One in four people say that they’re alone more often than they want to be. That’s what the Vancouver Foundation determined in its recent survey of residents in the Lower Mainland.
However, urban isolation isn’t what Darryl Griffiths and his family expect to feel when they settle into their new home. Griffiths is a member of a group that wants to build the first cohousing development in Vancouver, and he says it’s more than just a construction venture.
“We’re interested in a closer-knit, more vibrant community, and this is one way of accomplishing that,” Griffiths told the Georgia Straight by phone. “We’re meeting the people that want to be part of that community and designing it together.”
Griffiths was interviewed a few days after he and members of the Cedar Cottage Cohousing Company held an information session last month on the 1700 block of East 33rd Avenue, where they plan to build. The group has filed an application with the City of Vancouver to rezone three single-family lots and permit the construction of a three-storey residential building with 27 strata-titled homes.
Cohousing, a housing model that began in Denmark, puts a lot of emphasis on cooperation, from the design to the management and maintenance of buildings. “It’s a consensus-based model where we have designed the site on common values and an interest in creating a more cohesive community,” Griffiths explained.
Homes are owned individually by residents. They share a common amenity area that includes a kitchen and dining hall where they prepare and eat community meals. This place also has workshops, meeting spaces, children’s playrooms, guest accommodation, and a laundry area.
The design submitted by Cedar Cottage features a 4,055-square-feet common house, and an atrium measuring 1,760 square feet. The company currently has 18 members, with room for nine more.
According to the Canadian Cohousing Network, cohousing provides residents with personal privacy as well as the benefits of living in a community where neighbours interact with each other. It notes that there are only seven completed cohousing sites so far in B.C. Including the Cedar Cottage project, there are seven others in various stages of completion.
The city’s Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability has identified cohousing as one measure to help residents with their shelter needs.
Yonas Jongkind lives at Yarrow Ecovillage, a cohousing development in Chilliwack. He was instrumental in the formation of Cedar Cottage, and he serves as project manager for the company. According to information supplied by Jongkind, cohousing is inherently affordable. Because cohousing communities are nonprofit, members can agree on a purchase price that each can afford. Construction costs are basically under their control, so overruns can be avoided or minimized. Having a common house where residents can share resources like meals and tools means more savings.
Jongkind was previously involved in a cohousing venture in Vancouver. However, the project fell through because of difficulties in acquiring enough land.
In 2010, cohousing expert Ronaye Matthew told the Straight that assembling lots is a big challenge. According to Matthew, a property should be large enough to support 20 to 30 households. She also encouraged local governments to offer municipal lands first to cohousing groups when they sell properties. Matthew likewise noted that cities can support proponents in their rezoning applications.
Although Jongkind’s previous Vancouver project didn’t succeed, Cedar Cottage could lead to more cohousing developments in the city.
It’s a dream that the IT professional clearly nurtures. “Right now, I have young children out at Yarrow Ecovillage and my wife likes the space very much,” Jongkind told the Straight by phone. “While I don’t see myself moving right away, I could certainly expect my career to take me back to Vancouver at some point. And it will be really valuable to have some cohousing to move into.”