(Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

‘The definition of family is evolving’: collective housing creates community

People in Vancouver are finding innovative ways of blending their housing and social needs

In a city known for soaring real estate prices and low vacancies, some people in Vancouver are finding innovative ways of blending their housing and social needs.

One option is called collective housing, where several people live together not only to share a space, but to create a community where resources and work are shared as well.

Jen Muranetz moved into her first collective home about four years ago, drawn by the idea of housemates who have a greater purpose than splitting the cost of living. Now she and four other adults share a cozy home in east Vancouver, and she says their situation mirrors that of a family.

“I’ve lived with roommates and it’s been nice, but you only connect with each other to a certain extent,” she said. “You’re on your own paths, doing your own thing. But here we’ve come together because we believe in a shared vision, essentially.”

Muranetz is part of the Collective Housing Society, a resource and advocacy group for collective homes around Vancouver. The network includes about 20 homes in various neighbourhoods, and includes everyone from students to working professionals, families to seniors.

READ MORE: Redevelopment threatens to evict young people from ‘intentional community’

Being part of a collective requires more commitment and communication than living with roommates, said Anika Vervecken, who lives with her four-year-old son and three other adults in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood.

One member of the collective is a deaf man with a developmental disability. Another is a woman who’s staying in Vancouver for just a few months as she travels around the world.

Together, they make and eat meals, socialize and tackle household chores. If one person is having a busy week, someone else will pick up the slack, getting groceries or helping out a bit more with cooking and cleaning.

Vervecken said when her energetic son asks her the same question for the hundredth time, there’s always a housemate who’s happy to make paper airplanes with him and give her a short break.

“There’s no expectation to give up anything in your life to be part of this collective. It’s more about us working together to make it fit,” she said, noting that living together exposes each person to a variety of experiences that they may not have otherwise.

Everyone has their own reasons for joining, said Erik Case, one of Vervecken’s housemates.

“Some are doing it because it’s Vancouver and it’s expensive here. Some are doing it because they’re shameless hippies,” he said.

Vancouver isn’t alone in having a housing collective community, said Muranetz, adding that Victoria, Montreal and San Francisco all have established networks.

A zoning bylaw in Vancouver that prohibits more than five unrelated adults from living together in a single dwelling creates issues for larger collectives, Muranetz said.

As a result, some collective homes, particularly old mansions in the city’s upscale Shaughnessy neighbourhood, are living outside of the law.

“If you have a house with, say, eight bedrooms, and the rent for that house is $5,000, $6,000, of course they’re going to rent out eight bedrooms, not just five,” Muranetz said.

“The reality is that the definition of family is evolving, especially in a housing crisis in Vancouver.”

The Collective Housing Society is working with city staff to find a way to change the rules so they protect safety and simultaneously allow for more flexible living, she added.

A city spokesman said staff are reviewing the bylaw and will report to council when they have more information.

Collective living isn’t about trying to pack as many people into a house as possible, Muranetz said, but using space effectively to create a community.

“We’re not trying to encourage people to start up rooming houses. We’re just trying to be like, well, if these houses already have a lot of bedrooms and there’s people who need them, let’s use them.”

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Fire ban expanded to include charcoal briquettes in public places

Some gas and propane barbecues still allowed in Mission

SLIDESHOW: Motorcyle ride raises funds for bereavement camp

Annual Poker Run held Sunday by Mission Hospice Society

Kids’ business camp makes cents

Young Entrepreneur Training program offered in Mission

‘What’s needed is vision, not sight’

Six-term Mission councillor Jenny Stevens wants everyone to have a voice

Average Canadian family spends 43% of income on taxes: study

Fraser Institute’s consumer report shows taxes accounting for larger chunk of income each year

Breaking: Trinity Western University changes controversial covenant

Pledge forbidding sexual intimacy outside of marriage to be optional at Langley university: report

Child, 3, survives fall from 3rd-floor window with no major injuries

Abbotsford Police Department spokesperson says toddler lucky to be alive after fall of that height

48 sockeye, harbour seal seized from poachers caught on B.C. river

Charges pending after two poachers arrested for salmon fishing at night

Vancouver 6th most liveable city in the world: report

West coast city narrowly beats Toronto, but is bested by Calgary

Plaque that replaced Macdonald statue at Victoria city hall vandalized

Less than 24 hours after plaque was installed, an ‘X’ had been scratched through the centre

UPDATED: Cars plunge in Italian highway bridge collapse; 25 killed

Five more people are injured and in serious condition

VIDEO: Number of abandoned dogs rising because of California wildfires

‘A lot of people have had to … literally dump their dogs’ Langley adoptathon organizer says

5 to start your day

Quidditch comes to Surrey, a drug-testing pilot in Chilliwack and more

Most Read