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'We are chosen family:' Why seven adults share a home in Kamloops

A few of the RareBird housing cooperative residents Robyn Hines, Mary Jordan, Dan Hines and Kevin Gillcash stand together in front of paper origami cranes that their late housemate Allen Ciastko made.


KAMLOOPS – Living with roommates can be difficult, but seven adults are proving it's possible and share everything from grocery bills and family dinners to triumphs and grief.

An equity housing cooperative like this, where all the expenses, house duties and common spaces are communal, is an intriguing concept that most never consider.

The RareBirds housing cooperative isn't just a house, it's an intentional community. 

From the street it looks like a standard, albeit large house but after stepping into the 6,000 square foot space overlooking a gorge with six private 400 square foot bedrooms and nine bathrooms, it's clear this is no ordinary suburban household.

The RareBirds housing cooperative is perched at the end of Battle Street West and his covered in solar panels.
The RareBirds housing cooperative is perched at the end of Battle Street West and his covered in solar panels.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Dennis Owen and Tyler Meade

The RareBirds house was built in 2014 by seven adults on a mission to live a more fulfilling, sustainable, economic and frankly, unconventional life.

Everyone who lives in the house is an equity partner and contributes equally to house expenses. That's what makes this housing cooperative unique: They aren't renting a room, they are paying into the equity of the house.

$350 per month buys equity shares and covers all other household costs. With groceries included, it costs $950 per month for a couple and $650 for a single person.

Though this notion may sound strange, member Dan Hines says many people in the world live this way, and that their lifestyle isn't that unusual.

"Suburbia is a very recent experiment. The dream is that everyone has their own castle," Dan says. "You are your own lord of your own empire. You don't necessarily know anyone around you. Your garage door drops, you get out of your car and go into your house. When you mow your lawn you may see your neighbour and that's about it. That's suburbia and I think there's a movement away from it."

There are plenty of misconceptions about the community.

"Some people think we are a big commune or a bunch of hippies," Gillcash says with a laugh. But given the design of the space, the solar panels that essentially run the house and the organic, high quality meals they eat, he says "high-end hippies," would be a bit more accurate.

Everyone in the home takes turns with household chores and preparing dinner.
Everyone in the home takes turns with household chores and preparing dinner.

Another question the rare birds are frequently probed with surrounds privacy. Member Mary Jordan says there's more than enough privacy and the common spaces usually clear out in the evenings. Members can retreat to their private space if they aren't feeling social. Sometimes everyone is so spread out around the house, they resort to technology to find each other.

"We text each other actually, in the house," Mary says with a chuckle.

But it isn't all smiles, family dinners and celebrations. Dozens of delicate, colourful paper cranes made by late housemate Allen Ciastko - who passed away last fall - flutter in the entrance of the home.

"Grief brings out the best and worst in all of us. We saw some good responses to loss and some really difficult struggles and they were all happening simultaneously in the house," Dan says.

The community did their best to support Val MacKay-Greer, Ciastko's wife, during her loss, which quickly became their loss as well. 

"We knew we would all be impacted by one another's losses over time, and we knew we'd be a part of those losses," member Robyn Hines says. Allan was part of our family and he was a bit of a prince of a man." 

After the loss of Ciastko, the residents stepped up for MacKay-Greer. Whether that meant helping out with chores or taking care of her dinner duties, they were there to support their housemate.

The learning never stops and the birds are still working out all the kinks and unique issues that come with a cooperative living situation, Robyn says, but they are happy with their choice of lifestyle.

"It's been an interesting journey and we certainly don't claim we are perfect at it. We are learning to listen to each other and how to deal with any problems that come up," she says.

One thing is clear, support and community is strong within the walls of this Battle Street West home.

"When you're down in the dumps, or sick, people here look out for you." Gillcash says. "It's not just the down times, it's the upswings too. When people are happy here, there are good vibrations."

Currently, the birds are looking for one person or couple to buy a share and join the cooperative. They have one share available now and are happy to speak with anyone interested.

They've created a 'flight manual' filled with house policies and procedures that serves as a go-to resource for the residents, with one steadfast rule in the home: Everyone eats dinner together.

"Eating meals together creates a sense of community like nothing else does," Robyn says. "It's hard to do in our society with people coming and going with shift work and business. Even couples have a hard time seeing each other. The pace of our society has driven a lot of isolation. I think we are a bit counter-culture in that way, because we make that time."

What began as a conversation around consumption and living sustainably blossomed into an intentional community of support and eventually, as they say, a chosen family.

Open spaces and huge windows are the most striking features of the house.
Open spaces and huge windows are the most striking features of the house.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Dennis Owen and Tyler Meade

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