Building a co-housing community is a long-term undertaking that requires determination and resilience as well as patience and careful consideration every step of the way. The project leaders must, among other things: find suitable candidates to become future members of the community; secure financial backing; find the right plot of land on which to build; and establish the foundational values that will underpin the community. As part of this process, respect for others is key, as is recognising that everyone has their role to play and brings their own contribution to the community. These elements take time to get right.
2003: Discovering co-housing communities!
Michel Desgagnés was the visionary behind Cohabitat Québec (CQ). His early childhood in the Lower St.-Lawrence region of Québec inspired an appreciation for a living environment where neighbours interact and appreciate each other. He gradually started to develop a vision of a community based on mutual cooperation. An inspiring six months travelling around the United States and Canada in a Westfalia with his partner Valérie Jamin, visiting some 40 eco-communities, helped nurture the dream.
2004: Launching the project
The family of Louis F. and Julie L. joined Michel in developing the idea for a co-housing community. They helped to draw up the initial guidelines. In December 2004, the project started with seven families.
2005-2007: Establishing the founding documents
Over time, a core group of valiant visionaries was formed. The founding documents were developed:
- Organizational structure: roles and responsibilities
- Membership policy and application guide
- The organization of a workshop
- Contributions policy
- The definition of the mission, vision and values of the project
- The choice of a legal form (non-profit organization)
- Searching for a plot of land
- ‘My Life Needs’ form
- The Cohabitat Québec Charter
- The rules of internal governance
The preparation of these documents allowed the founders to clarify and elaborate the project’s vision, mission and values, and led them to explore the principles of Nonviolent Communication and Sociocracy as a means of governance.
2008: Experiencing ups and downs
Michel undertook training in sociocracy at Sociogest's School for Leaders and in Nonviolent Communication and Conflict Resolution with Groupe Conscientia. As the years went by, different families joined the founding group. Meetings were held in a variety of locations: at the Montmartre canadien heritage centre, the Frédéric Back cultural and environmental centre, the basement of the Mont-Thabor Chapel, the Lucien Borne centre, Université Laval and Cégep Garneau (college). New contacts led to new meeting places. Exchanges were stimulating and sometimes difficult. Many families left the project during this period, partly due to a lack of understanding and practice of sociocracy. Maintaining motivation was also challenging. Three founding families remained: Michel and Valérie, Ruth, Paul-Henri, Éveline and Cyprien.
2009: Finding a site and restructuring (solidarity cooperative)
Établir un cohabitat nécessite évidemment de trouver un terrain! Pour Cohabitat Québec, il aura fallu cinq années de recherches, l’aide d’un groupe de ressources techniques (Sosaco), des visites, des consultations, des évaluations et des réunions pour arrêter le choix sur le 1650, rue Louis-Jetté, en plein cœur du quartier Saint-Sacrement. Juché en haut de la falaise surplombant les basses terres, ce site merveilleux présentait tout de même certaines contraintes : un vieux bâtiment à recycler et présentant des défis techniques, un terrain envahi par la renouée japonaise et un sol mal décontaminé qui engendrera plus tard des recours en justice. Mais le site est à proximité des écoles, des réseaux de pistes cyclables, et au cœur de la ville… Ville ou banlieue fut d’ailleurs un dilemme longuement discuté, notamment à la lumière des diverses contraintes du territoire propres aux différentes localités (e.g. zone inondable, pylônes électriques, forte circulation aérienne).
At the same time, the group started afresh, with better foundations and updated founding documents. The project gained a new legal status: a solidarity cooperative (to which a co-ownership syndicate was added after the move). After spreading the word to former members of the project, 10 families returned to join the three founding families. Thirteen families embarked on the second version of this adventure, with the wind in their sails once again!e version de cette aventure, le vent dans les voiles à nouveau!
2010: Start of Cohabitat Québec (CQ2)
L’achat du terrain se concrétise! Le 10 juillet 2010 se tient le premier atelier dans le bâtiment existant avec les architectes, Mary Kraus (architecte américaine spécialiste en « cohousing ») et Pierre Thibault. Lys Construction s’est également joint au projet depuis 2009. Grâce à leur ouverture et leur volonté d’aborder un projet de construction en ‘travaillant ensemble’ avec les futurs cohabitants, ils développent une approche contrastant avec le style ‘clé en main’ habituel. Les aspirations sont grandes : énergie solaire passive, géothermie, panneaux solaires, bassins de rétention des eaux, analyse des vents dominants, etc. On vise un cohabitat le plus écologique possible… Des ateliers ont lieu une fois par mois où les architectes, Lys Construction et le comité design des futurs cohabitants échangent sur leur vision et l’avancement des travaux de conception.
