A group of about thirty people are exploring options for establishing a cohousing community in Peterborough.
Organizing around the name Kawartha Cohousing, the group is hoping to design and build a living facility that will be owned and managed cooperatively, though it will include private rooms in order to balance residents’ needs for privacy as well as community. If the group is successful, it will be the first housing development of its kind in the city, and one of only a handful in Ontario.
“It’s an opportune time to be talking about cohousing,” according Al Slavin, who is a part of the group. Slavin says cohousing is a good solution to a number of issues facing Canadian cities. It could help densify urban land use and lower the ecological footprint of housing, for example. And the strong community bonds cohousing encourages will appeal to seniors like himself who want to age in place, he adds.
Linda and Al Slavin currently live together in a house on three acres near the edge of town. “We know we aren’t going to be able to manage that into our 90s,” Linda says, though she adds that cohousing isn’t just for seniors. “We embrace the idea of a multi-generational co-op,” she says.
Scott Donovan is another member of the cohousing group. He has been advocating for cohousing in Peterborough for many years, and he says people have been receptive to the idea. But it wasn’t until last December, when 27 people attended a meeting on the topic, that he realized there was a lot of energy building behind the idea.
“They sounded determined from the beginning,” says Linda, who was also at that meeting.
“And it’s been pretty hot since then,” Donovan adds.
The team has formed working groups to explore issues like bylaws, finances, development regulations, and the like. They intend to make decisions cooperatively as they develop their plans, and they’re excited to be envisioning and designing their building from scratch. “Most successful cohousing is community first, and then building second,” Al Slavin says.
Donovan, an architect, appreciates the way the physical design of cohousing can help build healthy neighbourhoods. “Relationships and community building are inherent in the design of a cohousing community,” he says. “The village is built such that it encourages social interaction.”
Donovan is also excited by cohousing’s potential to include a diversity of people. “The new wave in cohousing is to bring in people with disabilities,” he says. “A community of that size has the resiliency to absorb and support everyone.”
That said, standard cohousing models rely on the premise that everyone contributes financially, and purchases their own private space in addition to the communal space. “That means you do have to have some capital behind you,” Linda says, “which means we could end up all being middle class comfortable people, and I don’t think that’s a successful housing arrangement.” The group is exploring how to include subsidized rooms to ensure the community is diverse.
Cohousing has proven popular in other parts of the world, especially in Denmark, but it is still a nascent movement in Canada. “It’s not a North American phenomenon, this idea of sharing things and being together if you’re not related,” Donovan says, though he, like everyone else in the group, expects the movement to gain in popularity.
Kawartha Cohousing is still in the exploratory stages; they’re learning and planning, and they are welcoming anyone else interested in cohousing to join them. “We’re an emergent group,” Donovan says, “so there are lots of questions, and it can be messy and chaotic. But the values are there. It’s exciting and empowering.”
Kawartha Cohousing will be hosting a presentation called “What Is Cohousing” on June 19 at 7:00 p.m. at the Mount Community Centre (more info).
Photo courtesy Scott Donovan.