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

Purpose-built rental building under construction in White Rock

The four-storey, 28-unit facility is to be complete by late next year

James Good named Surrey’s Citizen of the Year

Resident has been volunteering since 1988

‘Sabrina’ series will film late into the night in Cloverdale

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will be on location at ‘Cerberus Books’ until early Saturday

Keen eye for detail key for North Delta artist

Photographer Murray Klassen’s work will be on public display at MLA Ravi Kahlon’s office all summer

Make ‘Salmon Tracks’ in Surrey this summer, city challenges residents

‘We have 1,500 kilometres of creeks, and what gets into those drains isn’t treated,’ city staffer says

BC Games’ Athletes Corner: What’s your favourite pump up song?

Check out what’s playing in the earbuds of BC Summer Games athletes before they compete

RCMP help to save goats from wildfire

The fast-approaching wildfire, sparked Thursday, forced the evacuation of five homes

VIDEO: Near drowning captured on popular B.C. river

Search and Rescue manager says the popular pastime of floating in the summer is inherently dangerous

Crosswalk vandalism leaves black mark for Cowichan as B.C. Games begin

Rainbow crosswalk defaced just days after being painted

Photo gallery: BC Games Day 1

A brief look at action from the 2018 BC Summer Games in the Cowichan Valley

UPDATED: Anti-pipeline campers digging in as eviction deadline expires

The City of Burnaby had ordered the Kinder Morgan pipeline protesters out for violating bylaws

Trump was taped talking of paying Playboy model: AP source

Source says former personal lawyer Michael Cohen secretly recorded discussion prior to 2016 election

BC toddler with ‘allergy’ to sun waiting for bone marrow transplant

Charlie Lock, 2, needs treatment for damage caused by rare disorder EPP

VIDEO: How to throw a frisbee

Ultimate frisbee player Amy Mackay shows off the proper technique

Most Read