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Apr 04, 2017 Editor

A Look at Cohousing

by Michele Murphy

Barb Whittington says the biggest surprise most people have when they learn more about the cohousing model is that privacy and autonomy are most-often the priority of the cohousing members, followed by connection to community and environmental footprint. This is where the conversation about creating a community in which to live, and thrive together, begins.

And beginning that conversation is just what Whittington and co-founding member of Saanich Penninsula Cohousing, Tracy Mills, have been doing for the past 14 months. Together along with 25-30 other future equity members, they will create their custom-built community on the Peninsula within the next two to three years.

“The real savings come after move-in as most see the associated costs of running and maintaining a household drop as much as 50 per-cent.”

Cohousing is not a new model, and in fact it might be described as returning to the villages of the past. Its resurgence began in Denmark almost 50-years ago and has been gaining in popularity in Europe, the US and now in Canada with BC taking the lead as pioneers in the Canadian movement.

Saanich Peninsula Cohousing describes a cohousing community as a neighbourhood designed and developed by its members to combine the independent autonomy of private homes with the social benefits of a congenial and energetic community. Whittington says one of the most significant differences between these developments and ones that are built by developers for profit (and often some contribution to the community), is that the ‘developers’ will be the ones living in their creation, some for the rest of their lives.

Cohousing is not new to the Island. Sooke is home to the Island’s first completed Seniors’ Cohousing project. Harbouside Seniors’ Cohousing owner/members took occupancy in January of last year, and the development now has a wait list of more than 200 people says Whittington.

Saanich Peninsula Cohousing is one of two new cohousing initiatives currently underway on the Island with a second seniors’ cohousing project underway in Sooke.


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Cohousing isn’t for everyone. It’s market housing, at market rates, so you need to be able to buy-in. And while the builds tend to cost less than other quality new developments as profit is not part of the costs of purchase, it’s not considered ‘affordable housing’ necessarily.  Whittington says that,  “The real savings come after move-in as most see the associated costs of running and maintaining a household drop as much as 50 per-cent.”

The cohousing project founding members are hosting several free and open to the public information sessions, the next being offered in Saanich. On hand will be Margaret Critchlow, Prof Emerita, Anthropology, York University, co-founder of the Canadian Senior Cohousing Society and Harbourside owner/member speaking on the cohousing movement and answering all questions.

The Saanich Peninsula project is still in its infancy. They have a long list of interested people and five invested associated members. What they do know is that it will be built within walking distance to one of the three villages on the Peninsula, and it will be home to between 25 and 35 families.

The rest is up for discussion.