The new neigh­bours

Co­hous­ing de­vel­op­ments are thriv­ing in B.C. and their res­i­dents, called “co­hos,” are chal­leng­ing no­tions of what fam­ily and sus­tain­abil­ity mean

The Province - - Unwind Cover Story - BY ELAINE O’CON­NOR STAFF RE­PORTER

hen Su­sana Michaelis was look­ing to buy a house she knew what she didn’t want: a home in a sub­di­vi­sion that was car-de­pen­dent and cut off from neigh­bours. So in 1996, the Nanaimo bou­tique owner bought a condo and was look­ing for­ward to get­ting to know her neigh­bours. Twelve years later, res­i­dents still stop her in the halls and ask when she moved in.

“I thought I was go­ing to have com­mu­nity and safety. I thought I was go­ing to know my neigh­bours, but I ended up know­ing no one. Peo­ple just went in and out of cars and in and out of suites. There were no pets al­lowed, no chil­dren. We couldn’t even feed the birds,” says the 55-year-old, re­call­ing how the strata made her re­move a hum­ming­bird feeder.

“It was a nice place to live if you wanted a lot of pri­vacy, but not if you want com­mu­nity. We didn’t even rec­og­nize each other.”

For Michaelis, her hus­band, Chad Henderson, and their neigh­bours pre­par­ing to move in to the new Pa­cific Gar­dens co­hous­ing com­plex in De­cem­ber, that’s about to change — rad­i­cally.

Tired of the iso­la­tion of mod­ern life, fam­i­lies and re­tirees — es­pe­cially here in B.C. — have been fu­elling a com­mu­nal-liv­ing trend called “co­hous­ing.”

Co­hous­ing is far from a com­mune, but it’s more than just split­ting a du­plex with friends. It’s a planned-liv­ing move­ment that al­lows res­i­dents to cre­ate en­tirely new neigh­bour­hoods from the ground up. They fi­nance, build, de­sign, con­struct and then run them. Res­i­dents have private homes, but share com­mon ar­eas: kitchens, din­ing rooms, work­shops, lounges and yards.

Ad­her­ents call them­selves “co­hos” and see co­hous­ing as a way of re­cap­tur­ing neigh­bourli­ness, in­creas­ing safety, cre­at­ing a vil­lage to raise chil­dren, and help­ing re­store the eco­log­i­cal bal­ance and co­he­sion miss­ing in so­ci­ety.

Michaelis says it’s taken 15 years to go from plan­ning to mov­ing in, but the strug­gle’s been worth it.

“Peo­ple were very brave. It took a lot of courage. We had to take out loans, put mort­gages on prop­er­ties, take out life sav­ings. We’ve done it all on our own and learned so much. There’s part of each of us in this de­vel­op­ment.”

The first co­hous­ing com­mu­nity was en­vi­sioned in 1964 in Den­mark. Ar­chi­tect Jan Gud­mandHoyer and a group of fam­i­lies de­signed a com­plex and bought

SAM LEUNG — THE PROV­INCE

— Pa­trick Meyer, One-year-old An­theni Re­gan en­joys his din­ner in the court­yard of Burn­aby’s Cran­berry Com­mons Co­hous­ing, where meals are of­ten pre­pared to­gether in the com­mon kitchen.

Nanaimo “co­hos” Chad Henderson and Su­sana Michaelis.

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