September 2023

Cohousing and Affordability

The absolutely most common question that we get at CCN focuses on the issue of how to make cohousing more affordable. This should come as no surprise to our members. If you live anywhere near one of Canada’s major cities (and even if you don’t!), you’re bombarded by news stories about the rising cost of housing.

From The Calgary Herald:

From Justin McElroy, Municipal affairs reporter for CBC Vancouver:

An  op-ed in The Toronto Star:

As you might imagine, many people email CCN in the hopes that cohousing might be an affordable solution for their families.

While there are organizations actively working to find new and more affordable ways to finance housing of many kinds, cohousing is subject to all the same market forces as any other kind of housing in Canada. According to Ronaye Matthew and Margaret Critchlow’s forthcoming book, Community Led Housing: A Cohousing Development Approach, “Affordability is a relative term–it is a spectrum…. [But] the development process [for cohousing] does not of itself generate below market priced homes.” To put it simply, the money to build homes needs to come from somewhere; creating below market priced homes generally requires a subsidy from somewhere, such as the government or other members of the cohousing community.

The following ten strategies are ones that have been proven to be successful:

  1. Work Efficiently
  2. Increase Density
  3. Secure Government Subsidies
  4. Self-Subsidize
  5. Take on risk
  6. Standardize the Design
  7. Pursue Compact Design
  8. Avoid Complexity
  9. Embrace Environmental Sustainability
  10. Use Space Efficiently

You can read more about these strategies in this excerpt from their forthcoming book. Many of them rely on making sure that the design and implementation of any new cohousing community is as efficient, standardized, and as dense as possible in order to get as much return on each dollar invested in the building as possible.

Government subsidies are difficult to come by. In general, they tend to focus on more common forms of social housing, although Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and the Government of Canada have provided grants for studying cohousing and ways to make it more affordable. In 2022, CNN received a Government of Canada Career Launcher grant to research on affordable cohousing options, focusing on creating a list of organizations that can support the creation of affordable cohousing in Canada by acting as partners or financial contributors (providing grants and/or loans) to cohousing development projects. The results of this grant research are available on the CCN website.

CCN is also aware of several groups that are working on developing other models for creating affordable cohousing, but are not yet ready with information to share. CCN will stay in touch because of our desire to see more affordable cohousing in Canada!

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