2011-2012: Signing of the first promises to purchase but departure of several families
In December 2011, several members signed promises to purchase. After numerous consultations with Atelier P. Thibault, a new problem emerged: the estimated construction costs exceeded the budget by 30%. The sketches were magnificent, including very large communal areas, entire walls with floor-to-ceiling windows, an elevator and two footbridges. The group needed to go back to the basics and start again. The architect left the project in early 2012.
Thirteen of the 31 families also left. It would take 18 months to find the replacement families.
2011-2012: Drafting the Community Principles
During the months of conception, the families of the future co-housing community met in the basement of the Mont-Thabor Chapel to work on drafting the "Community Principles”, which would provide the framework for living together. Sharing space required establishing certain guiding principles to ensure cohesion and community spirit, help avoid frustrations, and facilitate collective growth. Through these workshops, several members felt the need to validate their aspirations. The group (accompanied on occasion by Lys Construction's site manager) visited co-housing communities in New-England to seek inspiration; this was an uplifting experience. Seeing other established communities helped to visualize the outcome of the project and, in particular, served to solidify the choices made and identify new priorities.
March 2012: Tergos Architecture + Construction écologique takes over the project
Tergos Architecture + Construction, known for its ecological approach, took over the design in March 2012. Cohabitat Québec’s members were increasingly unhappy with the project delays. Tergos had six weeks to rework the plans and make the necessary cuts, and one short year to complete construction! A total of 42 units were planned. But then a challenge arose: finding the missing $400,000 to start financing the construction and meet the requirements of our financial backer, the Caisse d'économie solidaire Desjardins, to secure a total of $2M!er On April 1, 2012, the group held a "Loans and Guarantee" meeting where the members collectively acted as guarantors for each other. This highly significant act was a tangible confirmation of the members' shared commitment and trust.
2012-2013: Development of the Declaration of Co-ownership and planning of common spaces
While the design was being worked on, a small team worked on the hot topic of the declaration of co-ownership! Starting from a template, a new type of document had to be drawn up for a cohabitation-type co-ownership syndicate. The first of its kind in Québec! This process required hours of meetings, annotations and opinions from notaries and a recognized specialist in the condominium field, lawyer Serge Allard.e It was an enormous amount of work. In June, we celebrated our first "Neighbours Day", taking cover from the rain in a crowded space under a makeshift shelter set up for the occasion, equipped with coolers and snacks and basking in the glow of friendship.
At the same time, our Communal Spaces Planning Committee got to work, designing and furnishing common spaces, while keeping to the values and budgets established. An electronic bulletin board was even created to receive offers and ideas from CQ members for furnishing the communal areas. Items were collected from some members; the CQ trousseau was born! We entered into an agreement with Communauto: a car would be available in the CQ parking lot! Landscaping firm Terralpha was hired to design the outdoor space, while specialist garden centre Croque Paysage filled the grounds with edible plants. Throughout this period, some members of the group sold their homes and took up temporary accommodation near the site; others aimed to time the sale of their house with the completion of 1650 Louis-Jetté.
June 15, 2013: End of construction and moving in!
Le 15 juin 2013 marque la fin du chantier! C’est 35 familles qui emménagent!
June 15, 2013 marked the end of construction and 35 families moved in! It was the culmination of a long journey, characterized by hard work and a series of great highs and dramatic lows! Québec’s first co-housing community was officially inaugurated on August 24, 2013, and the sense of pride and joy was palpable. By December of that year, all 42 units had been purchased! However, there was one important absence: that of Michel Desgagnés, who died suddenly of meningitis five months before the end of construction. This adventure would not have been possible without this visionary, to whom the members are very grateful.
Cohabitat Québec is a dynamic community, in constant renewal; a place of departures and new arrivals, and new projects that inspire and energize the community. The story of CQ continues to be shaped by the lives of its inhabitants.
The pioneering founders
Cohabitat Québec exists thanks to the determination of six visionaries: Michel Desgagnés, Paul-Henri April, Ruth Boivin, Éveline Gueppe, Cyprien Bertagnolio and Valérie Jamin. These founders conceived the project and, in 2003, took the first steps on a long road leading to the construction of the buildings and the move in 2013. Their path was strewn with challenges and pitfalls but also with great achievements and victories. Today, four founding members still live at Cohabitat and the community remains grateful for all their efforts.