Collective houses unlock living options in Vancouver

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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.”

Comments (8) Add New Comment
Mark
It's a sad day when people have to resort for this kind of living arrangement just to be able to live in Vancouver. It might be cool while you're young, but what happens when you start having kids?

Meggs wonder about how many big houses for sale sit empty in Vancouver. What about houses that sit empty owned by offshore investors, which are not for sale, and simply used as an investment? Those properties are not pushed into the rental stock, and they create ghost neighborhoods.
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Natty
It's an idea, but even the city can't change an insurance company's requirements. Vacant homes are undesirable, but multi-tenant suites are even worse. I don't know that I'd risk my (theoretical) multi-millionaire dollar home knowing that if a major fire took the place down, I'd get bupkiss for the structure.
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John Smith
Nothing new here, hippies called them co-op houses. More than a rooming house, less than a "commune". In a way it's a little shocking the grandchildren of baby boomers seemingly have no awareness of how thousands upon thousands of their elders lived in Vancouver for many years.
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Hazlit
What happens when you start having kids? Well my wife and I aren't there yet, but housing in Vancouver is bad enough that we're seriously contemplating buying a house with another couple. As with the Light House, this confers several advantages--more space for less money and people to share tasks with (e.g. babysitting). Particularly in a large house with several floors and several bathrooms the only thing that ends up needing to be shared would likely be a kitchen.

While shared ownership with non-family members creates potential problems, the advantages--of company, conversation, etc. are greater than the problems. The internet and modern mobility have created not only financial problems, but emotion ones as well. One response has been the rise of a domestic sharing economy--from housemates to roommates and even bed-mates. Right or wrong this level of sharing has become a necessity.

Ms. Muranetz is responding to a real market need. I wish her great success and happiness.
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Ami Muranetz
It's actually a fantastic model for bringing children into (given the right group of people). I have lived with families in these living arrangements, and it provided trusted childminding help and a supportive community. "It takes a village to raise a child", is very true in these instances.
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Jan Steinman
We've been doing something similar in a rural environment for over eight years. Access to farmland for young people is a serious issue, and will only get worse as the BC Government whittles away at the Agricultural Land Commission Act. We offer people "affordable equity" farmland, so people with a long-term view can plant nut trees that mature in 70 years, and take proper care of soil and other resources.

Looking to share farmland? Let's talk! http://www.EcoReality.org/wiki/Get_involved
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Annamarie Pluhar
Love this model and I think it is a necessary solution to a very real problem. Lack of affordable housing. No one talks about how the housing crisis is partly due to two trends: overpopulation and increased longevity.

Finding the right people to live is IS the key issue. I do have a book "Sharing Housing: A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates (http://www.amazon.com/Sharing-Housing-Guidebook-Finding-Housemates/dp/09...) about how to do that.

We used to live in tribes. We are wired to live with other people. People who say they "want their privacy" might not realize the emotional toll that isolation has on them. Big issue.
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Patty
If the owner is a "private property" owner, he or she should be able to do what he or she wants with the house. If Vancouver is unaffordable for people then they have to find other areas to live. If I lived in Vancouver, I don't think I would be very appreciative with people trying to lower my value. This would happen if you have places all over the city with 7 or 8or 10 people living in one house. For one parking is at a minimum and what happens when one or two people decide to move.? It rarely works when you know them let alone when you don't and who decides who does what. Dd what you will but it is not for me.
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