The Future of Shared Housing

Cities across the globe are exploring new housing models to deal with a variety of issues from affordability to sustainability to aging populations. Many of these models include a shared approach and some element of communal living, creating new variations on what is traditionally referred to as “co-operative housing”. These new models tackle some of the biggest issues facing our cities and the following examples showcase what the future of co-operative housing in the 21st century could look like.

Modern Classics

Many modern co-op developments look very similar to traditional housing co-operatives when it comes to ownership and management, but with an additional focus on community amenities. Apartments and condominiums can be challenging to build a community in, and modern co-ops are building the resources to fight this trend. It’s not just about democratic management, but about building a sense of shared place amongst residents. There are many such modern co-ops, but one great example is Vancouver’s “District Main“. As they put it on their website, they’ve “combined the holistic focus of co-op housing, the finishing & amenities of condominiums, and the flexibility of rental buildings to create one amazing place to live.” With a gym space on each floor, a “closet” with an in-building sharing economy for tools and toys, a communal wine rack, and on site car-sharing, this development tackles urban loneliness head on.

Shared “Single Family” Homes

There are a growing number of small scale housing co-operatives that blend in with their single family neighbours. These buildings look like single family homes but in fact have multiple distinct family units residing inside. Home to a small number of families or individuals (such as 4 to 6 sets of singles or couples), these communal spaces put even more value on the shared aspects of co-operative living. These custom built homes tend to have large private bedrooms, small sitting rooms, and bathrooms for each family unit. Everyone has a private space, but the kitchen and other living spaces are shared, as are the chores and household management. These communal spaces bring the families together as one, tackling challenges like loneliness in seniors and reducing the carbon footprint of each member of the home.

An example of one of these housing models is RareBirds Housing Co-Operative in Kamloops, BC. In a short documentary, members of the RareBird Co-Op shared their goals and aspirations for the project while it was under construction.

Accessory Dwelling Units

The growing move towards the legalization of Accessory Dwelling Units is another way co-operative housing has evolved. An accessory dwelling unit is an additional, self-contained unit added to an existing property, often above what the zoned density would otherwise allow. While in this case there is a clear primary owner of the home, with secondary renters, many of the benefits of communal living still apply. Existing space is used more efficiently, families can support and care for their loved ones while still maintaining a sense of private space, and more families can have access to a single-family lifestyle without the single-family cost and resources.

Read more about the changing trends in ADUs in our post “Hidden Density: The Growing Case for ADUs“.

Community Land Trusts

Arguably the biggest shift from the traditional co-op model, many of which are government sponsored or managed, is the community land trust. A community land trust is defined as “a nonprofit corporation that develops and stewards affordable housing, community gardens, civic buildings, commercial spaces and other community assets on behalf of a community.” In this model, non-profit community organizations acquire and lease land to meet the needs of the community, removing that particular piece of land from the greater real estate market and protecting it from real estate speculation.

Do you know of other innovative co-operative housing models? Tell us in the comments!


Photo by Andrew Loke on Unsplash

Alyssa Koehn

Alyssa Koehn is a TH!NK by IBI blog curator and urban planner. She recently returned to Vancouver after attending UCLA for graduate studies in both Architecture and Urban Planning. Her interests are in housing design and affordability, municipal politics, and the zone of the public realm where buildings touch the streets.

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