Once a month for six years Mary Boyce went to Fraser Lake for a week or two to look after her elderly mother and younger sister who has Down syndrome.
Boyce’s mother couldn’t go to a seniors home because she needed to take care of Boyce’s sister.
The experience made Boyce wonder what will happen to her when she gets older and is in need of assistance. So she looked for ways to ensure she would be properly taken care of and she found it: co-housing.
Co-housing refers to a residential community of private homes clustered around a shared space, such as a common house. These communities are usually very socially vibrant as residents meet once a week at the common house to catch up and discuss issues in the neighbourhood and interact with each more than average neighbours typically would.
Community members participate in the planning and design of their individual homes as well as the common house. They also come up with rules for the neighbourhood.
“I thought this way we help each other grow older together and look after each other,” said Boyce. “I won’t have to put the burden on my children to look after me when I can’t do it all by myself. We have other people around to help.”
Smithers Cohousing Corporation held an information session about their planned community on Jan. 6 at the Healthy Living Centre.
Co-housing originated in Denmark in the 1960s after families became dissatisfied with their living arrangements. A group of 50 families began developing a co-housing project in 1967 but it wasn’t until 1972 their idea came into fruition.
In 1972 Saettedammen, the world’s first co-housing community, was established. It was home to 80 people from 35 families.
The Smithers co-housing project will be located in the Ambleside Park subdivision on the southeast side of town.
“It’s a healthier lifestyle because people support each other and there’s a stronger social interaction like there used to be in most neighbourhoods around small towns in Canada,” said Smithers Cohousing president Jim Senka. “People knew their neighbours and supported each other.”
There will be a total of nine families and 16 homes in the community. Senka said they are looking for five more members to occupy the remaining houses.
Households will range from 950 to 1,200 square feet and feature their own amenities such as a kitchen, bathroom, etc. The size of each household is subject to change as the corporation is still in the early design stages.
There will be a crafts room, rooms for guests and a possible music room in the common house. There will also be a vegetable garden in the shared space.
Because a majority of the residents are either retired or approaching retirement they plan on building senior friendly houses. Each house will have wheelchair accessible entrances and showers.
This project won’t be the first co-housing community in the Bulkey Valley.
The Three Rivers Cohousing Project was recently completed in Hazelton, and a Telkwa development is in the planning stages.
Smithers Cohousing Corporation was unsuccessful in its attempt to built a community seven years ago.
“The atmosphere wasn’t right for buying property at that particular time,” said Senka.
“Our current council understands co-housing and they’re much more supportive.”
Construction is planned to begin this summer. Move-in will take place the following summer.