Finding shelter: one house, many possibilities

Sharing a home has both financial and social advantages

Everyone needs a home. Affordable homes are hard to come by for many, regardless of the economy. In boom times, both the rental market and buying market are hot and prices are out of reach for many. In economic downturns, a person’s income may be down or less secure which also limits housing choices.

In decades past, home sharing was fairly commonplace. Extended family often lived together or families took in boarders. Likely half the urban population in the nineteenth century spent some time in boarding houses during their life. Boarding houses were safe, affordable places to stay either short-term or long-term.

The growing middle class with higher incomes moved away from shared living arrangements. Higher incomes meant people could buy more space and privacy, creating the single family suburban home. Rooming houses became the place for people with no other options.

Over the last half century, many variations on low-cost, shared housing existed: boarding houses, rooming houses, lodging houses, residential hotels. Unfortunately, this type of housing went from respectable in the 1940s to neglected in the 1960s to unsafe in the 1970-80s.

The proliferation of federal, provincial and municipal laws and regulations made operating existing rooming houses difficult and building new ones unaffordable. Regulations also added barriers to providing in-home boarding. This form of housing slowly disappeared from the urban landscape.

Shared living in boarding or rooming houses provided more than just low-cost housing. They were temporary accommodation for people when away from home; a place for immigrants to transition into a new community; a transitory step between living in a home with family and living independently; and a place for those who didn’t want to live alone.

The benefits of house sharing have led to a resurgence, with arrangements unique as the people who create them. This special feature shares the stories of people in our north central neighbourhoods who are sharing homes or living spaces in some form.

Home ownership means a significant down payment, qualifying for a mortgage, and having enough income to cover utilities, insurance and maintenance or renovations. Many people cannot afford that on their own so they are getting creative. Becky McClelland and four friends decided to pool their resources, co-purchasing a house together and renovating it into suites. The Ritz/Milne family decided to co-purchase a property and build a custom-designed home to accommodate their needs.

Some homeowners are supplementing their income by hosting people in their home. Constance Brissenden has opened her home to an international student from Rwanda. Having someone new in your space is an adjustment; someone from a totally different culture has added challenges. An increasingly popular trend is short-term hosting via sites like Airbnb. Writer Talea Medynski spoke to local hosts who found hosting guests less risky than taking on a roommate, with the bonus of fostering long-term friendships with some guests.

Others take home sharing even farther by co-living—living together intentionally in a shared space—be it a house they rent or a house one of them owns. Writer Aydan Dunnigan-Vickruck visited three houses where the housemates are doing more than just sharing a home. They are being intentional about developing friendships and supporting one another along with living together as a family would, sharing household chores and cooking or eating together when they can.

On the other side of the equation is Ken Mcleod, a local resident and landlord who renovates houses and provides social housing to needy individuals. He rents different types of housing, including room and board in a men’s lodge and a number of small affordable suites in large houses. He is very hands-on and involved with all his properties and tenants, doing his best to be a good neighbour in the community.

Many people struggle with unmanageable debt. Rusti Lehay shares her story of how she took charge of her life, made hard choices and ultimately created a life that gave her the freedom to travel. Now she’s looking at unique ways to meet her housing needs without getting back into debt.

Everyone requires housing solutions that work for their life circumstances in an increasingly unaffordable society. A house presents many possibilities to those who are willing to be creative.

Karen Mykietka
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