After many years of working towards it, Grandview Calvary Baptist Church’s vision of supportive community-based housing has now come to life. Co:Here is a 26-unit apartment building, deliberately designed to foster community among residents.
Each unit is self contained, with full kitchens, bathrooms and storage. And there’s a lot of common space, which is an intentional part of Co:Here’s design. Each floor has a spacious sitting area with outdoor balconies; the first floor has a large kitchen and lounge (furnished with a banquet table that was handmade out of a tree that got felled during construction); outside there’s a big patio (which will have a couple of BBQs come summer) and boxes and boxes of garden space.
There’s also intentional diversity among the residents. Some are people who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, with a desire not only for a home, “but the opportunity to belong to a community.” Others, called co-residents, are people who are “drawn by a vision of living in community where life is shared with people of diverse economic backgrounds and live in an open-handed and simplified lifestyle. Co-residents will be people of faith and the ‘co’ affirms the non-hierarchical nature of the community with equality being mutually intrinsic in this vision.”
Community is an important part of the church’s ethos, but the real impetus for Co:Here, the reason they raised $11.5 million* and stuck with this vision for so long, is to address homelessness.
Homelessness and affordable housing are issues that never go away in Vancouver, and they’ve been a pressure point in GCBC’s neighbourhood for decades. Rising property values, gentrification, “renovictions” and continued pressure on people with low income combine to make it challenging to live affordably.
The vision for Co:Here is to provide housing that’s: affordable (rents are correlated to income, with maximum rent caps per size of unit), long-term and invites residents to be part of a community.
In 2012 Salsbury Community Society (a nonprofit that operates Co:Here and other affordable community housing, founded by GCBC) applied for rezoning on the church’s then parking lot. The lot also had a community garden and prayer labyrinth, but as the vision for Co:Here firmed up, the congregation agreed it would be better utilized as a home for people than cars. They went before city council, and the public was invited to voice opinions. Some neighbours spoke against the project, but many were in favour. The rezoning was unanimously approved.
Construction on Co:Here started in 2016, and cost a total of $11.9 million. CBWC was one donor; funds also came from GCBC, BC Housing, Hawthorne Charitable Foundation, Dragon Fire Charitable Foundation, the City of Vancouver, Streetohome, Alan, Sarah & Joel Nicholl, Vancity Community Foundation, CMHC, West Coast Reduction Ltd., Diamond Foundation, Metro Vancouver, Face the World Foundation, Seacliff Foundation, and many more.
Residents started moving in during February. Over 100 people applied, and the Salsbury board had a difficult task choosing people for the 26 units (18 are studio suites, 4 are one-bedrooms, and 4 are two-bedroom suites).
At the 2012 rezoning hearing, GCBC Pastor Tim Dickau remembers city councillors saying things like, This is exactly what churches could be doing. Councillor Adrienne Carr called it a miracle.
“If churches take up the challenge to turn their parking lots into housing, a lot more councillors will be saying the word “miracle” in city meetings,” joked Tim (but he also meant it). At least one other CBWC church has already reached out to GBCB and Salsbury, saying they have an empty lot and are interested in building something like Co:Here.
Rebecca Pousette, a Salsbury board member, said, “This process has reminded me that God delights to use the small things. It feels small… 100 applicants, and 26 spots. I sometimes thought, can’t we do more? But the ripple effect is huge for those individuals, and for our city.”
*(Note! They’re still raising the final $370,000 to meet the $11.9 million budget. You can donate here if you like)