Feel good about your information and become a local news champion today

Village with no home: Calgary cohousing group hunting for land

Land to build a new Calgary cohousing community has been hard to come by, and now this group of citizens is putting the word out that they’re looking for partners for their start-up village venture.

Mosaic Village is currently a group of 12 households on the hunt for a suitable three-quarters-acre location to build approximately 25 units that meet a variety of needs for its members. They began their search in earnest more than a year ago but haven’t had any success.

Cohousing is a community living arrangement where private homes are clustered around shared spaces, such as a large dining hall and kitchen and outdoor recreational spaces, along with gardens and other open green space. Calgary has one cohousing community – Prairie Sky – in the city’s northeast.

“We’ve been looking really hard, talking to everyone. It’s just been a tough, tight-knit market,” said Mosaic Village equity member Lindsey Heighington.

She said they’ve been in contact with a number of developers, but there isn’t any land being made available for such projects and partnerships have been slow to develop. The group has searched in the northwest, southwest and a bit in Calgary’s southeast, but to no avail.

The group has up to $4 million they’re willing to invest in the right piece of property, according to the webpage dedicated to their search for land or developers. They’re after a minimum of 0.7 acres, or roughly 5 to 7 city lots. They envision townhouses or stacked townhouses with additional bungalow-style homes for “aging-in-place units.”

The units are expected to cost between $300,000 and $500,000.

They’ve also acquired the services of a professional with experience in cultivating these kinds of cohousing deals.

“We’ve had a lot of people very positive in the (development) industry giving advice to us, in terms of which direction to go and who to talk to, but land assembly is really a long game,” Heighington said.

Land assembly is the patching together of nearby parcels of land that could later be amalgamated and zoned for another purpose – such as the cohousing.

“We’re a bit reticent to do it – we’re not opposed to doing it, and we’re starting to look at those options right now. It’s not our ideal situation,” said Heighington.

“We’re trying to convince (a developer) to pivot, that there is a business model for this.”

She said developers have partnered with cohousing groups in the United States, but the vast majority of developments in Canada have been self-built.

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, who has met with the group about their search, agreed that it’s an uphill battle for groups like Mosaic to find available land.

“There have been a couple of unfortunate misses for cohousing groups looking for the right piece of land,” said Carra.

“Land acquisition is tough for anyone. If you’re not partnered with a developer, it’s tougher.”

Carra said that generally speaking, for the needs of cohousing, land assembly is the likely path – and putting that together when you’re not an experienced developer is tough.

“You gotta buy a bunch of pieces of land and they’ve got to be in the right place, so it’s a challenging opportunity.”

When asked about surplus land in Calgary, Heighington said they’ve had some conversations with the city, but much of it’s earmarked for future affordable housing.

“We completely see the need for affordable housing in Calgary, but our project is not affordable housing, it’s market-priced housing,” she said.

She added that they’d be open to the Attainable Homes Calgary model to provide more economic diversity, but once you get into an affordable housing project, Heighington said it involves a lot more bureaucracy.

“It’s just too arduous for us to go that route,” she said.

They have the call out and Heighington said one meeting leads to another, so they’re optimistic.

“It seems the more people we talk to, someone knows something… there’s land out there and we see a lot of demand,” she said.