Village Urbain proposes co-housing for a different way of city living

Selected as part of the 2019-2020 cohort of the Civic Incubator, the project is led by Estelle Le Roux Joky and Pascal Huynh, a duo in search of sustainable and human-scale living spaces largely accessible to the population, in an urban environment.

Another way of living together

What is co-housing? When it comes to living with people from different backgrounds, sharing a flat is something we’re quite familiar with: roommates rent and share an apartment, usually have a personal space, such as a bedroom, and move freely around the common residence.

Another model, the housing cooperative, offers its tenants, who become members, access to low-cost housing in exchange for their involvement in the management and animation of their living community.

Image source : Cohabitat Québec

While co-housing also carries the idea of collective, it is more broadly defined as a residential and participatory real estate project. It is a living environment designed by its residents, where individual housing units are arranged around shared and self-managed spaces, such as a kitchen, a garden, a playroom or a dining room. By seeking a balance between individual and collective spaces, the goal is to develop ties of mutual support and collaboration, leading to an improved quality of life.

This group forms an intentional community, a collection of people who are not necessarily biologically related but who share a desire to live together in a given place. They often have in common ethical, social and environmental values that guide the management of the structure, which may take the form of a private co-ownership, a housing cooperative or an NPO.

Estelle Le Roux Joky and Pascal Huynh

The challenges ahead

The concept of co-housing emerged in Denmark in the 1970s, then developed in a few European countries as a response to the first housing crisis, before migrating to North America. In Canada, the first co-housing project was carried out in 1996 in Vancouver. Since then, “only about ten projects have seen the light of day, including two in Québec,” according to Estelle. Is it the lack of demand that is holding back the development of co-housing?

“There is no doubt that there is a lot of demand in Québec. Many families, especially with young children, want to live differently in the city, to reclaim urban space and add a local and cooperative dimension to it. Aware of their ecological impact, they are striving to consume less, favouring the use over the ownership of consumer goods and the sharing of living spaces.”

Pascal

However, only two official structures in Québec have been successful, in the form of private co-ownerships in Québec City. For it takes ten years to bring a co-housing project to fruition, mainly because of specific restrictive laws that engage projects in long processes, the significant financial and personal commitment of the future community, and the lack of affordable urban lots.

A first co-housing experience

A university exchange with Australia gave Pascal the opportunity to experience co-housing. He discovered the richness of community life and enjoyed sharing living experiences with the cohabitants. He even came to consider this learning as more formative than the university education he was pursuing.

He developed a passion for space design and interaction design, which consists in defining the way people interact in a space over time and with each other, as well as with the products or services at their disposal.

Windsong Cohousing, first co-housing project in Canada, eastern suburb of Vancouver

Back in Montréal, he settled in an intentional community and actively invested himself in the community and housing sectors: within the Milton-Parc Citizens’ Committee and the ECOLE project and as the founder of the housing cooperative Le Trapèze. He was also the co-organizer in 2018 of the Journée des communautés intentionnelles de Montréal (JCIM).

“We brought together communities from Montréal and around Québec to come and share the tools they use to live together.”

Pascal

Following this event, Pascal was contacted by Estelle. Working in real estate finance, she was questioning herself on better housing practices and was seeking to put her management skills and financial expertise to work on a real estate project combining social innovation and respect for the environment while responding to the major challenges of urbanization.

Photo credit: MIS

“Ironically, in an increasingly urban and connected world, social isolation has become a real scourge. Seniors are aging alone, and parents are living far from their loved ones. In Québec, nearly one person in 10 reports having no close friends.” (Institut de la statistique du Québec, 2013)

Estelle

Co-housing addresses this issue and by creating Le Village Urbain, Estelle and Pascal decided to democratize this way of life by developing and supporting participatory living environments that generate social ties.

“Our goal is to promote and develop co-housing in Québec, from ideation to day-to-day management. Our project is part of a context where access to housing is increasingly more difficult in large cities due, in particular, to a housing shortage and rising housing costs, both for buying and renting.”

Pascal

Photo credit: MIS

Asserting the mission of Le Village Urbain with the Civic Incubator

“It was obvious that Le Village Urbain was going to position itself as a facilitator, but the project was still in its infancy. We needed to make it a reality.”

Estelle

While Pascal knew about the Civic Incubator from having had discussions with a winner of the 2018-2019 cohort, Estelle saw the call for projects go through and suggested that they send in their application: “Committing to several months of coaching helps to discover each other and also validates the positive relationship between the project leaders.

 

The objective of Le Village Urbain is to professionalize the know-how of co-housing development in Québec: “We were looking to get engaged in the right lines of reflection,” says Pascal, “co-housing already exists, so there is no longer a need to prove that it can be done. Instead, we needed to define an effective method to popularize co-housing, while channelling our energy to keep focused and motivated. The Civic Incubator saved us precious time.”

Over the course of the workshops, Estelle and Pascal structured the project and identified three areas of actions to be taken in order to promote and develop co-housing in Québec:

  1. Raising awareness about and training in the principles of co-housing;
  2. Supporting groups of citizens who are starting a co-housing community or want to transform their living environment, by documenting good practices in terms of architecture, design, social organization and financial and legal structuring;
  3. Developing and promoting co-housing communities.

The next project to benefit from Village Urbain’s support is Le Trapèze, a housing cooperative of about sixty units currently under construction in the Old Port of Montréal. Members rely on Village Urbain’s recommendations in the development of space and internal regulations for their housing complex, a direct means of accelerating the project’s speed of completion and increasing its success rate.

Would the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic offer an opportunity to multiply the projects? Between the self-help networks that emerged during containment, the solidarity efforts made towards isolated and vulnerable people, and the issues of food security and autonomy, co-housing could well become a model to be adopted to meet future health, social and environmental challenges.

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