Skyrocketing real estate prices are making it hard for Canadians to find affordable housing. But step back for a moment and notice what God is doing. Living with extended family, co-ownership among unrelated seniors and cool co-housing options are just a few of the creative ways that Canadians are facing high house prices and cultivating community at the same time.
I’m always blown away by God’s ability to turn a crisis into an opportunity. It happens so frequently that it’s starting to remind me to step back a bit and look to the bigger picture in what may appear to be decidedly negative up close. This was the case recently when I heard from a variety of outlets about the housing difficulties Canadians are experiencing and the alternative – sometimes radical – living arrangements that are becoming prevalent. On the surface, the news is bleak. Faced with difficult economic realities a growing number of Canadians are being forced to share housing in a variety of arrangements. More alarming still is that this may not be a stop-gap measure.
But then we step back. We remove ourselves from the perspective that anything forcing a shift in the way we live is a crisis. We look instead to the opportunity. We look to what God is doing in the change.
A turning tide
It’s not that hard to see, really, because the current model of one family per house was not always commonplace. Go back far enough and you’ll find accounts that suggest layer upon layer of extended family all living together under one roof. And if the roof got too small? Time for an addition. But as time wore on individuality started to take on more importance. Independence began to trump interdependence. What’s really interesting, though, is that the tide may be turning on this trend. Recent data is showing that multi-generational living arrangements are at the highest level in Canada since prior to World War II.
Take the Forster family, for example. This couple with two young children found themselves unintentional participants in multi-generational living – a decision that has impacted their lives profoundly. Andrea Forster explains, “When my father passed away in March 2014 it was a huge emotional blow to my family and having my mother move in with us for emotional support as she adjusted to the change just seemed to be the natural thing to do.” In fact, this arrangement worked out so well for them, the Forsters took it one step further. “We decided to build a new house together that would accommodate all five of us. Then, when my grandfather passed away we invited my 87-year-old grandmother to stay with us as well. She lived with us for 10 months, during which time we saw her health improve significantly. The energy of living in a home with young children visibly revitalized her and gave purpose back to her life.”
Andrea’s grandmother passed away in 2016, and her absence has been felt in emotional as well as practical ways. “She had been playing a vital role in the family right up to her final week of life. We had never planned on multi-generational living, it just kind of happened – but we are so glad that we did it with her and continue to live with my mother – we are all stronger emotionally as a result.”
If you’re thinking that living with extended family is not for you, you’re not alone. Nevertheless, communal living arrangements such as co-ownership are beginning to emerge as a very valid option. A recent example can be found in Port Perry, Ontario, where four unrelated senior women purchased a house together to meet their changing needs as they age. Although initially conceived as a way to share expenses and avoid imposing on their children, these women have discovered the practical and social benefits of sharing a home.
A closely related concept is co-housing. Co-housing is a movement with roots in 1960s Denmark. It’s a concept where a group of homeowners who, although living in separate residences, share common amenities in a central location. In this way, much of the cooking, eating and other everyday tasks are carried out in a shared, communal environment. The idea is to create a village feel, with an emphasis often placed on including a diverse mix of residents. It’s an idea that has taken hold in Canada in recent years. According to the Canadian Cohousing Network, approximately 160 of these communities have been completed since 1991, with a further 100 currently in development (cohousing.ca). It seems that a growing number of Canadians are taking some unorthodox steps to fulfill their desire for closer community.
But what about more mainstream options? There’s nothing unusual about having roommates, but this is another arrangement that can produce the same practical and social benefits. Roommates can share the financial burden of housing, participate in the day to day upkeep of the home and provide a built-in community.
However, living with roommates can also pose many of the same challenges found in each of these living arrangements. Emily Rogness of Surrey, British Columbia, experienced these challenges firsthand. She discovered that living with a friend was not as easy as she thought, and caused added stress in her life. In her case, there was also the issue of paying rent in an increasingly exclusive housing market. As Rogness puts it, “To me, rent was always a waste of money. My dream has always been to buy a house. So when I was told rent would be going up all I could think about was my savings account wouldn’t be growing as fast as it was.”
This combination of factors led Rogness to choose an option that many are entertaining: moving back in with her parents. This living arrangement seems to have come full circle. Until relatively recently, adult children living with their parents was the social norm. It was expected that one would remain in the household until they were married, and sometimes even after. This long period was followed by a shift towards independence that saw children moving out of the family home as soon as possible, with a certain stigma attached to those who did not conform after a certain age. And now, due in large part to various economic forces, many are again remaining in or returning to the parental home well into adulthood. We’re now being pushed back together and it’s beginning to erode the independence that we held so dear, giving way to more interdependent, mutually-reliant relationships.
The Weaver’s lens
And that’s what it’s all about: relationships. The one incidental consequence that people are discovering with all of these living arrangements is community. Some may stumble upon it quite by accident, while others consciously seek it out, but there is an innate desire within us that longs for deeper and lasting connection with others. It’s how we are created. And so when we take a step back to look at the current housing difficulties with a wider lens, it’s no surprise that we find God at work, weaving our crisis into a community.