Living in a family-focused, cooperative housing townhome in Victoria, BC

Easter
The co-op has a lot of community activities. Here's my daughter hitting the Easter pinata, made by one of the members who immigrated from Mexico.

The offbeat occupant: Emillie Parrish, at-home mom and food blogger
Other occupants: Husband, 6-year-old son, and 18-month-old daughter
Approximate square footage: 650-1000 sq. feet
How many bedrooms? Two
Lives in: James Bay, Victoria, BC, Canada
When did you move into this home? One year

Master bedroom
The view of downtown from our master bedroom

Let's start with the neighborhood. What's it like where you live? We live in James Bay which is a traditionally lower income neighbourhood right in downtown Victoria. However, it's really one of the best-located neighbourhoods in Victoria, with ocean-front views on three sides, and the large city park on the forth side. Within a four-block radius from my home are the government buildings, several museums, a marina, a ferry terminal, sandy and rocky beaches, a fisherman's wharf, a petting zoo, playgrounds and most of historical Victoria. We really are spoiled here.

Kitchen
Our relatively clean kitchen. The previous "members" chose grey and brown when they renovated the kitchen. It's seriously ugh-ly. But I love the space!

What makes your home offbeat? We live in a co-operative housing unit. Like all co-ops, it's a blend between ownership and rental. We pay "rent," but our rent goes towards the cost of our collective mortgage and the building upkeep. We buy in with a nominal share purchase, and collectively we are responsible for all our finances and upkeep. However, it's not an "investment" like typical home ownership as the value of our share won't go up over time.

Kitchen
Our crowded dining area. Sideboard and play kitchen on this wall, and our office space on the other wall. When the table's in place, there literally is JUST enough room for the chairs.
Kitchen
My prized possession is my vintage canning jars filled with my dried goods.

Unlike rentals, every household (or member) has equal voting rights on all major decisions. And everyone has to volunteer to help with running the co-op (usually about 10 hours per month). We also have the ability to make changes in our unit that might not be allowed in a rental. For example, one member put up a climbing wall in his living room! Many of our members have lived here for 15+ years.

We are a small housing co-op with only 18 units. As a result, we are a tight-knit community celebrating many shared events throughout the year, including weekly potluck BBQs during the summer. Our backyard is enclosed, and the children play out there together from dawn to dusk. We are so lucky to have gotten in to the co-op as I can't think of a better place for my children to grow up.

Master bedroom
I try to make my bedroom peaceful. It's my space to relax.
Master bedroom
However, we still have the changing table, with diapers, toys, and clothes on it!

What's the most challenging about this space? How do you deal with the challenge? Our lack of space is difficult. We've put a lot of our "spare" stuff into storage. Luckily we have a lot of storage space in the co-op, so we could stash away a lot of stuff!

What's your favorite feature of your home? I love my double balconies and all the little zen-ful spaces that I have sprinkled throughout our home. It's my way of making peace in the noisy chaos of our lives.

Deck
The deck.

What's the most important lesson you've learned from this home? I learned that home is not the space that you live in, but the community that you live with. Our space is not limited to my home. My kids are always at the neighbour's, and they know everyone by name.

Yard
This is a view from our balcony of our neighbour's terraced balconies overlooking our shared yard. The playground, basketball net, vegetable gardens and compost are on the other side. That grass is usually home to a pickup soccer game.

Recently we had a member pass away. During his last few days in hospice everyone took turns bringing him his favourite foods, sneaking in his dog for a visit, and helping him eat. At one point the nurses asked us to stop, citing that "visits are for family members only." However, we confidently told the nurse that "we are his family" and kept visiting him right to the end.

I have learned that we are alone in our homes, but we are not alone in our community.

Living room
Our living room, facing the stairs up to the bedrooms and down to the front door.
Living room
The kids' toy storage space.

What's your grandest plan for the space? We want to build a wall of shelving and cupboards into the living room. Then maybe our stuff can all come out of hiding! I also want to mirror the backsplash in the kitchen. I hope to capture all that bright sunlight and breakup the odd combination grey and brown colours.

What advice do you have for other offbeat homies? The best way to fit into a community is to relax. We so often are bent on defining ourselves that we sometimes tread on other people's toes. It takes all sorts of people to make a community, even people who don't necessarily agree with my point of view.

