ACL Winnipeg, they made themselves responsible for inventing new ways for people with disabilities to lead good, well-supported lives. Although she didn't become a member until four years later, David says that Catherine was one of the two people who inspired it. "If it won't work for Cath, I'm not interested in pursuing it" he said

Cooperative (working together) housing has existed for decades in many countries but is a relatively new concept in Canada... The idea of any co-op is that the members, who buy a membership for an nominal sum, refundable if they leave, collectively rent or buy the house, the factory, the store, or whatever it maybe and are collectively responsible for running it. The control and responsibility are democratic - one member, one vote - but the usual practice is for the members to elect a Board of Directors from among themselves. This board looks after the financial and general management of the coop... but the fundamental issues are voted on by the general membership.

Sometimes, if the organization gets too big or time-consuming for the Board to run, a manager is hired but the policy and direction of the co-op always remains in the Board’s hands.  The Board, in turn, is always responsible to the general membership. As David says in an article about co-op housing in his book The Whole Community Catalogue,

One of the continuing lessons for members in all kinds of co-ops is that there is no 'them. Ultimately all action, or inaction, and all responsibility is 'ours.

David and I often found ourselves at the: same meetings to do with Project Welcome Home. After one of them, I unburdened myself to him concerning Cath's future and where she'd eventually live. He suggested that I start doing what I'd been encouraging other parents to do for their children when I'd spent time with them in the course of Welcome Home: dream, he said, dream about the best possible living arrangement for her. There were many factors in Cath's favour at the moment, he added.  One, Prairie Housing Co-op, with invaluable assistance ham a fellow named Al Charr in the Government’s Department of Cooperative Development was running smoothly and now had several clusters of housing similar to the one near us, so Cath could link into the co-op.... Two, Welcome Home had for some time been providing funding for Winnipeg residents who needed to move away hem their parental homes or who were in danger of being institutionalized due to family problems. Three, the government was making renovation grants available to groups of people, any of whom had a disability, who wanted to set up house together.

Serious Dreaming

I knew all this, of course, because as well as being involved in many aspects of Welcome Home I was also a Board member of ACL Winnipeg and had consequently been in on Prairie Housing Coop since its inception. What David said made sense. I should start dreaming for Catherine. I was reluctant at first to take him up on the suggestion however: I think I saw it as taking advantage of being part of the system. But then he added that the money wouldn't last much longer so it might be now or never. I went home and embarked on some serious dreaming....

A Place of Her Own

Like other adults with a disability in Canada, when Catharine turned eighteen she started receiving a social allowance cheque which in theory covered her living expenses.... If she were eventually to move into her own place, however, this income would barely cover her rent and food, let alone her care.

Under Welcome Home, funding was to be provided to assist Catherine and others with severe disabilities in new living arrangements on an ongoing basis. It had to go through a Government-approved agency and as I've already indicated, none existed. As with Prairie Housing it was David and Faye, having observed that part of ACL Winnipeg's mandate was to provide creative alternatives for people with Cath's kinds of needs, who invented the necessary agency.

We called it l'Avenir Community Co-Operative, l'Avenir being the French word for 'the future, that which is to come.' The co-op started in a tiny way in 1983 around Catherine and a young man named Arnold who had had to spend years in the big institution and whose family desperately wanted him out. As anyone who has started a new organization knows, it takes a huge amount of planning before anything much happens. So it was with l'Avenir but when it came time for Arnold and Catherine and several other people to move to new abodes everything was in place, including our first general manager, Cindy. Cindy and her husband had recently spent two years with CUSO (Canadian University Service Overseas) in Africa and Cindy had experience working with people who had complex disabilities. We couldn't have found a better person to help l'Avenir grow once David and Faye had brought it into being – calm and capable, she was also clever at making good use of limited resources a skill she'd picked up in Africa.

Very often, in fact usually, a person with a disability has his or her housing and other needs met by a single agency. This is dangerous; I've known several people who have been booted out of an agency because of "difficult" i.e. probably angry and frustrated behaviour and have lost both their housing and service provider at once. David and Faye recognized this and intentionally created Prairie Housing Co-op and l'Avenir as separate entities. To offer my daughter once again as an example, this means that if for some reason she leaves Prairie Housing and lives in other accommodation she'll still be a member of l'Avenir and have help with other aspects of her life. Conversely, if she finds a better support agency than l'Avenir she can still live in her house with Prairie Housing.

