Cohousing opens the door to affordability in City of North Vancouver

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      Canada’s oldest urban cohousing community is marking a major milestone this summer.

      Quayside Village, at 510 Chesterfield Avenue in North Vancouver, is observing its 20th anniversary.

      Cohousing is a collaborative-housing model in which neighbours with private homes work together to develop and manage their properties. They also share amenities: typically, a community kitchen, a play area for children, a workspace, and a guest suite.

      The Quayside celebration comes as the City of North Vancouver may again demonstrate its leadership role in supporting creative housing solutions like cohousing.

      Mayor Darrell Mussatto and council have referred to public hearing a rezoning application for another cohousing development. The lessons from Quayside may prove valuable.

      By supporting Quayside at its inception, the city was able to provide a measure of housing affordability.

      Quayside is a townhouse-and-condo development with 19 units. Four of the ownership units are designated in perpetuity—through a covenant with the city—at 20 percent below market prices.

      The agreement also provides for one family rental unit that is permanently below market rates. The affordable-ownership and rental units are managed by Quayside residents.

      Kathy McGrenera, an original resident at Quayside, recalled that the affordable units were made possible by the extra density granted by the city. She agreed with the suggestion that other municipalities could learn from North Vancouver.

      “What makes it particularly relevant is because cohousing members are involved in the development process, and they tend to stay quite long-term in the projects,” McGrenera told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “And they’re usually quite committed to housing alternatives and affordable housing …[so] they are in a unique position to be able to manage an affordable homeownership or an affordable rental situation, because the members are happy to do that administration.”

      McGrenera is also a consultant with the proponents of Driftwood Village, which may become the second cohousing project to be built in North Vancouver.

      The proposed Driftwood development, in the 2100 block of Chesterfield Avenue, is subject to a public hearing on July 9. It’s a 27-unit project, and eight units are being offered in perpetuity at 25 percent below market prices.

      These affordable units are proposed to be in lieu of the $1.6 million in cash that Driftwood has to pay as a community-benefit contribution to the city. If council decides to forgo the cash contribution, the below-market homeownership units will become a public benefit for many years to come.

      Mackenzie Stonehocker is a found­ing member of Driftwood. She and her husband and their two young daughters currently live in a rental home in East Vancouver.

      As an urban planner, Stonehocker recognizes that addressing housing affordability is a complicated task.

      “There’s so many other parts to the housing continuum that also need help, like transitional housing, below-market rental housing, and those are things that our cohousing group couldn’t really help with,” Stonehocker told the Straight by phone. “But we can help with this below-market ownership, and it really works well for these working families who are sort of on the cusp of ownership and then can transition out of the rental market, and that frees up units for other people too.”

      Like McGrenera, Carol McQuarrie is an original resident at Quayside. McQuarrie recalled that the below-market homeownership units allowed some households to buy at Quayside. It could work as well at Driftwood.

      “Because of the cost of housing, it’s not inexpensive. But it does give people a chance,” McQuarrie said by phone.

      McQuarrie is looking forward to the celebrations. She said that on July 7, Quayside residents will welcome outside neighbours for a tour and refreshments. The next day, on the eve of the July 9 public hearing for Driftwood, former residents, cohousing advocates and supporters, and politicians are coming over.