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Mom of the House: Alternative housing for young families

"I think if Canadians got a bit more creative in the way that they viewed their living space we’d have a lot more people living in an affordable home that suited their needs, and even their wants"
Mom of the House with Brianna Bell

I have always been fascinated by alternative housing projects. As someone raising a large family on one small income, we have learned to lower our expectations when it comes to the space we inhabit. 

We are not our parents’ generation, and getting into the housing market is next to impossible unless you have two competitive incomes, or a nice family handout, and sometimes even these two things aren’t enough. 

One thing I haven’t thought of is the difficulty that our parents (and in my scenario, my grandparents) will also have in funding their retirement, and finding a place where they can age safely and gracefully.

This week I read an article about four senior women in Port Perry, Ontario who purchased a $1 million dollar home together. Their home, or mansion, has been renovated to suit them through their years of retirement, without the need to pack up and find a more accessible home in the future.

Things like an outdoor ramp, indoor elevator, a spa-area, private bedrooms and bathrooms, and even a basement suite for a possible live-in caregiver were all factored into the renovations for this stunning senior home. A senior living centre of this calibre would only be available to the richest of seniors, but because of the savvy-thinking of these four women, they were able to become co-owners of this home for only $250,000 each. 

After reading the article I started thinking about ways that my own family could approach home ownership. I have already looked into, and even reported on many alternative living options.

In 2016, I wrote an article about a local couple living in a tiny home, and was fascinated by the unique lifestyle involved in inhabiting a home of under 200-square-feet. But our current house is 1,000 square feet, and it feels tiny enough for a growing family of almost five. 

Personally, I am not unfamiliar in living in homes that are out of the ordinary. At the age of 8, I spent nearly a year sharing a double bed with my mom while we spent some time in transition at my maternal grandparents’ home. I learned what it meant to have limited (or zero) personal space, and the dynamics of multi-generational living. 

My first year of marriage was spent living in a dorm-style apartment at a small Christian college with my husband. Across the hall lived a group of young male students, and downstairs housed a daycare centre. We also spent two years living under the feet of a wonderful Sri Lankan family, where we raised our two young daughters in a basement apartment, unlike most parents who were above ground in their own homes. 

But now my children are growing, and I am ready to find a way to make home ownership work for us. I am still interested in alternative housing, but not the type that requires us to live underground, in a shoebox, or share a bedroom with my mom (and my husband agrees, especially with the last option!).

I believe the four senior women in Port Perry have an important lesson that young families can also learn from. 

What if I found another family that also wanted to get into the housing market, but couldn’t quite figure out how? Co-ownership isn’t just an option for the elderly. Young families can also find a way to make this option work. Perhaps renovating a larger home into two separate homes, with some shared common space and outdoor space, would help bring millennial families into their dream of home ownership. 

Co-owning a home would allow for greater affordability, as well as help with paying for things like property tax, lawn care and landscaping, and renovations. Surely there would be complications, and probably a few arguments, but as long as each party was covered by a thorough legal document, and they started out with plenty of similarities, I can see this idea working.

Alternatively, I believe that as our parents age and try to find ways to fund their retirement, looking into multi-generational living is also an option. I have zero desire to share a bedroom with my mother, but I would be open to sharing a house. Especially if we renovated the space to give us each privacy and autonomy, while mutually benefiting from financial savings and mutual assistance; for example free babysitting for free gardening!

I’m excited about the possibilities when it comes to co-ownership and creative planning and thinking. I think if Canadians got a bit more creative in the way that they viewed their living space we’d have a lot more people living in an affordable home that suited their needs, and even their wants.

And I think before long, we won’t have a choice but to get creative. Unless you have $400,000 for a shoebox. 

Chime in! Would you ever consider co-ownership? Do you see it as the future for people of all ages?

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Brianna Bell

About the Author: Brianna Bell

Brianna Bell is a Guelph-based writer who focuses on events, small businesses, and community stories. In addition to GuelphToday, she has written for The Guelph Mercury and The Globe & Mail.
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