Peterborough cohousing meeting

On December 27th, T. Alex, Becky, Mathew, Marc and Kris attended a meeting of the Peterborough Cohousing Incubator group.  This group was formed a few years ago by people who live in the Peterborough area and are interested in cohousing.  The group has, until now, had no clear agenda or schedule, and merely aimed to connect like-minded people.  

One of the founders is Scott Donovan, an architect who has been involved with cohousing projects at his previous firm in the States and has been educating on and encouraging the idea of cohousing since his return to Canada in 2014.  There were a series of meetings between 2014 and 2016, but nothing came of it, and things have been pretty quiet on the Peterborough cohousing front for about a year.  Scott organized this gathering to discuss moving forward with an actual project.

The meeting consists of about 26 people who gather at Alan and Linda Slavin’s place. The evening begins with a delicious potluck dinner and casual conversation before everyone is gathered together in a (sort of) circle.

Scott Donovan gives us a bit of background.  He tells us that there was a group in Peterborough in around 2014 thinking about an intentional eco-village.  He got involved and they were meeting monthly, but mostly just learning, nothing specific.  There was a core group of six or eight people for a while but then it dissipated.

Scott has come back to Canada from the US where he worked on cohousing projects, and has hosted educational events downtown about the topic.  The Peterborough Cohousing Incubator group has a Facebook page of about 100 members with an email database of about the same size, but there hasn’t been anything specific to move it forward.

Scott then tells us that Alan and Linda came to him with an idea and he suggested to them that they add a cohousing perspective to it. Alan says they’ve lived in their house for over 40 years, and are looking to move before they are forced to do so.  They want it to be a 10-minute walk to downtown, in a net-zero building if possible, with enough grounds that there could be gardens, a common house and individual living units.

Linda wants to include people who can’t afford to buy their own place.  She suggested that maybe people could contribute to a fund and that would subsidize places for others, and maybe the community could also have some rental units as well. If you have rent subsidy, etc. you can often get government grants. Scott points out that if you want to be close to downtown, the cost can be higher.

The Mount Community Centre on Monaghan was suggested as a possible location.

They have a number of existing buildings on a 10 acre site that used to be run by the Sisters of St. Joseph.  There’s an old convent that’s been turned into a community centre and there’s a new convent; the chapel has been decommissioned and turned into a community hall.  The non-profit organization that runs The Mount has similar goals to what Alan and Linda envision, and there might be a possibility they would let a cohousing group build on their property.  Rosemary says she believes the Mount would be a perfect spot; it has lots of land and they have shared principles.

Linda says a group in Toronto builds co-ops and finances them in such a way that single moms with kids can afford it. The group talks about the benefits of co-op vs. condo.  It is generally easier to get traditional financing for a condo than a co-op, but a co-op offers more control over who can join. Elaine, who lived for many years in WindSong Cohousing in BC, said that was a condo/strata model.  

WindSong had everyone join committees, and encouraged people to come to meetings, and people basically self-selected – only those who really wanted a cohousing community tended to move in. They had some renters, who also participated fully.  There were also a few people who didn’t participate, but they eventually moved out. It was multigenerational, and she and Larry liked that.

Barbara says that the Armour Heights public school is slated to be decommissioned.  The building itself may not be appropriate, but it is a large property in an intimate neighbourhood; next to it is a park, the river is right there, it is walking distance to downtown. Alan says the province is really pushing the idea of densification, so rezoning it for residential use might be easier now. Mark says that Peterborough is redoing its official plan, and also planning for an aging community, so now might be a good time to get involved in that.  

Ruth asks about those in the group who don’t currently own a home and can’t get a down payment, how would they get access? Alan says some might be rental units, Linda suggested maybe subsidization for a certain number of units, and Marc notes that the co-op model can allow for someone to buy in without having to get a mortgage. Linda says some co-ops in Toronto are financed via bonds. Vivien says The Mount did a bond issue to finance it but it was just a donation, you didn’t get ownership of anything. Elaine says that a certain proportion of the units at Windsong had to be sold below market value, something government often requires as a condition of zoning or finance.

A question comes up about caregiving. Elaine says that Windsong planned for physical accessibility but not medical care necessarily, and then someone got breast cancer and people burned out. Alan says the cohousing books suggest having a unit that can be used by family or by caregivers. Kris mentions the Danish seniors cohousing community in a town with a nursing school where the students got free housing in return for helping.

Lou says there seem to be two fundamental groups, one rural and one urban. He’s been a member of half a dozen groups and it seems like if you have a vision of something then people can decide whether they’re in or out; so what is the next step? Alan says the Danish model is to talk about what you want to do first and find out who is on board and then move to a proposal and so on.

Lou says that Denmark is a different country, he says successful projects seem to start with small group with vision and the resources to move something forward and then that attracts people, while groups that started larger would gradually lose people until there was a smaller group who could pursue a specific vision. However, the general consensus is that everyone wants to keep the discussion going with the entire group at this time.

Scott says there needs to be a commitment of time from people, and there needs to be regular meetings.  He can do virtual meetings at his office and the group can begin to talk with an eye to crafting a vision statement and a shared statement of principles.  Scott will contact everyone with the next meeting date, which will be sometime in mid-January.

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