It's a housing model that hasn't totally caught on in Canada but an advocate for co-housing — in which a group of people join together to design and build their own community — predicts the model will become increasingly popular.

"Co-housing will be unstoppable," said Gary Morrison, the founder of LiveWell Cohousing, a Vancouver-based organization that works with communities to help them launch their co-housing projects.

Morrison says co-housing, which started in Denmark in the 1970s, is typically "a customized neighbourhood" of about 25 to 35 homes that have been designed and built by a group of people who plan to live there.  

He says the community usually has a "common house" which may have amenities such as a gourmet kitchen or exercise room for those in the community to use.

Handful of communities in B.C.

'It's about community first, and it's about people who want to connect on a neighbourly basis and have those social connections where they live," he said, adding that those in the community usually have their own private home and can be as social or as private as they want.

Vancouver's first co-housing project opened its doors in January, joining a handful of other communities already in place across the province, including Courtenay, Roberts Creek,  Langley and Nanaimo.

While Morrison says he believes this model's popularity will rise, partly because a new wave of retiring baby boomers will want to explore all their housing options, he also says there are some challenges people need to keep in mind.

He says any group that has decided to enter into a co-housing venture together needs to decide on a site, in order to get people to commit to the project.

Process can take a long time

"Normally the site is what brings people to make a go, no-go decision as to whether or not it's right for them," he said.

"It's a difficult process because it's tough go find unanimity and consensus sometimes on the site, and that often holds back a lot of groups. [Choosing a site may] cause the group to fracture a little bit. You've got to accept it — that shake-out needs to happen."

He also says raising money at an early stage for the project "has to be a priority."

The Roberts Creek co-housing community, which consists of a few dozen houses on a 20-acre property just steps away from the ocean on the Sunshine coast, took six years to plan and build.

Community member Judith Blake Reeve said one of their biggest challenges was explaining what the community would look like to other residents of the Sunshine Coast Regional District.

"When we talked about making a multi-family development, people said, 'Oh we don't want to have things like Burnaby or Surrey,'" Reeve said.

"The processes involved not only doing the planning, and the zoning and the rezoning and dealing with what the houses would be like … you also need to be building the community."

Reeve said that though it took some time to find enough people to join together to create the community, it is now so popular that there are many people bidding on the only home that is currently available for sale.

With files from CBC's B.C. Almanac


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Co-housing advocates say lengthy process is worth the gain