April 6, 2023 | Blog

Neighbours Helping Neighbours

As you walk into Co:Here, you’re greeted with the chatter of friendly neighbours, a large open space with communal tables, a seating area by a warm fireplace, and a small library.

Believing that loneliness is a universal human condition, Salsbury Community Society aims to reduce the experience of social isolation in housing. Salsbury has been providing housing in the Grandview-Woodland neighborhood for over 25 years, and its most recent building, Co:Here, just celebrated its five-year anniversary.

“We’re co-creating ‘brave housing’ here. Housing where people feel safe enough to be known, to belong and feel at home,” says Jeanette Moss, Team Lead, Director of Strategy & Development, Salsbury Community Society.

Streetohome supported the Co:Here model, partnering with Co:Here Foundation and Salsbury Community Society in their vision to create a community that fosters tenant-led mutual support among a diverse group of people; a sense of belonging, community, friendship; and a shared stewardship of the building.

The model is innovative not only in its use of land, but also because it facilitates mutual support among neighbours in affordable housing, rather than requiring publicly funded wrap-around support services.

While everyone can benefit from a caring community, some will need more support than the model can reasonably provide, says Jeanette.

“Co:Here is very much a typical apartment building but with a prying landlord. We’re a bit of a nosy operator – we want to know how you’re doing and give you some support if needed, but we’re not supportive housing. It’s a unique bunch that find themselves at Co:Here, and it’s important for both staff and tenants to realize it won’t be the best fit for everyone,” explains Jeanette.
Described as ‘shared living,’ Co:Here facilitates connections between operator and tenant, as well as between neighbours. It’s not only a home, but an opportunity to belong to a community. The most important role isn’t that of the operator, but the friendship and care of neighbours – when people do childcare for one another, or someone tutors another resident, or celebrating birthdays together, she says.

“We talk a lot about ‘warming our welcome.’ How do we not only unlock the door, but really usher in that sense of warmth and hospitality? And it’s as simple as empowering staff to look up from their computer, and just be present. Asking someone to come along for an errand or to join them while they clean out a cupboard or make some tea, to try and nurture a real sense of openness,” says Jeanette.

“We have this role of setting up the environment so people can connect, and then stepping away and giving them access, giving them room keys, giving them booking systems, giving them the empowerment to use the space as they want.”

Best Practices and Learnings

Tenant selection is probably the most important work staff, alongside current residents, do, Jeanette explains. When there’s a vacancy, staff identify potential candidates from the wait pool, and then work collaboratively with community members to discern who a suitable tenant might be.

“The goal is to be sensitive to the experience of those who call Co:Here home, and help them recognise that their voice is heard and encourage them to feel invested in their new neighbour.”

Another best practice – simple documentation. Co:Here has a community handbook, which goes through an orientation to the community and its values, and what the expectations are from community members. When there’s a new procedure or policy, they get as many people as they can to engage and offer feedback. Even staff are evaluated yearly by tenants, along with other staff members and the board.

Two tenants from each floor and a staff member gather on a monthly basis to provide community members with the tools to be good neighbours. Called the Community Builders Group, they play an important role in providing the relational foundation for setting community norms and responding to conflicts. If there are festering issues, or if training is needed, it comes to this group.

“With the pandemic, it’s been very heartening to see what Co:Here is about – the desire to build community with people who are different from themselves and help one another. This really came into action during COVID, when staff weren’t onsite. There were challenges, but neighbours were taking care of and supporting each other, very informally, organically, and even unknowingly,” says Jeanette.

“Our success is in these very small, humble signs. People who wouldn’t have had an opportunity to connect before, are now connecting and have found a home with community.”

About Co:Here Housing

Co:Here Housing is mixed-income housing located on the former Grandview Church parking lot. Designed for community and connection, Co:Here features 26 self-contained units, an open main floor with shared kitchen, seating and meditation room, as well as community gardens. 60% of the tenants are low income and come from insecure housing situations, and 40% are middle/higher income earners. The mix of tenants which include young families, immigrants, seniors, students and professionals all support one another to thrive in this unique and diverse community.