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

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

B.C. reservists gather for military communications training in Chilliwack

Canadian Army’s communication skills are used in battle as well as domestic emergencies

VIDEO: ‘Heroes’ rescue teenager trapped in vehicle in water-filled ditch in Chilliwack

Two men sprang into action, holding 17-year-old’s head out of water as they pried open door

Sarah Wark rallies to beat Prince Edward Island at Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Wark wasn’t at the top of her game, but her team did enough to improve to 6-3 overall.

GW Graham junior boys play underdog role at basketball provincials

One of two at-large seeds in the 32 team field, the Grizzlies face a tough opponent out of the gate.

Unfinished business for GW Graham basketball Grizzlies at AA provincials

GWG’s senior girls squad advanced to the final before losing in 2018 and look to win it all in 2019.

Sell regulated heroin to curb B.C.’s overdose problem: report

B.C. Centre on Substance Use points to organized crime and money-laundering as contributing factors

Galchenyuk scores in OT as Coyotes edge Canucks 3-2

Vancouver manages single point as NHL playoff chase continues

B.C. legislature moving suspended staff controversy to outside review

Whale watching, Seattle Mariners trips billed as emergency preparedness, Speaker Darryl Plecas says

Two boys saved after falling through ice in Coquitlam

RCMP say a Good Samaritan pulled the kids to safety

More people signing up for compulsory vaccines

Maple Ridge mom says public tired of hearing about measles

UPDATE: Man charged in stabbing of woman, off-duty cop outside B.C. elementary school

Manoj George, 49, is facing two counts of aggravated assault and two counts of assault with a weapon after the incident on Wednesday, Feb. 20.

Why do zebras have stripes? Perhaps to dazzle away flies

Researchers from University of Bristol look into why zebras have stripes

Poll: More voters believe Canada doing worse under Trudeau government

22 per cent believed the country is doing better and 27 per cent said things are the same

HBC shuttering Home Outfitters across Canada

North America’s oldest retailer is revamping its various stores to improve profitability

Most Read