Co:Here’s agile approach to fight COVID-19 | A Place to Call Home
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October 30th, 2020

Intentional housing model proves robust in face of pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic affected everyone’s way of life. The residents at Co:Here Housing Community were no exception. What is exceptional is the agile approach they took to protect themselves and their community.

The 26-unit building is home to residents from all lifestyles and socio-economic backgrounds. Run by Salsbury Community Society, they use a community development approach to supportive housing that’s carefully nurtured by residents and staff.

Jeanette Moss is director of operations at Salsbury. She recalls the uncertain time at the beginning of the pandemic in British Columbia. “Like everyone else in the housing space we were scrambling,” she says. “We increased cleaning protocols and signage, and our focus quickly shifted to supporting the Community Builders Group—we started meeting weekly from monthly.”

The Community Builders Group, or CBG, is a unique community-based governance structure at Co:Here. It’s similar to a strata council at a condominium development. Staff at Salsbury take on administrative tasks and the community leads decision-making. The CBG quickly sprung into action and started creating new safety policies. The group limited outside visitors, set up strict cleaning protocols, and temporarily closed shared gathering spaces. This included the shared kitchen, an important social hub at the building.

Before the virus, residents would gather once a week to prepare a shared meal for the entire building. COVID-19 made this impossible. Instead, the CBG organized fresh food boxes. They used the kitchen as a cleaning and prep area to ensure the building’s immunocompromised residents always had access to healthy food.

Younger and less vulnerable residents organized medication and grocery pick-up and drop-off schedules for older residents. With physical money identified as a possible vector for COVID-19 transmission, Salsbury staff discontinued coin receptacles on the laundry machines—a popular move with residents.

Jake Tucker is a member of the CBG and notes, “We held weekly meetings and reviewed how things were going and if we needed to switch things up. We then helped Salsbury staff communicate those guidelines to other residents.” He continues, “There’s a mix of folks in the group, some with lots of energy and capacity, and some with a bit less. Throughout the process though, everyone was super kind and respectful.”

Residents and staff at Co:Here rallied and met challenges together as a united community. Amid rapidly changing health information and best practices, they worked together to create a safe living environment for everyone at the development.

“From a development perspective, we didn’t build an apartment building with lots of amenity spaces and expect ‘community to happen,’ says Jeanette. “Rather, we continue to invest in creating a strong and resilient community and that strategy is paying off.”

“Through collaboration with tenants, administration does not feel burdened and our relationship with residents is excellent. We choose to work together and co-create—this mindset changes how operators and developers think about identity and policy. The past few months, in a way, has validated our approach to housing.”

This project received funding from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and BC Housing through the 2014–2019 Canada–British Columbia Agreement for Investment in Affordable Housing.

See also: Diverse residents build intentional community