True to its name, the Beehive was buzzing with activity. On a recent Sunday morning, dozens of eager-looking people packed the second-floor living room of this nondescript house on Lakewood Drive in East Vancouver. At one point, they were all talking in pairs, an exercise arranged by the hosts.
It was the first public workshop organized by the Vancouver Collective House Network, a group that intends to popularize the concept of shared living. An alternative to living either alone or in a traditional family, collective living is touted as being not only personally fulfilling but also Earth-friendly.
The Beehive is one of these collective houses, and community artist Sara Ross is one of its six residents. Her housemates are a university professor, a herbalist, a postsecondary student, and two schoolteachers.
“We have a much smaller environmental footprint,” Ross proudly told the Georgia Straight.
Beehive residents eat dinners together, and because they share food, they buy their groceries in bulk. That means less packaging. They prepare most of their food from scratch. They don’t buy canned food.
To supplement their diet, members of the collective tend the house garden, where they raise organic vegetables.
“We have a complex recycling system,” Ross said. “We create so little garbage. Because we all share environmental values, it means that we support each other to live those values.”
It’s also an affordable lifestyle. At the Beehive, residents have a formula for how they share expenses, which include rent, utilities, and consumable items. For Ross’s share, it’s less than $500 a month.
Activist Meena Wong lived in shared housing even before she moved to Vancouver from Toronto in 2002.
Currently a member of the MacKenzie Heights Collective, a house on the west side of the city, Wong said this lifestyle is an efficient way of living. Her household of six includes a couple with a three-and-a-half-year-old child.
“Imagine if each person lives in an apartment, the heating and electricity consumed by each person,” Wong told the Straight.
Like the residents of the Beehive, members of the MacKenzie Heights Collective cook and eat their dinners together, with one of them assigned to cook each night. They also buy groceries collectively. They likewise have a common vegetable garden. “We eat organic, local as much as we can,” Wong said. “We try to do the 100-mile diet as much as we can.”
For the upkeep of the house, they split chores. One of the household tasks is composting.
“What can be less footprint than people living together, people eating together, and sharing resources together?” Wong asked.
Although collective living may sound cool, especially at a time when environmentalism is a hip thing, Collin van Uchelen told attendees at the Beehive workshop to ponder a number of things before plunging headlong into such an arrangement.
They may share values with a number of people, Uchelen said, but these may not jibe with the way they currently spend their time, energy, and money. For example, organic gardening in a household may sound appealing, but some people may not be committed to tending a plot, said Uchelen, a psychiatrist who also lives in a collective house.
The Beehive is a rental house, but collective living can also be done in properties that are owned by residents themselves, like the New Westminster Co-op. Twenty residents are living in these two houses, and they have a common kitchen. “It’s cooperative ownership and collective living,” resident Jack Bates explained to the Straight.
The Vancouver Collective House Network counts about a dozen housing collectives. Membership in these housing groups changes over time. Although some want to maintain this lifestyle, others are just passing through. That’s the reason the MacKenzie Heights Collective, for example, is looking for one or two new housemates.
In Ross’s case, she has lived at the Beehive for about a year. Before that, she was in a family type of living arrangement. According to her, she feels like she finally found a home in this house on Lakewood Drive.
To join the network’s e-mail list for further information, go to firstname.lastname@example.org.