One thing that we’ve noticed about many of our clients is that they’re close to their families. Young couples who build a laneway house on their parents’ property. Retired couples who move into a laneway house while the younger generation take over the main house. In many situations, building a laneway house isn’t just about construction, it’s about strengthening the ties that bind.
Image from worradmu
We decided to interview one client who, with her husband and son, has recently moved into a laneway house in Dunbar behind a main house occupied by her mother and her sister’s family. Julie S. (name changed for privacy) answers our questions about what it’s like to live in a multi-generational setting made possible by Vancouver’s policies on laneway housing and secondary suites.
Tell us about your living situation.
My mom (67) owns the property and lives in the basement suite of the main house. My sister (39) and her two kids (7 and 9) live upstairs in the main suite. We live in the laneway house (myself (37), my husband (35), and our son (4)). My dad lives in a nearby care home, as he has frontal lobe dementia. Being in this situation, I can definitely answer all the questions accurately about multigenerational living!
Why did you decide to live in a multi-generational situation?
There are two main reasons that we decided to move into my mom’s laneway house: family and affordability.When you have kids, it suddenly becomes very clear that being close to family (physically and emotionally) is a life saver. Whenever I tell people about our living arrangements, the first thing they do is smile and say “think of all the babysitting you’ll have!”.
Having two extra adults around that I love and trust dearly to take care of my child is an enormous gift. I understand how lucky we are to have this situation, as many of my friends live far away from their parents and families and I see how hard it can be on them. My husband and I are, of course, there for my sister when she needs the favour returned. Not only do I feel good about helping my sister, but it also allows my husband and I to build a special relationship with my niece and nephew.
The three kids have a very close bond, even with the age differences. Our son is an only child and it was very important to us to have him grow up near his cousins. I can see already that these kids know they have a built in support system in each other.
For my mom, there are lots of able bodies to help out with gardening and are there for her if she gets sick or has a medical emergency. Although life gets a little chaotic with so many people around, I know that she feels more comfortable having us around. Getting back to the importance of family, my mom didn’t built the laneway house for a rental income, she built it so that my husband and I could raise our son close to family in one of the most amazing neighbourhoods of Vancouver. I am ever so grateful to my mom for giving us this opportunity. Thanks, Mom!
The second reason for moving to the laneway house is simply affordability. My husband and I can’t afford a house in Vancouver, let alone the Dunbar area. Living in this little house means that we can be in a detached dwelling with a yard in a great neighbourhood with great schools and be close to the natural beauty of Pacific Spirit Park.
With the recent holidays, how does your unique living situation affect the way you all celebrate together?
Already, we have communal dinners a couple of times a week and it’s already understood that a good cup of coffee or tea will be provided at all times in each of the homes.
With the Christmas just past…we spent our holiday in Kelowna. For future Christmases however, we anticipate that they will not change much from previous years. We have always gotten together either with my family or my husband’s family (or some combination of both) and this will stay the same. It will be nice, however, to just run our contribution to the meal across the yard instead of across the city. Having the shared yard space between the main house and laneway house, combined with lots of summer birthdays in our family, will probably mean some great little garden parties will be taking place this summer!
Look for Part 2 of this interview on Thursday – Julie’s biggest challenges and benefits from living on the same property as her extended family…