Developing Story: Vancouver’s first cohousing complex breaks ground

Today is a good day for Ericka Stephens-Rennie.

It marked the official groundbreaking for Vancouver’s first cohousing complex.

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The development is being built on three properties on East 33rd near Argyle Street in Kensington Cedar-Cottage. The city approved rezoning in March 2013 and the three houses on the land were knocked down in May.

Stephens-Rennie will be moving into a two-bedroom, 800-square-foot unit with her husband and son.

“What’s neat about this phase is it’s just so tangible now,” she told the Courier before the groundbreaking ceremony. “The work that we’ve been doing this far has all been on paper, whereas with this you can go to the site and watch these big machines work and you can watch the dirt move and it all feels very real now.”

Construction is expected to take 14 months. The complex will feature four residential buildings, which are separated from each other, as well as a common courtyard in the centre and a 6,510-square-foot common house at the back of the property to encourage and promote interaction between residents. 

The 31 units range from studios to three-bedrooms — two of the three-bedroom suites and a studio are still up for sale, while negotiations are ongoing for two covenanted rental suites. The 450-square-foot studio for sale is priced at $285,000, the 1,055-square-foot accessible three-bedroom suite is going for $620,000 and the 1,146-square-foot, two-level, three-bedroom unit is $680,000. Rents for the rental suites will be determined by the eventual owner of those suites. The covenant has no restrictions that they be below market, Stephens-Rennie explained.

Vision Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang said cohousing makes good use of land and he expects its popularity to grow.

“When you look at the research around the world, even done by the Vancouver Foundation, one of the biggest problems we have in our city is loneliness, lack of connections and things like that. Nuclear families haven’t always worked out that well, and so for a good chunk of folks who are looking for something more, this is an option for them,” he said. “What prevented it before was the fact we had no regulations around it and that’s one of the reasons I pushed for it — to say, OK, if this is going to work for some people, let’s give them choice. That’s been part of our entire housing and homelessness plan — to create a range of housing to suit different pocketbooks and different lifestyles.”

Brian Jackson, the city’s manager of planning and development, attended the groundbreaking, to acknowledge the hard work that went into the seeing the project realized.

Jackson said he worked with planners to find creative ways to ensure community concerns were addressed, he worked with the applicants to make sure that the city was responding to the unique circumstances of this type of development, and city staff toured a cohousing complex in Burnaby to get a full understanding of cohousing and how it differs from co-op or condominium living.

“It’s a unique lifestyle, but it is a lifestyle. I don’t know if it’s going to take off as a major style of housing — it’s just another unique housing model that we want to add to the toolbox to provide opportunities for people to live in Vancouver.”

Stephens-Rennie is optimistic about the future of cohousing.

“We’re really excited to be taking this step together as a community, with the neighbourhood and with the city,” she said. “We hope this will be just the first of many cohousing communities in Vancouver. Our city really needs new affordable and innovative forms of housing. Cohousing is not the only answer to that. There are housing co-ops that already exist and people in Vancouver are necessarily thinking hard about what other innovative options there are. I’m excited that next year, cohousing will be one of the housing types in the mix for people to choose from. That’s a great step forward for Vancouver.”

Note: This story has been updated since first posted.

noconnor@vancourier.com
twitter.com/naoibh

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