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A Home of My Own, Part Two

February 15, 2018

 February 15, 2018

‘A Home of My Own’, Part Two


Speakers:  Sue McIntyre & Julie Lebrun, St. Andrew’s United Church, Multi-Use Church Property  Re-development

                      Liz & Doug Cochran, Finding/Developing Integrated Housing for our Adult Children


 St. Andrew’s United Church: The Re-development of Our Church Property


The St. Andrew’s Housing Society was formed as part of the redevelopment of St. Andrew’s United Church in Port Moody, BC. Sue and Julie presented their planning process to date. In addition to a building permit, a zoning change is also required for this project to proceed, and the project is currently under review, awaiting these approvals.

 Vision, Mission and Values

Church members, in consultation with their congregation, developed a visual representation of their mission, vision, and values in the form of a tree which they used to identify their key values, which then guided their decision-making. It was emphasized throughout their presentation how important this vision was in helping them remain true to their values throughout the development process and in searching for partner organizations whose values aligned with theirs.

 Development Process

The planning process began in 2014 and the project is projected to be ready for occupancy in 2020. St. Andrew’s advises that the planning and realization of this type of project takes time, and patience needs to be exercised and lots of time allotted to the planning process. The process was described in 6 steps:

  • Mission/Vision: the idea
  • Feasibility Study – The Concept Plan
  • Details: the Business Plan
  • Preconstruction Phase
  • Construction
  • Occupancy


  • Create a new, multifunctional, welcoming space
  • Achieve financial sustainability for the Church
  • Provide benefits to the surrounding community
  • Construct a high quality building based on sustainable design

It is interesting to see how well these objectives have translated into the proposed project. Included are a new church for the congregation and shareable space for the surrounding community, a Children’s Treatment Centre, and affordable rental housing for families and individuals. Their studies indicated that what the community needed was not condos, and not expressly seniors’ housing or housing for people with disabilities, though it can accommodate both. Their intent for their housing was to provide a ‘great place to live in a kind way’.


Finding and developing good partnerships is key to the success of this type of project. While the congregation had land and a long term goal, it had neither the money nor expertise to move ahead on the project alone. The Church connected with four partners and the role and importance of each was described.

The partner organizations are:

  • United Church of Canada BC Conference
  • Kinsight (formerly Simon Fraser Society for Community Living)
  • SHARE Family & Community Services
  • Catalyst Community Developments

Significant support has been provided by the United Church of Canada BC Council and BC Housing.

More details on the partners is available at

 Proposed New Building

A schematic of the proposed new building was shown and described; St Andrews is not yet ready to broadly circulate their drawings until they have received their permits. However, it was inspiring to see how far the vision and values of the congregation, have taken them from the existing church afloat in a large parking lot, to the proposed building. Included are a new Church and Church offices and a Children’s Treatment Centre for people with developmental disabilities (this will be jointly owned and operated by Kinsight and SHARE. St. Andrew’s felt that the Treatment Centre, a permanent partner, with compatible values, was preferable to retail units, which would tend to have a higher rate of turnover, and which may or may not be good neighbours. Proposed are 55 rental units, ranging from studios to 3-bedroom units, owned and managed jointly by the non-profit housing arms of Catalyst and the Church (the Church will own 30-35% of the units). Resisting the pressure to develop condos instead of rental units demonstrates an understanding of the surrounding community and a commitment to St. Andrew’s development vision. Rental income will be used to pay the mortgage and sustain the Church. Professional property managers will be engaged for the day to day running of the building.

 Project Financing

Various partner organizations have contributed financially to the project throughout the developmental process (see 6 steps above). The Church’s primary assets were their land, and a dedicated community willing to give of their time to work on this project. Careful selection of Partners connected the Church to development expertise and money. St. Andrew’s emphasized that they could not have undertaken this project alone.

  • Mission/Vision: St. Andrew’s Church
  • Feasibility Study This cost approximately $20,000, provided by the United Church of Canada, VanCity Credit Union
  • Business Plan: St. Andrew’s, UCC, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), Catalyst Community Developments
  • Preconstruction Phase: predevelopment loan from BC Housing
  • Construction: Church land transfer, BC Housing
  • Occupancy: take out financing

Who Will Live There

The process for applying/selecting occupants for the units has not yet been decided. The rental rates for the 51 units may vary but will average about 15% below market rates. The 4 units reserved for people with developmental disabilities will be rented and managed by Kinsight at the monthly housing allowance rate for PWD.

 Lessons Learned

Julie and Sue summarized their learning about the re-development process to date, and advise others as follows:

  • Stay true to the vision
  • Develop guidelines for decision-making
  • Build a communication strategy
  • Communicate constantly; using different media and being inclusive of all stakeholder groups (eg. neighbours)
  • Don’t do it alone; each partner brings something that makes it work

How to Help

The congregation of St. Andrew’s United Church is a relatively small group (70 people) and welcomes community support and involvement. One opportunity is to attend the upcoming public hearing at Port Moody City Council. The date of this hearing has not yet been announced.


