By Naoibh O’Connor
James Chamberlain grew up in a rural area outside Abbotsford, while his husband, Jean-Marie Russell, was raised in a small town in northern Quebec.
They’ve lived in Vancouver for decades — for the past 20 years in a strata property they own in a three-unit complex near Vancouver General Hospital. But the neighbourhood has changed significantly. Houses have been knocked down to make way for apartment buildings, families have been priced out and the population has become increasingly transient, making it more difficult to create long-term relationships.
Chamberlain, an elementary school principal, and Russell, an IT professional, fear they’re losing something critical: community.
So they’re planning a move.
The couple wants to live in a multi-generational environment. “Because having young children around us, and older folks, is part of the vibrancy of community,” Chamberlain said.
Their solution? A form of collaborative living that’s been dubbed “cohousing lite.”
Chamberlain and Russell are members of Our Urban Village Cohousing, a group that’s partnered with a small development firm called Tomo Spaces Inc., run by the brother-sister team of Leslie and Mark Shieh. If rezoning is ultimately approved, they plan to build Vancouver’s first “cohousing lite” complex on a site at the corner of Main Street and Ontario Place between East 41st and 42 avenues. An open house about the project takes place Feb. 1, and it will go before the Urban Design Panel a few weeks later.
All involved hope the Tomo House project will serve as a prototype for similar projects in Vancouver, as well as other cities, considering there appears to be high demand — cohousing communities have long wait lists.
Chamberlain, meanwhile, considers it an ideal way to create what he and Russell value most.
“Neighbours and relationships with people are very important to us. And, if we stayed in this house, we would basically just grow old and 20 years from now we would be seniors and we would not know anyone,” he said.
“Community is the main reason why we are doing this — it always has been because we don’t need to move. The nimbyism of everybody having their own home or their own plot of land or whatever you call it — that destroys the city over time. We want to be innovators.”