By Ann Frampton
Hello Sudbury cohousing enthusiasts,
We had a great time in B.C. and were able to visit four cohousing sites – three that have been in existence between four and twenty years and one under construction!
- West Wind Harbour Cohousing (under construction 30 units)
- Harbourside Cohousing (four years old 31 units)
- Vancouver Cohousing (four years old 31 units)
- Cranberry Commons Cohousing (20 years old 22 units)
What is cohousing? The Cohousing Association of the United States, says it’s an intentional community of private homes clustered around shared space.
All of the folks we visited with on the tours love the cohousing concept. One of the people we met is actually moving from one cohousing complex in the city to another one on Vancouver Island because they love it so much! Any downsides (not seeing old friends as much) were clearly out weighed by the upsides (new community and new friends)!
All of the complexes had 22-31 units and for some they found that it was a bit too many (multigenerational 31 units) and others thought more homes would be better (seniors 31 units). The issue was that getting to know all the neighbours was difficult for the size, while more households meant the work was more easily shared.
What we found…
The first multi-generational cohousing we visited was busy (31 families and 23 children live there). It had a great layout and a great vibe for families. Lots of people were out socializing and doing lots of different activities.
The second multigenerational cohousing had 22 families and was quieter (mostly adults and teenagers) and the common spaces that we saw looked better managed.
The hosts said that they knew every family and everyone by name.
Both of these groups got together at least once a week or more for group potlucks or dinners and special events (Canada day bbq, Halloween etc.)
The senior’s complex was very organized and common spaces appeared to be better managed and more extensive. They also had regular weekly meals and other activities.
All the individual units in each complex were beautiful (some with ocean views) and built with amazing small space living designs in the kitchen, bedrooms and living rooms. Most were open concept in the kitchen and living room that gave it a more spacious feel. The complexes are all environmentally friendly and the seniors complexes are Green Gold (environmental standard).
Some had rental units and there were mixed reviews about how those were managed.
There were extra guests suites/bedrooms in all of the cohousing complexes and the seniors complex actually had a caregiver suite that also doubled as guest space. There was surprisingly lots of space in common areas for numerous types of activities – dining, libraries, music room, workout area, workshop for woodworking (used trees cleared to make furniture for common spaces), craft areas, lounge areas for group visiting- indoor and outdoor, meeting and office spaces, bike storage, composting/recycling, gardens, laundry facilities, parking, storage etc.
The homes ranged from bachelor to 4 bedrooms. Layouts all included stairs and elevators. We did not see any all-covered layouts for common spaces but apparently they are in existence. www.windsong.bc.ca
- People’s relationship with rules is very different. Setting up too many rules that never get used is not necessary when … a conversation will do. Having said that there does need to be clear rules around things like smoking, pets, visitors, booking systems etc.
- There are many cohousing groups that have posted their rules online that are available so that we do not have to spend unnecessary hours creating our own. We are not all that special that we have to spend hours upon hours creating our own!
- Cohousing is not for everyone and there maybe turn over in the first couple of years. It was recommended that once you make a significant investment that you stick out the process and then sell afterward if you decide it is not for you (this happens rarely). Once invested and you decide you want to sell, the market dictates the sale. What we learned is that there is waiting lists for all the complexes we visited (prices for Vancouver and Vancouver Island ranged between $400,000-$570,000 with an ocean view). The seniors complex that is only four years old in Sooke has an interested list of 500 people.
- There is an interview process for new people interested and includes attending socials and committee meetings prior to buying to make sure it is a good fit.
- Once established, regular meetings are necessary but it is recommended to also have a social in between where business is not discussed so you are not just always having meetings.
- Not everyone has to attend all events and not everyone is interested in socializing. Involvement is an individual choice.
- A credit system for helping out with common space tasks is useful but there is no penalty for not doing them.
- There should be sound-proofing in each unit.
- Guest rooms are important and usually they are free (or by donation) for short term and a fee may be applied for long term use.
- When starting a cohousing complex, hire a project manager if you can and there are consultants available to assist in development. Other cohousing folks also recommended using a credit union for financing because they have been supportive of the cohousing model.
- It is important to have a few people who can facilitate meeting so that the burden does not fall unto just one or two people.
- Hire people when you need to so that you don’t burn out your people.
There will be a Canadian Cohousing conference in Vancouver in May 2020. www.canadiancohousingconference.ca