Every member of Vancouver family now owns a home: a unique path to affordability
Inside a beautiful craftsman house in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood is a heartwarming story of family, support and housing affordability.
“It starts with how do kids get to live in Vancouver with a piece of grass outside,” explained Vancouver real estate lawyer Richard Bell.
His family is a living example of how to make that possible. A few years ago Bell and his wife Reni decided to renovate the home they had owned for 14 years. Their two young daughters were living on their own, Heather with her husband Andrew Stegemann and Bell’s eldest daughter Julianne had been traveling abroad.
“What we did is gifted each of our children and son-in-law a piece of the dirt,” said Bell.
Building a family compound on the same piece of land was Reni’s idea and a year and a half ago everyone moved in.
The main house was essentially turned into a duplex and a laneway house was added to the back.
Heather and Andrew live in the upper floors of the main house with their 10 month old daughter Elyse. They have 3 bedrooms, a den and a beautiful open kitchen and family room.
Julianne lives in the laneway house, which boasts a unique design - 12 inch thick walls, high ceilings, two bedrooms and a swivel wall bookshelf that opens into a laundry room and powder room.
And Richard lives on the lower levels of the house with a separate bedroom and ensuite for his 90 year old mom Mary.
“It’s been amazing,” said Heather.
“When this opportunity came about it was really the only way we could afford a house in Vancouver,” added her husband, Andrew.
“Because as we know Vancouver’s not affordable,” Julianne said, “We all own the property.”
A mortgage was taken out to cover the construction costs and each person had to qualify to pay for their respective their portion of it.
In the middle of the complex is a beautiful yard with an outdoor grilling area, double sided fireplace and sitting areas where they all can gather in the summer.
And what do they do when things start to feel a little too close?
“If the blinds are down then you know not to interrupt that house,” laughed Heather.
“If you get on each other’s nerves you can just leave and go across the yard or upstairs,” Julianne chimed in.
A co-owners agreement defines what happens in the event any of them ever want to sell their portion and move on. But that doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.
The family sat down to discuss their new living situation with CTV News in Richard’s unit, around a large table that seats fourteen people. The table is the main feature and focal point around which everything was built.
“That was Reni’s idea,” Richard explained.
“Sunday dinner, it’s full,” explained Mary suddenly getting choked up. “Reni had always told me that there would be a place for me here.”
On this day Reni is not seated at the table.
In January, Reni Bell, 56, died after a battle with cancer. She may have physically left the family but her presence is felt everywhere you look in the design, fine touches and accessories, like the throw cushion that reads: Family - A crazy bunch of people who deeply care for each other, who live, laugh forgive, dance and love together.
“Bitter sweet is the word because it is bitter, but sweet,” said Richard.
The love of his life had slipped away, while the dream of home ownership for his children and bringing them together had come true.
During this tough time they had each other to lean on for support.
As Richard wiped away his tears he and everyone else at the table focused their attention on baby Elyse, the newest member of the family. Her middle name is Rene and her smile quickly helped ease the pain of everyone around the table.