East Vancouver cohousing project lays out options for affordable homeownership in perpetuity

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      As of June this year, a typical East Vancouver condo unit cost $573,800.

      Now imagine getting a 35-percent discount, or $200,830 off. The condo can now be bought for $372,970.

      It’s a bargain, and this illustrates how the math is meant to work out all the time for three of the 12 units in a new Vancouver cohousing development.

      At the future Tomo House, three units are proposed to be priced 35 percent below market value in perpetuity.

      The project is at the southwest corner of Main Street and Ontario Place. Vancouver city planners like the idea of having three affordable homeownership units as a public benefit from the 3.5-storey building.

      But it all depends on the province, according to Karen Hoese, acting assistant director of planning for downtown Vancouver.

      In a report to council, Hoese explained that the B.C. government needs to amend the Vancouver Charter so the city can authorize resale covenants.

      Hoese also noted that another approach would be for B.C. Housing to enter into a covenant under the Land Title Act. She explained that the covenant could be registered on the titles of the three units, “restricting sale prices and ensuring that the units are sold to income-tested buyers, thereby assuring affordability over time”.

      Because these two options depend on the “discretion and timing” of the province, Hoese reported that another possible method is to have two or three units dedicated to moderate-income rentals.

      The project’s architect, Marianne Amodio, said that this third approach was identified due to the exigency of time. The rezoning application for 5809–5811 Main Street was up for public hearing on July 17. Vancouver city council voted to support the project after the public hearing.

      “That’s how come the other option is in place so that we can move forward with some affordability model in case the [provincial] government doesn’t move forward with the revisions to the [Vancouver] charter in a timely manner,” Amodio told the Georgia Straight by phone.

      Tomo Spaces Inc. is the developer that bought the land; it manages design and construction and is collaborating with Our Urban Village, a group whose members will buy the units. It’s a development model that Hoese referred to as “cohousing lite”.

      In conventional cohousing projects, future neighbours work together to purchase land, manage the construction, and run the strata corporation.

      Tomo House is the third cohousing venture in Vancouver. According to the project’s facilitator, Kathy McGrenera, it’s the first in the city to feature affordable homeownership.

      “In an expensive city, it’s a little bit that we can try and work for,” McGrenera told the Straight by phone.

      McGrenera is also a consultant with Driftwood Village, a cohousing project whose rezoning application was approved on July 16 by the City of North Vancouver council.

      The Driftwood Village will have 27 units, and eight of these will be made available in perpetuity at 25 percent below market prices.