Raising kids in co-operative housing
If you're prepared for a life of give and take, this might be the option for you
September 14, 2016
Catherine Bargen gave birth in her bedroom in the 36-unit housing co-operative she’s shared with her husband, Richard Siegenthaler, since 2013. The neighbours weren’t disturbed by the noise of labour, though, because they were already aware of the mom-to-be’s plan to give birth. In fact, residents of the Charles Square Housing Co-operative had already made meals, knitted blankets and had books ready for the newest addition to the Bargen-Siegenthaler household.
That same neighbourhood support system has been instrumental in the first two years of their daughter’s life. After a few months of Roxanne not adjusting at daycare and many spreadsheets full of failed attempts to secure a nanny, Bargen and Siegenthaler made the decision to use co-op living to help with child care.
The desirability of Charles Square is evident as soon as you enter its sunny courtyard, which is filled with children’s toys. Then there are the security benefits that come with being a part-owner of your space. “We have so many friends right now who are going through the Vancouver ‘renoviction,’” Bargen says. The catch? Co-ops are notoriously difficult to get into, with multi-year waiting lists being the norm.
Casual child care also requires delicately exploring relationships to avoid offending well-meaning neighbours. Sometimes money is exchanged, other times babysitting or a bottle of wine. Siegenthaler, who’s scaled back his workload, now has neighbours helping him watch Roxanne. Bargen says they’ve achieved a balance—and a lifestyle—at a cost they are happy with. “I was so thrilled the first time a little eight-year-old girl knocked on the door and asked if Roxanne could come out and play,” she says.