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Vancouvering

Metro explores the latest trends emerging on the West Coast of Canada.

'It feels like family': Residents move in to Vancouver’s first cohousing development

Cohousing – private units arranged around common areas – has official come to Vancouver. Metro checks in with residents of the city’s first cohousing community.

Residents at Vancouver Cohousing on East 33 Avenue.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Residents at Vancouver Cohousing on East 33 Avenue.

Neighbours say they’re starting to feel like family just two weeks after moving into Vancouver’s first cohousing community – a type of housing where people own private units and share large common areas such as kitchens and playrooms.

Residents officially moved in to the 31-unit cohousing development on East 33 Avenue between Victoria and Knight at the end of February, nearly three years after the city approved the housing complex as an innovative way to make housing more affordable amidst the city’s real estate madness.

But the housing concept, which originated in Denmark and operates as close as Burnaby and North Vancouver, is about much more than affordability, according to residents who spoke to Metro about how the 48 adults and 18 children are adapting to their hyper-sharing lifestyle.

Lorne Mallin is a resident of Vancouver's first cohousing project at 1733 East 33 Ave.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Lorne Mallin is a resident of Vancouver's first cohousing project at 1733 East 33 Ave.

“There are no awkward silences in the elevator. It’s an opportunity for connection, to catch up with somebody,” said Lorne Mallin, a writer who is settling into his one-bedroom home in the community.

“It feels like friends. At times it feels like family.”

Cohousing attracts likeminded people willing to share considerable resources, prepare group meals five times a week and make all their decisions by consensus, Mallin explained.

These neighbours already share vacuums, borrow cutlery and drive each other’s children to school, Mallin said. They’ve even managed to make all their decisions together (there needs to be a 75 per cent majority) “without going crazy or meeting endlessly,” he added.

The residents own their own strata units with fully equipped kitchens (they can sell anytime, and there’s a waitlist to buy).

They see themselves as groundbreakers for the housing type and hope they inspire other cohousing communities. (Two more are underway: Little Mountain Cohousing and Our Urban Village Cohousing.) Mallin recommends they hire local architects who know how to wade through the city’s planning department.

Lorne Mallin chats with neighbour Barb Angel, as Stacey Hagerty watches Jude Le Good scooter past. The four are all residents of a cohousing project at 1733 East 33rd Ave., in East Vancouver.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Lorne Mallin chats with neighbour Barb Angel, as Stacey Hagerty watches Jude Le Good scooter past. The four are all residents of a cohousing project at 1733 East 33rd Ave., in East Vancouver.

And so far, residents report no neighbourly annoyances, merely the feeling of excitement that they actually pulled the project off despite numerous hurdles.

Next-door neighbours were concerned about the size of the complex shadowing the neighbourhood, the urban design panel rejected their design twice and it was challenging to get the money together to build, said resident  Darcy Riddell.

Clearing these challenges, not to mention moving into a brand new building with solar panels and electric car parking, created strong social connections, said Riddell, who lives with her husband and two children.

“There’s a trust and a resilience to the relationship already, even though we haven’t lived face to face,” she said, as children played in the courtyard Thursday evening. “It just feels like this community is coming together.”

People are already swapping garlic for rosemary and sharing childcare, she said, so it definitely feels like a family. (It doesn’t hurt that eight units were purchased by people who are actually related to at least one other owner, Riddell said with a laugh.)

A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Langley as the closest cohousing community to Vancouver. In fact, there are cohousing communities in Burnaby and North Vancouver.