Nova Scotia

Why co-housing is moving closer in Nova Scotia

Researchers say co-housing is gaining a following in Nova Scotia as communities work to build communal living.

Planning is underway for developments in Port Williams, Bridgewater, Halifax and Tatamagouche

Dr. Bruce McLeod is hoping to build Wine Down in Port Williams, N.S., a co-housing development with the mission statement — Live Long and Prosper. (Submitted by Bruce McLeod)

Every week, Dr. Bruce McLeod says seniors get dropped off at the emergency room where he works because they can no longer live in their homes.

The doctor from Port Williams, N.S., is so determined not to find himself in that position that he's building a communal housing development designed for people, like him, who are getting older. 

"We have people dropped off where the families say, 'House doesn't suit them anymore, we can't look after them, nobody around, all yours. I'm leaving them with you,'" said McLeod. "I'm not going to be that guy that sits in my emergency on the stupid stretcher for days at a time."

He's among a growing group of Maritimers interested in the idea of co-housing, where private homes are built close together so residents can share services and space.

While these projects come in all shapes and sizes, McLeod envisions a new development called Wine Down with 16 units that are all wheelchair accessible and a common house where people can gather for meals.

"You want to be in a place that you've designed and that you sort of run. So, hopefully, this will be a place where we can age until near the very end," he said. 

Project in the works for Bridgewater

Co-housing has been popular elsewhere in the country for years.

But, according to researchers who are studying co-housing in Canada, there are no completed developments in the Maritimes, although there are several in the works.

Cate de Vreede and her husband, Leon, are the founders of Bridgewater Cohousing, which would see 20-30 units built within town limits, with a focus on energy efficiency. 

Leon, Dylan and Cate de Vreede hope to live in Bridgewater's first co-housing project, which will be a multi-generational community that's open to all family types and ages.

"It's something that is new for this area, but I think a lot of people can really connect with the idea," de Vreede told CBC's Information Morning. "Very simply put, co-housing is when a group of people work together to create and maintain their neighbourhood."

De Vreede has been working on the project for a year, and is even travelling to B.C. this week to visit co-housing developments that are already up and running. 

Very simply put, co-housing is when a group of people work together to create and maintain their neighbourhood.- Cate de Vreede, Bridgewater Cohousing

"So there's a lot of work that obviously goes into the physical building of the community, but at the same time there's a lot of work that goes into building the social community, the social structure," she said.

She said, on paper, the project looks like a condominium because it's easier to secure funding from the banks and get development permits.

Depending how individuals feel about their neighbours, co-housing might sound less than ideal and that's why people need to know what they're getting into, said Lori Weeks, a researcher with the Canadian Co-Housing Study.

"So not everyone would want to live in a community where they're expected to support the other people around them, but for a lot of people, it is something that they would like. It's certainly something that could reduce social isolation," said Weeks, who is also an associate professor at Dalhousie University's School of Nursing. 

It's not a replacement for senior-care facilities, she said, but another option for seniors who can afford it. 

'The first ones can be the hardest'

Weeks interviewed people in Port Williams, Bridgewater, Halifax and Tatamagouche who are in the midst of creating co-housing projects.

She's working with researchers from New Brunswick and P.E.I., and together, they held a co-housing conference in Moncton in June to share ideas and inspiration. 

"The first ones can be the hardest sometimes because there's no other precedent in the region," said Weeks, who added that her team hopes to eventually interview co-housing developers from coast-to-coast. 

Lori Weeks, a researcher at Dalhousie University, says she knows about four developments in the works in Nova Scotia, including ones in Bridgewater and Port Williams. (The Canadian Press)

As for McLeod, he and a few others bought 27 acres last summer. He met with a designer in August and said the next step is selling the idea to Nova Scotians. 

"This will be designed that you interact with people and it is more that philosophy, and I think people do ... buy into it. I don't think that part is a very hard sell," he said. ​

With files from CBC's Information Morning