L'Avenir Community Cooperative

The l'Avenir Community Cooperatives' stated purpose is: "to provide the supports which will enable people with mental and/or physical disabilities to live with dignity, fulfillment and security. Our goals are:


to help members create for themselves meaningful lifestyles that are focused on relationships


to respond creatively to the need and wishes of members


to enable: our members to explore the risks and rewards of life's full spectrum


to support families by addressing their concerns for the lifelong needs of their sons and daughters

We are:


a small community of members, their families and networks (friends and support staff living throughout Winnipeg


an agency that supports those members in their homes and places of work and leisure


an agency committed to responding to its members' different and evolving needs


a co-op in which the direction of the agency is determined by the people served


an agency committed to supporting people with significant and challenging disabilities


staff who share the lives and homes of its members


staff who provide assistance for the members and also facilitate friendships for the members


not buildings or property, but people

Most of the points are self-explanatory; I hope they are, anyway, since we spent a long weekend concocting the brochure from which they come. Some I could elaborate upon however. "To help members create meaningful lifestyles that are focused on relationships" for instance. Good governments, good agencies, good staff all tend by their nature to come and go, so one has to rely ultimately not on these official entities but on friends. I can confidently say that should I disappear right now, Catherine has a network of real friends who would look out for her. We try to make this a reality for all our members.

"An agency that supports those members in their homes and places of work and leisure" and "a co-op in which the direction of the agency is determined by the people served" These, I think are the aspects of our agency that make l'Avenir unusual.

First, people with disabilities, especially those whose disabilities are complex, often have staff who come in on a shift basis. We feel that a home shared by the member and primary support staff is more likely to be what one might call a real home. We may not always follow this direction but at the moment it seems to work for at least some of our members. Second, most similar agencies have a couple of parents on the Board but the direction often stems from people who are simply interested.  Our Board, on the other hand consists almost entirely of the members themselves, plus family members or close friends.

To continue being technical for a moment (I’m constantly being asked how l'Avenir works so I mav as well give at least the framework), the number of people served by our agency has fluctuated over the years but we've found that if we try to assist more than twenty people we're in danger of burning out our Manager. The salaries or our Manager and half-time Assistant Manager come from a percentage of the members' social allowance. That is, Cath uses part of her income to pay l'Avenir to manage the supports and services she needs. We usually have about sixty people on the payroll, some who live with and are responsible to our members and others who work for them on a part time or respite basis.

Some additional models:

The Micro-Board Project

Following Project Welcome Home (which required an 'agency' base for delivering services) and the associated development of l'Avenir Cooperative, the Manitoba Government made funding available to small groups of friends and family members who would agree to incorporate on a not-for-profit basis and manage services on behalf of individuals with disabilities. 

In response to this opportunity, we created an organizational pattern that we termed 'micro-boards', and provided what we called the 'utility' supports to help them develop and operate. Subsequently, Linda Perry, of the Vela Microboard Association in British Columbia, took up the micro-board concept and developed the agency's capacity to support the development and continuing operation of a large number of micro-boards throughout the Province. As of this date, Vela has developed and continues to support, over ninety independent micro-boards, each of which manages service on behalf of a single individual with disabilities.

Interestingly, one of the first micro-boards in Manitoba involved two of the early consumer-members of l'Avenir Cooperative, who were in a position to change 'agency' auspices because of the strength of the network of family members and friends which had been developed since l'Avenir services allowed them to move to the community following decades of institutionalization.

In the Company of Friends

A few years after the Manitoba government made payments available to micro-boards, they entered into an experimental program called In the Company of Friends, which allowed funding to flow directly to individuals with disabilities on the condition that a group of friends and family members would agree to informally assist the individual to manage their resources. 

The Company of Friends project enabled a number people to leave institutions, to manage their own funds, and to direct their own services - with the support of an unincorporated group of friends and family members. One of the difficulties (as we saw it) with the Company of Friends project was the lack of financing for the kind of 'utility' or ‘second-level` development and support work that Vela Housing had created in British Columbia.

