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Creating the new "old fashioned neighbourhood" with cohousing.
I recently met a small Vancouver cohousing group through volunteering with the Light House Sustainable Building Centre’s 2010 Green Building Challenge. Given the price of houses in Vancouver and the need for improved EcoDensity, it seems they have the right idea.
Curious about cohousing? Interested in the cohousing movement in Vancouver? Wondering if cohousing may be for you? Read on.
According to the Canadian Cohousing Network (CCN), cohousing communities are neighborhoods that combine the autonomy of private dwellings with the advantages of shared resources and community living.
Read more about alternative housing and urban design in our EcoDensity special, “Planning for the Future”
Neighbourhoods are designed with pedestrians in mind, consist of private homes supplemented with common facilities (such as a shared playground, garden, workshop, kitchen, dining room and more) and promote social, environmental and economic sustainability.
There’s an important distinction between cohousing and shared housing in that each household has its own amenities, such as a private kitchen. Levels of social interaction and shared amenities vary between communities.
In most cases, cohousing communities are built especially for the residents. While a developer and consultant are often involved in the early-going, the communities are self-managed and rely on a participatory process for the planning, design and ongoing management and maintenance of the community.
Another important feature of cohousing is a non-hierarchal structure and decision-making process. While there are “leadership” roles there aren’t set leaders.
A number of successful cohousing communities exist in BC, with many located around the Lower Mainland. These include Cranberry Commons Cohousing in Burnaby, Quayside Village Cohousing in North Vancouver (well-known for their leading waste diversion program), and the Windsong Cohousing Community in Langley. There’s also the Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community in Nanaimo.
Currently Vancouver doesn’t have a large cohousing community like those listed above. That being said, small-scale cohousing is alive and well in Vancouver.
While definitions of cohousing tend to describe large communities with anywhere from 10–35 households, small-scale cohousing also takes place in much smaller versions, for example with two households.
Recently I met a cohousing family that shares a large house in East Vancouver. The house has been split into two suites with a family of five living upstairs and a couple living downstairs. While each family owns their portion of the house, they share the yard, garden, garage and laundry. Decisions about the house are made collectively and the principles of cohousing are at the basis of the residents’ relationship.
Besides being a much smaller community of two households, another difference with this cohousing group is that they moved into a pre-existing home. Larger cohousing communities often move into complexes built especially for their needs and based on designs agreed to by the residents.
[pagebreak] Quayside Village in North Vancouver consists of 19 residential units, and a convenience store, centred around a shared (kid-friendly) courtyard with fireplace and water feature, among other amenities.
Given the cost of houses in Vancouver and the need for improved EcoDensity, I was interested in the experience of this smaller cohousing group. I spoke with one of the owners and asked her what tips she has for others looking to co-house in Vancouver.
1. Make sure cohousing is right for you. It doesn’t work if you’re intensely private or overly social. Privacy is an important component of cohousing, but so is interaction with your neighbours.
2. Find the right real estate agent. They don’t need to specialize in cohousing but should clearly understand what you’re looking for. Like regular house searching it’s best to go with someone who comes with good recommendations from people you trust.
3. In regard to financing, look around for shared ownership mortgage plans. An example is Vancity’s Mixer Mortgage.
4. Hire a lawyer to draft the ownership agreement. Similar to the real estate agent, they don’t need to specialize in cohousing but you need to feel they understand what you’re looking for.
5. More important than the legal agreement is to make sure you trust and have clear communication with the people you’ll be cohousing with. At it’s core, your agreement is a trust relationship. Ensure you want the same things and are committed to making the community work.
6. Define how decisions will be made and disagreements resolved. This will be helpful once issues start to arise. Have clear rules and processes.
7. Both in developing the legal agreement and defining decision-making-processes, consider the 4 Ds: death, debt, divorce and deceit. How will these issues be dealt with should they arise?
8. Be patient. Working as a group takes longer but can be an enriching experience.
The Vancouver Cohousing Group is an organization in Vancouver dedicated to making a Vancouver-based cohousing community a reality. If you’re interested in getting involved with the Vancouver movement they invite you to contact them directly.
Crazed by House Prices? Try ‘Co-Housing’, The Tyee
Cohousing Development Consulting
Alan Carpenter, “Cohousing Enthusiast”
My Cohousing Adventure (personal blog of a Pacific Gardens resident, in Nanaimo)
Cohousing Association of the United States
Leah Nielsen is a freelance contractor who provides information and administrative web services to small businesses and organizations. She specializes in environmental and social sustainability and operates LeahLink.com, a central hub for her work and blog. Off-line she can be found riding her bike and engaging in creative endeavors around Vancouver.