No fences can make great neighbours: Vancouver home buyers search for new comfort zone

"Between the single-family home and the studio apartment in the sky, there's a huge spectrum of options that could work for people ... We need to start considering them and making them legal."

One of the latest trends in urban living is also very old.

Metro Vancouverites are taking collaborative, creative approaches to home ownership — co-buying, co-housing, and carving up single-family properties into several homes — as a way of simultaneously tackling two of the region’s thorniest problems: housing unaffordability and social isolation. These arrangements — which include young families banding together to buy a property and seniors aging in place in multi-generational homes — are far from new. Indeed, for certain Vancouver communities, these kinds of households have long been common. But as Vancouver’s housing prices have become detached from local incomes over recent years, a wider swath of the population is trying to share properties in different ways.

Experts and politicians caution these kinds of arrangements are not a solution to Vancouver’s housing challenges, particularly for the crises facing the most vulnerable — but many say it’s long overdue for municipal governments to not only allow, but encourage, a wider range of options for a wider range of households.

“Between the single-family home and the studio apartment in the sky, there’s a huge spectrum of options that could work for people — depending on their preferences — but simply are not generally available to most of us,” said Charles Montgomery, an internationally renowned urbanist and author.

“That is the great shame, that here in a city like Vancouver, you either have to pull together a few million dollars for a single family home, or you get a box in the sky. And the in-between options — what’s known as the missing middle — is generally banned for most neighbourhoods in the city,” he said.

“There’s so many options, and we need to start considering them and making them legal.”

Those “in-between options” could include making it easier for several people to co-purchase, that is jointly buy one property and share it, and for property owners to develop more homes on a single lot, Montgomery said.

Another option near to Montgomery’s heart is co-housing, whereby a group of households band together to develop their own project with an emphasis on community-building. This month, Montgomery is moving into the just-completed Little Mountain Co-housing Village, one of Vancouver’s few co-housing communities.

City hall staffers and politicians alike said how much they loved the Little Mountain project, a six-storey, 25-unit development that replaced three houses, Montgomery recalled, but he found it ironic that the process was choked with red tape and expensive delays.

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