The Second-Level Support Cooperative - A Consumer-Directed Cooperative Designed to Facilitate Consumer Control and Management of Individualized Funding and Support Services

Initial work has begun with a group of families in the Comox Valley (Vancouver Island, BC) to create a consumer and family cooperative that would provide the supports that would enable individuals and families to receive and manage direct funding from the government.

The second-level cooperative is intended assist individuals to:


plan holistically, effectively and creatively for their long-range futures


recruit, mobilize and sustain personal support networks


develop specific personal service plans:


receive and manage funds (which are presently allocated through traditional agency structures)


develop and manage self-directed support services


develop needed service and 'utility' infrastructures in the community; and


balance the contributions of family. community and the service system.

Although this design focuses on the role that the second-level cooperative can play in the provision and management of individualized funding and self-directed services, the cooperative has the potential to play a very significant role in supporting individuals for whom direct service funding is not a current option. Holistic future planning, network development, consumer education, and access to reliable sources of staffing are likely to have a positive impact even under traditional service structures.

Relationship of the Second-Level Cooperative to Other Community and Service Elements

The second-level consumer-directed cooperative is designed assist the individual consumer to work in cooperation with the broader community, organized personal support networks, government and 'community utilities' which provide generic services such as payroll, staff recruitment and staff training. Because of the presence of other elements, each element can perform its proper role without creating internal role conflicts of conflicts of interest.  Together, the elements create multiple interlocking levels of safeguards for the individual, and a high degree of public accountability.


The Role of Consumers: Day to day service coordination (scheduling contacting back-up staff, responding to emerging changes in plans due to illness, etc.) is the responsibility of the individual consumer, however, the consumer has the option of purchasing coordinating services from a qualified individual or a generic organization which may have developed a specialized practice in this area.


The Role of Community Members: One of the primary functions of the cooperative will be to engage community members to offer a personal support network to the individual with a disability on an ongoing basis. Community members can play an informal but extremely powerful role in providing direct relationships, connections to other relationships, connections to community activities. and informal monitoring. Discussions with social workers and traditional provider agencies reveals that all providers recognize the importance of this type of network development, but that this work often ends up ‘on the back burner' in relation other requirements of the service role.


The Role of Community Utilities: Whenever possible, existing businesses or community organizations can be encouraged to develop the 'community utilities' which will assist families in issues related to staffing, payroll, and personnel management. For example, we envision encouraging the local community college to develop a specialty in training staff for personal care roles; encouraging generic employment agencies to develop a specialty practice in recruiting and screening personal care attendants, and encouraging temporary employment agencies to develop a specialized cadre of screened and trained caregiving staff who can be employed on short notice.


The Role of Government: In general, the Government role remains similar to what is currently provided although some ‘social worker' and 'service coordinator' functions will be incorporated into (or shared with) the cooperative. For example, social workers will be invited to participate as valued consultants and advisors in the individual planning process; however, the planning process is likely to address issues which are beyond the scope of the of the traditional Individual Service Plan.


The Role of the Cooperative: Staff members employed by or working on contract with the cooperative will provide specialized support in organizing and coordinating cooperative activities educating members, facilitating long-range plans for individual members, developing elements of the 'community utility' infrastructure, recruiting and mobilizing personal social support networks and assisting families to negotiate service agreements with government. The cooperative will not assume the authoritative role typically associated with provider agencies-it is designed specifically to empower direct consumers to assume these roles.


The Role of the Traditional Service System: Although the cooperative operates separately from the traditional provider agency system it maintains a respectful working relationship with the system. In general, the cooperative will work towards the development of generic support utilities, because this strategy increases the involvement and understanding of many members of the community-at-large. In some cases, however, traditional provider agencies might be excellent sources for organizing specific community utility services, such as staff recruiting and screening.

The overall management functions that are ordinarily associated with provider agencies are incorporated into other elements in this scheme. As discussed above, the traditional agency role in recruiting screening and training staff may be performed by generic employment agencies and/or educational institutions that are willing to develop a specialized practice. Supervising staff (typically an agency role) is performed by the /or the individual served.  Administrative support services such as payroll and accounting may be performed by generic organizations such as Comcheq, bank-based payroll services and generic bookkeeping and accounting services.

© 2003 David and Faye Wetherow ! CommunityWorks

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