What is cohousing?
Barb Wittington says it’s a form of intentional housing — or a place built by like-minded people who have specific goals in mind.
That was the subject of an information session held by Saanich Peninsula Cohousing — a small group founded by Wittington and Tracy Mills — on Sunday, Jan. 29 at the McTavish Academy of Art building.
The group has been, for the last 11 months, gauging the interest of people who are willing to become investors in their own new homes. At this moment, Saanich Peninsula Cohousing has refined its vision and is planning on building a condo-like strata on land in Central Saanich or Sidney, that is close to urban amenities.
All they need is a dedicated group of equity members.
The local group invited cohousing expert Margaret Critchlow to the Jan. 29 session, to speak about the concept and on what it will take to make it happen. More than 30 people turned out — and each brought their own reasons for wanting to have some degree of control over a potential new home.
Critchlow was part of the effort to see the construction of Harbourside Cohousing in Sooke, which opened just last year. Interest on the concept has been so brisk in that community that other people interested in it have started work already on Sooke’s second such development: West Wind Harbour.
That enthusiasm is something that the Saanich Peninsula group hopes to instill in people in their neck of the woods.
“You have to have passion,” said Wittington, “and you have to be willing to take a chance.”
She said she currently lives on a piece of property on the Peninsula and got involved as she thought about the next stage of her life. What she is after, she explained, is a community, where neighbours know each other and expectations are different than if one moved into so-called cookie cutter housing developments.
In the cohousing concept, Critchlow explained, like-minded people get together, share their honest expectations of what they want in housing, and come up with a plan. They form a development company through equity members and hire consultants and contractors to act on their behalf to build it.
Cohousing, she continued, has its roots in northern Europe and there are “hundreds” of them there. The model, Critchlow said, was picked up by a U.S. couple in the 1980s and introduced to North America. Today, she said, there are 130 cohousing communities in the U.S. — and 13 in Canada. The majority of those (nine) are in B.C. There are three completed projects on the Island — Creekside Common in Courtenay, Pacific Gardens in Nanaimo and Harbourside in Sooke.
Cohousing, she said, is designed and developed by its owners and once complete, become a strata, with common areas and spaces based on the interests of the community as a whole. Units can be owned and rented out and even sold, as they are still freehold homes. The key, Critchlow said, is for people involved to know that this process is participatory.
“It attracts people looking for a sense of belonging, who want a say and control in their housing choices. There’s an emphasis on social connections, but they are built for privacy, too.”
Mills and Wittington say Saanich Peninsula Cohousing needs to raise 25 per cent of the project cost in order to obtain construction loans. But that is still a ways off. Right now, they are looking for pre-equity members to help lead the planning and cost estimates of land and construction.
To learn more about the concept, the local project and how to get involved, visit saanichpeninsulacohousing.com.
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Next step events for Saanich Peninsula Cohousing
• Feb. 10: Social event at the Brentwood Bay Community Hall. A walk and talk, starting from the yellow gate. 8:30 a.m.
• March 18 & 19: Is Cohousing For You? Workshop featuring Margaret Critchlow. Takes place in Sooke at the West Wind Harbour cohousing project. Cost is $125 – $175.
• May 27 & 28: Is Cohousing For You? Workshop featuring Margaret Critchlow. Takes place in Sidney. Cost is $125 – $175.
For information on any of these events, visit saanichpeninsulacohousing.com.