Redevelopment threatens to evict young people from ‘intentional community’

Abbotsford’s Atangard residents are more than just roommates, they’re family

When Meshaal Alzeer was looking for a new home in Abbotsford, he found a cheap room to rent in the Historic Downtown – and a family to go with it.

The Saudi Arabia-born 27-year-old art facilitator is the newest resident at the Atangard Community Project. The “intentional community” on the second floor of the former Atangard Hotel – now the Fraser Valley Inn – is home to 22 young people who live cooperatively in a space once known for being rundown.

“Look at this,” Alzeer says, motioning to the long dinner table in front of him abuzz in overlapping conversations – discussing their days at work and school, a Bible passage and tonight’s meal (dragon bowls). “This is amazing.”

The scene is the same here every night, as residents gather to unwind over a communal meal.

“The people here just make you feel like family,” Alzeer says.

But evenings like this could be numbered, as a redevelopment proposal threatens to destroy Atangard’s home. Their landlord has submitted a rezoning application to the city proposing a six-storey multi-purpose development to replace the current structure.

The Atangard Community Project, a registered non-profit, began leasing the entire second floor of the building at the corner of Essendene Avenue and West Railway Street in 2009. Members tore out stained carpets, repainted walls and renovated the space then known for housing some of the Fraser Valley’s most poor and downtrodden.

Now 19 rooms – which rent for $375 to $510 per month – line the long hallways adorned with colourful artwork. There are two communal lounges, a large dining room and a shared kitchen. Residents must cook twice a month for the whole house; every other night they come home to a ready-made meal. They have weekly chores, a shared car and even the occasional dance party.

David Fawcett, 25, is the president of Atangard’s board. After his first seven-month stint living there, he moved to Guelph for grad school, where he had two roommates. But he moved back while finishing his master’s thesis as soon as he could.

“The gravity pulled me back,” he explains.

Fawcett, who now works from home as a food security consultant, said Atangard’s leadership team has long known their downtown home wasn’t permanent but the concrete redevelopment plan was a “dose of reality.” He is now working with the society’s board and directors to find a new home. But Atangard’s unusual communal living style means there are few, if any, suitable places to move to, Fawcett says.

“It might be the natural evolution of our community to have something that is maybe more purpose-built for us so that we have more ownership over it.”

Fawcett says the high-density Atangard model not only provides a cheap alternative in Abbotsford, Canada’s tightest rental market, but could and should be replicated elsewhere.

He said the sacrifices one makes living in close proximity to others are far outweighed by the benefits to one’s finances, social life and mental health.

It’s a sentiment echoed by every resident who spoke to The News that’s perhaps best expressed by an inscription hanging over the dinner table: “But what good is a single wind chime hanging quiet all alone? The music our collisions make.”


@KelvinGawley
kelvin.gawley@abbynews.com

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