The family-like atmosphere is what Erik Paulsson enjoyed most about living in a so called “collective house” on Marine Drive.
For three years, he shared a more than 7,000-square-foot, six-bedroom house dubbed the “Inspiral Community Mansion” in Kerrisdale with seven other like-minded people, splitting the $3,900 monthly rent.
Affordable rent was a major attraction, but it was the relationships he really appreciated. He recalls going down for breakfast where housemates would share stories about their days or their future plans, and sometimes their troubles.
“Eating a meal together was terrific — that was always what I loved most about living collectively,” he told the Courier. “I’m also into gardening, so [I liked] having a place where you all worked together — building a garden was one of my favourite aspects.”
While Paulsson no longer lives in that home, he remains a collective living proponent and is one of the founders of the Collective Housing Society, which formed in 2017.
This weekend, he’s leading a walking tour called “Collective Housing as an Ownership Model” as part of Jane’s Walk.
Jane’s Walks, named after urban activist Jane Jacobs who authored the influential 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, take place in urban areas around the world on the first weekend in May. The citizen-led walks are designed to “make space for people to observe, reflect, share, question and collectively reimagine the places in which they live, work and play.”
Paulsson’s tour on Sunday is one of two centred on collective houses — another one taking place on the West Side is called “Collective Housing as a Sustainable Living Model in Shaughnessy” featuring visits to the Beanstalk Collective, a zero-waste community, and Osler House, a collective and urban garden.
The two walks are among numerous Jane’s Walks planned in Vancouver May 4, 5 and 6 that focus on myriad subjects ranging from urban agriculture and Wreck Beach to public art on the SkyTrain System and Vancouver’s changing industrial land.
Paulsson, a local documentary filmmaker, historian and tour guide, decided to lead a walk because he wants people to learn more about collective houses, which he says differ from simply having roommates in that they are intentional communities of people who usually live in large single-family homes. Residents have a similar ethos and share meals, resources, decision-making and household duties. The homes typically have names — the three East Vancouver houses on his tour are called the Zulla, the Dreamhaus and the Villa Thrilla.
While residents in most collective houses live in rental homes, the ones he’s featuring are owned and are located in the Commercial Drive neighbourhood between East Second and Trout Lake.
In two of the cases, the owners had a vision for their houses and found people to move in, although each home functions differently.
In the third case, people living collectively in a rental home decided to buy the house when it went up for sale.
Paulsson said the tour fits into the Jane’s Walk mandate because the annual event centres on ideas around city living and creating community.
“The collective housing movement is growing. We want to see more collective houses happening for a bunch of reasons, but it does create a sense of community. A lot of the houses end up being community hubs, so they’re not just living spaces,” he said, explaining residents may host concerts or other gatherings. “It promotes a happier living situation… a lot of people are feeling quite lonely these days, especially if they’re not in a relationship or have a family. Effectively, you have a family [where] you share things.”
He helped form the Collective House Society to give collective houses around Vancouver a voice in the housing conversation and to lobby the government for changes to bylaws. The society also wants grants to help promote collective living as an affordable housing model and to foster the idea of a sharing economy. Another objective is to create a social network between all of the collective houses in the city.
Paulsson estimates there are more than 50 in Vancouver — it’s difficult to pin down an exact number because it likely fluctuates and some operate quietly because they don’t want their landlord to know.
Aside from offering people a sense of community, Paulsson said collective houses are a great option, as renting and owning becomes increasingly difficult, because expenses can be shared among many.
“We have a situation in Vancouver where we have lots of large houses and there are people that are buying these large houses who aren’t living in them. It’s hard to rent a five, six or seven-bedroom place to single families. So more and more of these larger places are renting out to groups of people,” he said.
“It’s amazing. There are people living in mansions and there’s one collective that’s in a penthouse apartment at Denman and Davie — a complete top floor. It’s a five-bedroom penthouse with views of the ocean. There are pretty spectacular places and you can live in style.”
Paulsson encourages anyone who is interested in living in a collective house to join one of the tours this weekend to learn more, but he’s also encouraging property managers and landlords to participate. He wants to dispel myths about how they operate, so landlords might consider allowing their house to be rented to a collective.
“It’s not like a frat house where there are a bunch of kids partying. A lot of the people living in these houses are older… 30s, 40s or 50s. They are people who are good neighbours, good local citizens. They tend to keep the properties really well maintained,” he said. “They’re people who want to make sure they have a nice living space, a nice yard. For a property manager, there’s also security because, in terms of rent, everybody is pitching in. If one person can’t afford it, the rest sort of pitch in and help.”
More information, including dates, times and meeting places, for both collective housing tours, as well as all of the Jane’s Walks taking place in Vancouver, can be found at janeswalkvancouver.wordpress.com.