Any stuff or services you want to recommend? I'm pretty much into second-hand stuff. However, I do love Capitol Iron, and I've bought most of my new stuff from them!

Show me the decor porn!

Join our community!

    • I think co-op housing exists in most places, though exactly what it's involves probably depends on the local laws. I would google it for your home town and see what's around.

  1. I love home tours and this is no exception! What a neat little home, and I love the community the co-op offers =)

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  2. Wonderful! I've always been fascinated by the concepts of co-ops and co-housing. If there's a vacancy in your building, how do you handle getting new tenants? Is there a community interview process or something? I would imagine there's some additional work that goes into finding the right people that can appreciate and contribute to the sense of community in a co-op.

    3 agree
    • We advertise on craigslist… but some co-ops have waitlists.

      A whole family (and pets) interview is usually required for all new members. It's mostly because we want to be sure that anyone coming in realizes the amount of extra work it takes to be in the co-op. It's definitely more involved than a rental. And you do need to work that little bit harder to get along with your neighbours.

      1 agrees
  3. Thank you for a tour of your warm & lovely home, Emillie! You're right, there is a lot of beautiful sunlight streaming into your rooms. The calm, neutral colours you've used in decorating really pick up the light. 🙂

    I especially liked the way you have created indoor/outdoor space with your balcony and deck areas. Looks like your strawberry plants like it too!

    1 agrees
  4. I had previously associated co-op housing with extremely expensive hi-rises in Manhattan with very snobby co-op boards that only let in certain people from the in-crowd of NY society. That last part is probably an unfair exaggeration, but the "extremely expensive" part is not. It's nice to see that co-op rentals can be for everyone and can have family-friendly, welcoming connotations too.

    I love the picture of all the terraces. It looks like it would be a lovely place to hang out.

  5. Love it! Victoria is such a pretty little city and I love the concept of cooperative living. One question: if you're kind of an owner but also kind of not an owner, and your shares don't increase in value, who does the equity go to? I'm assuming the property has increased in value since it was built — who, ultimately, holds the title on the building and would (theoretically) get the money if it was sold? I'm really curious about how that works. Also, if coop members have no rise in equity on their investment, does that also mean that the monthly payment is rather low and fixed? So many questions!

    • In BC most co-ops were set up via help by a government funding agency. Our buy in share is more of a really large damage deposit and doesn't gain equity. Most of the co-ops in BC were set up in the 80s and they actually are all starting to pay off the original mortgages. In my co-op we will pay off the mortgages for the land purchase and initial building in the next 4 years. After that point we will only have a mortgage for our renovations.

      Right now we are actually quite controlled by the government agency as per the terms of our initial mortgage. They dictate our budgeting and all sorts of things. In four years time we will no longer have that support and it will mean that we will have a lot more responsibility (around setting housing fees, etc.) We are currently in the process of drafting up the rules that will dictate how we will be run in the future.

      I don't know what would happen if the co-op were to dissolve or sell our shared asset. My space is not owned by me… it's owned by everyone, so we would all have to agree to dissolve the co-op, and I don't think that would happen. I'm also guessing that the property is zoned for non-market housing and wouldn't easily be converted into market-level housing.

      However, one of our local co-ops is in quite bad shape (moldy, leeky) and they need complete rebuilding. I believe that they are considering selling part of their prime property to help fund the complete rebuild (they are individual homes, so there is a much more property involved).

      • And our monthly "rent" is below market level. Right now a few of the members are have government housing subsidies to help pay off their share of the mortgage. Once we are no longer under the umbrella of that government mortgage we will have to decide our rents, and whether we will collectively "subsidize" members that can't afford our rent.

        Also, our rents aren't about to drop when we are finished with those initial mortgages, because we have been deferring payment on our renovation mortgage… so we'll have a lot of catching up to do on that. I guess conceivably we could have a nearly zero mortgage situation at some point. But there are always things that need maintenance, and we would start collectively saving for our next set of major renovations.

  6. As someone living in James Bay (Victoria) I wish I could get into one of the area's co-ops! Vacancies are VERY rare though…

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