Please welcome Canadian author Merrilee Robson, whose first book is based on her own experiences with a housing option we don’t have here in the states. Murder is Uncooperative is her first book, unless you count the one she wrote at age 11. I’m impressed about that first one. I asked Merrilee to explain what is cooperative housing.
During university, I moved every six months. From the apartment on a busy street we left when the mouse infestation became unbearable, to a cold and gloomy room in a shared house where someone else regularly ate the food I bought. There was the basement suite that flooded, leaving my roommate and I trying to salvage our belongings while wading knee deep in cold water. Then came the nice one-bedroom I had to leave when the rent was raised, and then finally the apartment that was charming but a firetrap.
It was while living in the last place that our fortunes changed. A government program allowed the tenants in the building to buy, renovate and run the building as a non-profit housing co-op. Young couples settled down and raised families. Refugees and other new immigrants found a stable community that welcomed them. Seniors were able to “age in place” in affordable rental homes where they knew their neighbours. We lived there for 10 years.
In my new mystery, Murder is Uncooperative, all Rebecca wants is a safe, affordable home for her family. That’s not an easy thing to find in an expensive rental market. At first she thinks she’s found the perfect home in a non-profit housing co-op. But then she finds a body.
The book focuses on how desperate people can get trying to find a home for their family. That experience will ring true for readers, whether they understand housing co-ops or not.
But Anne asked me to explain a bit about what a co-op is. In Canada, where Murder is Uncooperative is set, there are over 2,000 co-ops across the country housing a quarter of a million people. But there are housing co-ops in most countries around the world, including in the United States.
The main distinction between a housing cooperative and other forms of home ownership is that in a housing cooperative you don’t directly own real estate. People buy shares or a membership in a housing co-op, which is often a non-profit. In some cases there is government subsidy to help keep costs down for low-income residents. Co‑op housing also offers security. Co‑ops are controlled by their members, who have a vote in decisions about their housing. There is no outside landlord.
And how did housing co-op members react to their homes being portrayed as the scene of a murder. They were thrilled! While housing co-ops can be safe havens for many, there are inevitably tensions among groups of people trying to live together.
“I bet I know who dies and I bet I know why,” people kept telling me. Or they asked, “Is it based on my co-op?”
In any case, housing co-op members seem to like seeing their lives portrayed in the first housing co-op mystery.