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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

“Check This Out” – Fostering Community Through Co-ownership

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It’s no secret that Vancouver’s hostile housing market has shut out many potential buyers. Young professionals and families looking for secure long-term housing have few options. Despite successful careers, massive amounts of education and responsible saving habits, many young people who are ready to act are ineligible to participate in the housing market. This desire and readiness has triggered the need for extraordinary measures and creative solutions.

On an individual level, the need for creative solutions assumes that one wishes to remain in the city. Vancouver is home for many, and leaving town for the sole purpose of buying a home elsewhere is unacceptable. Many who choose to stay and find creative solutions to the housing problem are here because of strong family and community bonds. Others remain because they need to be in the city for work, and for some, it’s both. Leaving jobs, friends and family support networks for the sake of homeownership doesn’t make sense.  Ownership has a powerful allure. It signals a long-term investment in a community and comes with a level of certainty and security.

A group of close friends, well into their careers who were grappling with the barriers we all know too well, were working hard to generate a solution. They wanted to invest and to keep their community together in a real estate market that was inaccessible. There were few options until an email came in with the subject line “check this out”.

An opportunity in the form of a housing listing on the sunshine coast passed on by a family member hit a group of ten friends at just the right moment. Individually it was unaffordable, but together it was a possibility. The listing promised a large property, a cozy house and an opportunity for creativity.  Though the plan was uncertain, it was more than what was available east of Howe Sound.

The idea of living as a community is becoming more common.  There are several models for co-housing, co-op housing or co-living. These models emphasize community building, intergenerational living and working to build a home with your neighbours. Some models have been around for a long time (Canada has had housing co-ops since the 1930’s!). Others are new and still evolving, but there is an increasing demand. Even if it were affordable, the Sunshine Coast Crew would not have wanted a collection of individual homes scattered around the metro region; they were looking for an opportunity to grow their community rather than spread it thin.

Buying a property together was not without hurdles.  For one, banks and insurance companies do not typically issue mortgages to groups of ten people.  The Sunshine Coast Crew set up a joint venture agreement with the help of their Lawyer Cynthia Lam at GBC Law, who describes the experience:

“I was very excited to have the opportunity to work with such a vibrant team of young professionals.  At the outset, the idea of setting up a joint venture between 10 individuals for the purpose of purchasing and developing property, was definitely a daunting one.  However, after some detailed discussions about the logistics of the proposed project to be undertaken, we managed to navigate through the steps of preparing the Joint Venture Agreement very efficiently and relatively flawlessly.  I was very impressed with the group’s exceptional team working abilities and organizational skills.”

The group had a similar experience with their mortgage advisor at Vancity who was enthusiastic about helping the group navigate new waters.  Mortgages are not usually signed by ten people, so Vancity drew up special forms with extra signature lines for the occasion.

The experience of the Sunshine Coast Crew demonstrates that there is a pent-up desire to enter the real estate market. For them, it meant forging new paths. For others who are ready to act in a way that preserves their communities, the joint-venture approach may offer inspiration. While the group is still exploring next steps for their new co-owned property, it is an undeniable first stride into the real estate market for those who may have been unable to do so individually, and a confident signal of long-term investment and commitment to the community.


Andrew Cuthbert works as a planner and has a love for everything to do with spatial data. When not working Andrew can most likely be found on his bike taking in the sights and fresh air.


One comment

  1. Is a place on Sunshine Coast really an answer to the problem of wanting to stay in Vancouver? I really hope none of the people commute into the city regularly.