Compass Cohousing shapes consensus and community first before building homes to live in together

Elizabeth Rosenau misses the joy of living in a place where everyone knows and cares for each other.

As a young woman, she belonged to two housing cooperatives. One was in Burnaby, the other in Surrey.

“There is a very human connection in the community,” Rosenau recalled of the cooperative living she experienced in her 20s, during a phone interview with the Straight.

She has since resided in single-family homes, raised a family, and worked as a pharmacist.

Rosenau is now retired and lives at a Maple Ridge strata property where residents know each other only superficially.

Her children are grown and have their own homes. It’s also time for her to “If I live to be 90, I would love to live in a place where I know a lot of people and they know me,” she said.

This explains her excitement when she discovered the concept of cohousing and joined a group that is going to build this kind of community.

Cohousing is a collaborative-housing model. A bunch of people come together, pool their resources, and jointly develop a housing project. Each one gets an individual residence, and all share amenities, typically found in a common house.

The group also manages and maintains the development. Ownership is through strata title.

The concept started in Denmark during the 1960s. According to the Canadian Cohousing Network, it arrived in North America in the 1980s.

Some people call it a “return to the best of small-town communities”, the nonprofit group says online about cohousing.

“Others say they are like a traditional village or the close-knit neighbourhood where they grew up, while futurists call them an altogether new response to social, economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century,” the organization explains. “Each holds a piece of the truth.”

These neighbourhoods “combine the autonomy of private dwellings with the advantages of shared resources and community living”.

Canada’s first cohousing community was born in Langley, B.C. Known as WindSong Housing, the neighbourhood opened in 1996.

Scores of cohousing communities have since sprouted across the province and the rest of the country.

It took 20 years before the concept finally arrived in Vancouver. In 2016, the first one to appear in the city, simply called Vancouver Cohousing, opened on East 33rd Avenue.

The planned cohousing community to which Rosenau belongs has strong ties with Langley’s WindSong.

She said that Howard Staples, an original WindSong member, works as her group’s cohousing consultant. Moreover, the idea began with current WindSong member Alan Carpenter and a set of grandparents who frequently visit family members at the community.

“Both of the grandparents had a background in teaching, and they were struck not only by how friendly, polite, and helpful the children of WindSong were but also by how beautifully children of all ages played together there,” Rosenau related.

Rosenau’s group is called Compass Cohousing, and that is also connected with WindSong: she recalled that there used to be a large mosaic of a compass embedded in the floor near the front entrance of that cohousing community.

She said the name may still change, as future new members will have a say.

“We do, however, love the metaphor of a compass as a useful tool to help you find your way home,” Rosenau said.

Many early meetings of Compass Cohousing members were held at WindSong’s common house. The future cohousing community will be the second in the Langley area.

Compass Cohousing has put a down payment on a half-hectare of land owned by the Township of Langley. It has also submitted a rezoning application.

The land sale will become complete after the township approves the rezoning application. This measure will allow the group to develop 40 homes on the property, which is near a shopping area, transit, and schools.

The development will feature townhouses, a three-storey apartment building, and a common house. The group is working with architects AMA and the Lark Group, a builder and developer.

When the Straight spoke with Rosenau, her group was finalizing the details of the community’s landscaping plan, which forms part of its development permit application.

“We would like our landscape to be an edible landscape,” Rosenau said on the line. “So it’s not just exotic and beautiful trees but also trees with fruit and shrubs with fruit and gardens with herbs.”

Rosenau wants to get a home with a large patio that backs on a future park next to the property.

“I have such a large plant collection, including bonsai, that I want to have space at the ground level,” she said.

The future community will be multigenerational, with young families and peoplewho plan to age in place.

The planned common house is going to be a freestanding building that will feature amenities like a music studio, woodworking shop, children’s play areas, laundry room, exercise area, and guest suites for visitors.

“The houses are a little bit smaller, but the possibilities are a lot greater for cooperation and sharing,” Rosenau said.

According to her, cohousing is different from developer-driven housing.

“Rather than building homes and waiting for buyers, you start by building the community and then collaboratively build the place you want to live [in] together,” she said.

The process of creating homes teaches everyone to work together and build consensus, Rosenau said. The future residents and neighbours at Compass Cohousing hope to move into their homes after two years.

“We will look after each other,” Rosenau said.


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