Collective houses unlock living options in Vancouver
Until recently, a mansion in Vancouver’s Shaughnessy area was known as the Light House.
The Tudor-style manor is still there, but the residents who called it by that name are gone.
For rents ranging from $480 to $600 each, 11 people shared the stately four-storey home in one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in the most expensive city in North America. Their lease was not renewed.
Ami Muranetz cofounded the collective house in February of last year. Although shared living has been around for a long time, the sustainability consultant notes that some don’t quite get what it’s all about.
“There was a misunderstanding that we were a hostel, and so we were shut down,” Muranetz told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview a couple of days before she and her housemates moved out on May 31.
Among the many hats worn by Muranetz is that of an associate at One Earth. It’s a Vancouver nonprofit “think-and-do tank” cofounded by Bill Rees, a UBC professor emeritus known for developing the “ecological footprint” concept, which is a measure of human demand on the Earth’s resources.
According to Muranetz, the property manager told the residents that the home’s insurance was going to be a problem because of their nontraditional living arrangement. She said the owner is based overseas.
Muranetz doesn’t think that a 6,000-square-foot home is something that a typical family would look for.
“It’s a very big house,” she said. “I doubt that one family would want to rent it for $6,300 a month.”
The Vancouver Collective House Network counts almost 50 shared homes in and around the city. They vary in size and the number of residents.
A collective house is quite different from cohousing and cooperative housing models. It’s a home where residents share living space, food, and house chores.
“The city needs to support collective housing as a strategy to provide affordable housing,” Muranetz said.
She believes that this approach could unlock housing stock in vacant investment properties in neighbourhoods across the city.
Muranetz also thinks that it could work to house seniors, single moms, and others who share common situations.
At a recent forum on housing, Muranetz brought the topic up with councillor Geoff Meggs of the ruling Vision Vancouver party.
Meggs told the Straight in a phone interview that he has asked city staff to see what can be done.
The second-term councillor noted that the city’s role may be similar to what it’s doing with respect to cultural spaces, which is to “facilitate or demonstrate to both landlords and potential groups of renters how to prepare themselves for a good relationship, rather than get involved”.
“The model she proposes is exactly how I lived all the way through university, sharing homes with people on a joint-tenancy basis,” Meggs recalled.
What’s new this time is that the current generation has the Internet and web-based tools to connect with potential housemates, according to the Vision councillor.
Meggs said that property owners are often wary about renting to groups of mostly untethered people. “Landlords would want to know that there was someone responsible for the property though a lease,” he said. “That’s just common sense.”
Meggs also indicated that he’s interested to know how many big houses in the city are left unoccupied for sale by investor-owners.
According to Muranetz, at least 40 percent of estates in the Shaughnessy neighbourhood alone are vacant.
She plans to apply for a grant under Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 initiative to develop a tool kit to support collective-housing efforts.
Although she has lost the Light House, she and her documentary-filmmaker partner have moved into another collective house, a 7,000-square-foot mansion on Southwest Marine Drive. Their rent is $900 a month for one bedroom.
“It’s a Spanish mansion on the river,” Muranetz said. “And it’s even more beautiful than the one we were just in.”