Architect Charles Durrett is the author of Creating Co-housing: Building Sustainable Communities and is a recipient of a UN World Habitat Award.

Co-housing seminar builds interest in Smithers

“Co-housing” is a term Charles Durrett invented for something he first saw in Denmark in the 1970s.

Architect Charles Durrett and his 57 neighbours share one lawn mower.

By design, Durrett said he regularly bumps into his neighbours on the walking paths linking their homes, or dines with them in a co-owned common house.

Built with seniors in mind, the number-one selling feature of his house is how often he sees his 93-year-old neighbour Meg, who chose to build her house and parking spot as far apart as possible so she would always be walking or wheeling by the other seniors and young families living around her.

“These folks believe by giving cooperation with their neighbour the benefit of the doubt, their own life might be better,” Durrett said.

“That is the amenity, checking up on people and seeing how they’re doing.”

Last week, Durrett, from California, spoke about co-housing in Smithers Town Council chambers.

“Co-housing” is the term Durrett invented for something he first encountered in Denmark in the 1970s and has since brought to over fifty communities in the U.S. and Canada.

At Della Herman Theatre, Durrett showed one slide of how such communities are made—a group of seniors gathered around blueprints of a shared lot, shifting model buildings around and brainstorming where they would like their future houses and shared buildings to go.

Later, Durrett flashed a favourite snapshot from his own home, an $83.84 power bill which he said was the payoff of living among 34 enveloped houses sharing a single solar array.

Co-housing projects are typically built by and for seniors, Durrett said, though the majority also include young families. Often the projects are built with a suite for a live-in caregiver, who the group hire together.

When writing his first book about co-housing, Durrett interviewed a Danish couple who, at 65 and 67, could well afford to keep living in their own large house.

But they had recently opted to join a co-housing project. Statistically speaking, they told him, one of them would likely be gone in 10 years, and the other would be left alone in the big house for some time before being moved into an assisted living facility.

Whatever the cost of a particular co-housing project, Durrett said social life is their main draw.

After touring dozens of different co-housing projects, he said, “It dawned on me that, ‘Wow, this feels like college dorms all over again.’ These guys don’t have kids, they don’t have jobs, they don’t have responsibilities. And I kept thinking about how much fun they were having.”

Tim Pringle, a former executive with the B.C. Real Estate Board, conducted a feasibility study for a co-housing project in the Bulkley Valley.

Co-housing appeals to people who are looking for a certain lifestyle, he said, and local seniors have several other types of strata housing to choose from.

But given how much seniors-focused housing the area is likely to need in the next five years, Pringle said it seems there is plenty of demand.

“There’s at least ten to 17 units a year that will be needed,” he said. “Now that doesn’t mean everybody will want to buy co-housing, but it does indicate that they would likely have demand for quite a few units.”

Several council members from Smithers and Telkwa attended last Monday’s meeting, and Telkwa councillors have already said they would welcome a co-housing project there.

Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach thanked Durrett for sharing his ideas and saluted the Bulkley Valley working group looking to gather the area’s first co-housing group this September.

“I’m coming to realize that so many of the great initiatives in our community aren’t started necessarily by town council,” he said. “They’re started by groups of committed citizens who share a common vision.”


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