Can cohousing catch on in Lake Cowichan?

A local group wants to bring the housing trend home to Lake Cowichan.

Though they began to appear in Canada as far back as the 1980s, cohousing neighbourhoods have recently seen a huge surge in popularity, with neighbourhoods popping up all around Canada – and now a local group wants to bring the housing trend home to Lake Cowichan.

Cohousing neighbourhoods are characterized by a focus on social interaction and, to a lesser extent, environmental and economic sustainability. Residents of cohousing neighbourhoods typically live within their own self-sufficient houses, with a shared “common house” used to host neighbourhood events such as potlaches. The layout of these neighbourhoods are designed in such a way that residents are frequently coming into contact with one another, whether they are lounging on their porch or walking to from their vehicle to their front door. Community decisions are decided on by each community member, in a sort-of micro-democratic process.

The cohousing tradition dates back to 1964, when a group in Denmark set out to create a more supportive neighbourhood and find the “missing link between between Utopia and the dated one-family house.” After finding success in Denmark, the cohousing concept made its way to North America in 1988. Since then, cohousing neighbourhoods have become immensely popular in British Columbia, with the Canadian Cohousing Network listing 19 in the province, far above the rest of the country combined. Resident David Kidd visited several of them while researching for Lake Cowichan’s cohousing community.

While still in the early stages, Kidd and his group of four have done their research, speaking with cohousing residents from around the Island.

Though Kidd said the community would benefit most from an inter-generational population, much of the interest has been from older residents, likely due to the lack of senior-friendly housing already established in Lake Cowichan.

Kidd isn’t only looking to emulate projects from Nanaimo or Sooke, he’s hoping to build a community that will meet the needs of Lake Cowichan.

“It’s not normally part of cohousing groups, but we’re looking at the possibility of non-intense care for seniors,” says Kidd. “We could have a unit set aside as a possible nursing station. I’m not expecting it to fill the role of a senior care home, though.”

The group has come across a “chicken and egg” dilemma, according to Kidd, determining whether to start with finding prospective residents or finding a suitable plot of land. Kidd says the location would have to be close enough to local resources, such as the grocery store and post office, that older residents wouldn’t need to drive. They would also need space for a community garden, as well as the dozen or so housing units, mostly duplexes.

“A lot of people are going to have to spend a lot of hours putting it together,” says Kidd. “But as you do that, you’re already building a community.”

Kidd says the next step for the group will be to talk informally with residents, testing the water for general interest and what their needs would be.

Kidd also recently presented the idea at a town council meeting, receiving a warm reaction from town officials.

Kidd says that if interest is high enough, and a suitable piece of land can be found, construction could begin within the next three years.

“The four of us would most likely move in,” says Kidd, “so we’re hoping to move forward soon, or some of us may not be around to move in.”