When Co:Here Housing first started, not everyone was sure the model, featuring mixed incomes and mutual support by tenants rather than wraparound services, would work.
“I was at a meeting a few years ago, where an executive from BC Housing was at Co:Here, and he said, ‘You’ve all proved me wrong. I now believe that this model can work well,’” recounts Tim Dickau, Director, CityGate Vancouver.
Co:Here incorporates a shared living concept where the architecture of the building itself helps to foster a sense of belonging and community among tenants. With shared facilities on the main floor, and independent units opening into a common living room on each floor, tenants are able to get to know one another easily. You can often find them chatting away, cooking and having dinners together, or watching over each other’s children.
Co:Here got its start when Grandview Baptist Church decided to use their parking lot to build affordable housing for diverse populations.
“The church purchased a house beside our parking lot, with the intention of establishing a drop-in center. We couldn’t use it for that purpose, and it launched us into a visioning process as a community about what we could do with that land,” explains Tim.
After a lot of twists and turns, Co:Here Foundation was created to oversee the development of the Co:Here Housing project.
“We arrived at a vision to help other churches and faith communities with underutilized land think about how they could use these assets to develop affordable housing or another community use in their neighborhoods,” explains Tim. Co:Here Foundation and CityGate Vancouver are trying to nurture that vision not only with faith communities, but also non-profits with buildings or land that could be used for a broader purpose.
“People have been living in insecure housing for decades, and now at Co:Here, they can finally relax and don’t need to be worried about their housing security. They can find a sense of belonging in the building, where they step into their little living room space just outside their suite to chat with somebody who’s also stepped out. It’s been a real gift knowing that Co:Here is fostering a sense of belonging and connection among tenants and we hope others will be inspired to do the same.”
Tim’s own family has welcomed people into their own home for two decades. “We’ve lived with 37 people over the last 20 years, and there are many who find it’s a good fit to share their home with others,” says Tim. “There are so many larger houses where only a single person is living, and there are two or three unused bedrooms.”
He says that while Vancouver has an affordable housing problem, there’s also an opportunity with so many empty bedrooms.
Shared housing, or as Tim likes to call it, shared living, can benefit many, including older adults, students, newcomers, young workers, and those on a fixed income, or experiencing social isolation.
The concept not only addresses affordability challenges, but also challenges around loneliness and isolation, says Tim. It’s an avenue that has been underexplored here in Vancouver.
“Shared living is a way of helping people out of isolation into more of a shared, communal life, where they can feel like they belong and are an engaged member of the community. What’s not to explore?”