The landscaping is still being planted at the brand new Harbourside Cohousing in Sooke, B.C., but the unique community is already attracting curious visitors like Bob Thompson.

Downsizing is on his mind, and Thompson doesn't like the current prospects in his rural Vancouver Island community of Central Saanich.

"It's very difficult on the Saanich Peninsula to find housing and particularly for people who want to downsize because there is a really restricted landbase."

Finding value — financial and social — on a small piece of property is at the heart of the Harbourside Cohousing concept.

Former fishing lodge

The community of 31 apartments and duplexes sits on about two waterfront acres that used to be home to a fishing lodge.

It was envisioned and built by people who were once strangers but now plan to rely on each other for support as they age.

Everyone lives in a private home like they would in other strata complexes, but they share amenities and a philosophy on the importance of social connections.

"We've had many requests for both media and ordinary people to visit," said Margaret Critchlow, one of the founders.

"It's gratifying, but I'm not entirely surprised. We could see the enthusiasm for this idea building over the last few years."

Popularity growing

That enthusiasm is shared by Tracy Mills. She has founded a new group called Saanich Peninsula Cohousing which aims to build a similar project near Victoria in the next few years.

The plan includes up to 30 units for people of all ages in a location where residents can walk or take transit to amenities.

More than 50 people attended a recent information session, Mills said, but a visit to Harbourside has helped some envision exactly what their future home might look like.

"We are very fortunate that we have an existing cohousing neighbourhood in our back yard," she said. 

"We all know what isolation can do as you age and that is something we are actively avoiding."

The Saanich Peninsula group hopes to secure land this year and at that point, people who are interested would have to take the plunge and put down a deposit if the project is to go forward, Mills said.

How-to guide

Harbourside Couhousing has generated so much interest, founders like Critchlow have received a grant from the B.C. Real Estate Foundation to write a how-to guide for others.

"It's also an opportunity to improve affordability because you can take the principals of cohousing and apply them to existing co-ops, condos and new builds," she said.

Cohousing isn't for everyone, Critchlow said, but there's no doubt it's filling a niche. All 31 units at Harbourside sold out before construction started.

Up to 10 cohousing projects around the province are also at various states of development, she said.