Finding/Developing Integrated Housing for our Adult Children

Liz Cochran is a co-founder of Vancouver Transition Parents, a parent support group working hard to share information around the support of people with disabilities transitioning to adulthood and their families. Liz and Doug Cochran also represent a small group of Vancouver parents seeking to provide long term housing for their adult children with disabilities. This group evolved from common interest as their sons were part of a ball hockey league, and the parents began to talk about housing for them a bit further into the future. From a larger initial group, three families have come together over the past two years to find a solution and are ready to invite other Vancouver families interested in joining them on this project.

They identified some of the same issues that Julie and Sue described – the considerable amount of time that is required to define a vision/goals so that one knows what to look for, and finding compatible partners. They formed a non-profit society as a basis for connecting with potential partners, one of which,

the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion (BACI), has come aboard with this project. BACI would buy some or all of the proposed building, manage it, and perhaps offer some life skills programs, such as cooking classes. In addition to engaging an architect, Anthony Bonni, the group has considered various building designs, has liaised with VanCity about financial strategies (families would put in money) and has met with Terra Housing to figure out what was possible and what they really wanted.

This group is looking for a Vancouver location for their young adults, as this is where they live, and where their kids grew up. However, as you can imagine, the high cost of housing in Vancouver has made finding a site challenging. Yet, as this is where they also live, and want to be close to their kids, and believe that their children ‘have the right to live in the community where they grew up’.

Important aspects of their housing vision:

  • A mixed community which would include a variety of people of ages, ethnicity, and ability
  • To avoid being perceived as a “building where disabled people live”, they feel that they would like to limit the number of people with developmental disabilities to 50% of the building’s population, though their view of this has evolved over time, and is not necessarily fixed.
  • They would like to offer a combination of living arrangements.
  • They will also be developing a mechanism to enable individuals to move out, as they recognize that circumstances in the lives of everyone, including the lives of their kids, may change.
  • The inclusion of communal social area important.
  • Proximity to transit, shopping and recreational activities is important.
  • Some things, such as parking space or garden areas are less important, and may be reduced in area from what would be included in other buildings.

Liz’s group feels that buying an existing building and renovating it, is their most feasible option, both in terms of time and money, and have looked at a number of older apartment buildings. They think that a building of 10-16 units would be appropriate for them, but so far have not found anything that would meet their needs. They have also noted that without an actual building it is challenging to develop a working relationship with the housing “players” in the city, such as BC Housing/City of Vancouver, or to get solid commitments from other parents who also need housing solutions for their adult children. They also have realized that, when they do find a building, they will have to contend with existing tenants who will have to be bought out, or who may not want to leave.

An organizational framework that they are considering is the idea of ‘life leases’ where a member of the group would purchase the use of their accommodation in the building. Lessees would pay in and live in the building until they choose to move, or until their death, with the next person moving in paying the departing lessee or their estate the use purchase fee. Essentially, lessees would buy a ‘right’ to inhabit and use part of the building. Any increase in value would be shared by members.

 Advice to other groups wanting to undertake similar projects

  • Realize housing projects take time
  • Look at lots of projects/buildings to get ideas
  • Find experts in the not-for-profit organizations
  • Make meetings fun
  • Partner with a service provider with experience and expertise in housing.

Liz’s presentation left me puzzling over possible solutions to finding a building. I have difficulty seeing the City of Vancouver permitting the development of a multiple unit building in a single family zone, even if their 10-16 inhabitants were housed in only 5 suites. An existing large single family house, however, could be re-designed with four or five bedrooms with bathrooms and a large common area, with possibly a laneway house for a support worker to live in. This scenario implies that the building would need to appear as a single family building, and not as a building with multiple front doors. I am also wondering if a relationship with a developer and/or the City of Vancouver could be pursued where families belonging to groups such as Liz’s could be given the option to purchase 3 or 4 adjacent suites in a new condo development at the design phase, when the plan is still in flux, which could then be re-worked to meet the needs of the young adults to be housed. This would likely involve the City offering a density bonus, and/or allowing the reduction in the number of required parking spaces. Another possibility would be to cultivate relationships with the owners/property managers of older apartment buildings, and ask to be alerted to any vacancies of apartments. The group could then begin to “assemble” units in the building, providing incentives to tenants in a given suite to move other units in the building, so that the group can gather units together to renovate them to meet the needs of their members. What would likely make this work would be the offer of the group to provide some building improvement capital, and possibly to upgrade the suites of those tenants that have agreed to re-locate to another unit in the building. Finally, what about further expanding upon the laneway house concept, and instead of thinking about housing our kids together in a single building, looked at housing them together in a neighbourhood? For example, if 3 adjacent single family houses could be found either with aging home owners, or home owners needing a mortgage helper, laneway houses which could accommodate two individuals in each could be built on each of the 3 lots. If these were developed at the same time, there could be significant design, permitting, and building savings. To make this really work would require that these laneway houses be either strata titled or given something like a long-term lease, to ensure the security of housing that these individuals would need. Making them zero lot line units would make more efficient use of the land. However, these might be hard to achieve in terms of permits. This grouped laneway house scenario could also allow the pooling of support worker hours, if supported individuals were housed close together, in the same neighbourhood.

We wish Liz and Doug and their other members well with this project and look forward to future updates.

Additional Material


February 15, 2018
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Event time is in Vancouver BC time.