Creating Conversation: Shared Life – a toolkit for common homes and lives

Tim Dickau is hoping to share his 30 years of pastoral and community experience in his new role.

This weekly editorial gives opportunity for people to speak about issues they believe are vital for the church to respond to.

One of the goals of this weekly article is to spark dialogue – and action. We invite you to join the dialogue, either here on Church for Vancouver or on the CityGate Vancouver website.

We also invite you to use the article as a discussion starter with your church small group, your church staff, your friends or your neighbours. Feel free to re-post the article on your own social media. Thanks for participating in the conversation!

What if even half the empty bedrooms in Greater Vancouver were filled with housemates? We not only have an affordability crisis in housing; we have a crisis of too many empty bedrooms.

That question and comment emerged during a discussion our church was having about ideas for addressing the housing affordability crisis in Vancouver. Our community had been forming households of people from differing families who were sharing a home together.

In some cases, individuals rented or bought a house together and then welcomed one or two others in need of housing to live with them.

In other cases, a person or family who owned or rented a home made an unused bedroom in their home available to someone who needed housing. And because there were more people sharing the cost of these homes, the rent (or purchase) was more affordable. This was our own family’s experience over those years.

If you had told me 30 years ago that our family would have lived with over 40 people during that period of our lives, I would have thought you were crazy. Sharing our home with non-family members was not a vision I grew up with.

However, that all began to change by ‘accident’ as various people we know needed short-term housing and ended up living with us for about a year and half in each case. After that point, we realized, “hey, we can do this” and we became intentional in inviting others to fill the empty bedrooms in the houses we were renting and the one we eventually co-owned.

Slowly, many people in our community began to live in shared homes, in part by observing others who were already living this way.

The economics of home ownership or rental is pressing many more people across the country to share a home together. (See the recent Globe and Mail article exploring this reality.)

Sustaining the vision

However, in the experience of many people who have shared a home – including our family – economic reasons are not enough to sustain community living. We need a larger vision to sustain shared living and we need to develop skills and practices that will enable us to live well with others in the close proximity of a shared home.

Towards that end, a number of us developed the Shared Life Exchange a couple years ago. Inspired by our Christian faith, our goals are:

1. To equip, resource and encourage those who have committed to intentional shared life.

2. To offer a space to explore the art and practice of community living.

3. To connect communities and people living a shared life.

Toolkit available

Over this past year, we have held a number of ‘community cafés‘ to pursue these goals. Recently, we completed the formation of the Toolkit for Common Homes and Lives. We are excited to make this resource available to others.

(You can request a copy here.)

The two-four page articles offer a discussion of the topic at hand with concrete suggestions for good practice, additional resources and some discussion questions. Topics covered include:

  • The .’why’ of shared life
  • Models of shared homes
  • Starting from scratch
  • Lease or tenancy agreements
  • Incorporating new housemates
  • The value and practice of celebration
  • Ending and exiting well
  • Leadership in a shared home
  • Handling conflict and tensions
  • Healthy decision making
  • Becoming good neighbours
  • A theological vision for shared living

How to use it

We envision different ways to use this document. 

  1. Read it through with a group and discuss the questions at the end of each section. If you currently live in a shared home, read it with your housemates or other people beyond your home as a way to enhance your own shared life. If you are not living in a shared home, read and discuss it with others who are also exploring shared living as a way to learn together.

  2. Refer to the table of contents and find relevant sections as particular situations in your household arise. For example, if you are in the midst of a tense disagreement, read the sections on conflict and decision-making, perhaps together with your household, as a way of exploring different approaches to reconciliation. If you have an empty room and are looking for a new housemate, look at the questions that would be helpful to explore how to vet and orient someone into your shared home.

Our hope as a planning group is to foster a wider and more connected dialogue around shared living. If you are interested in joining in this discussion, please contact us (through Shadia: shadiaqubti@gmail.com) and stay turned for more upcoming community café discussions.

Who knows? Filling even a portion of the empty bedrooms in Greater Vancouver might mean that someone you care about finds a good place to live in our unaffordable city!

Tim Dickau is director of CityGate Vancouver and an associate at the Centre for Missional Leadership. His latest book is Forming Christian Communities in a Secular Age.

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