Former Abbotsford hotel rooms turned into ‘intentional community’
Levi Binder tends to get the same reaction when he tells people he resides in the Fraser Valley Inn.
They usually get a look of distaste on their face.
Binder, 21, loves the opportunity to inform people about the transformation the facility experienced more than three years ago.
No longer is it a hotel renting rooms to some of the city’s most down-trodden citizens. New owners purchased the rooming facilities, renovated them and turned them into an “intentional community” for students and young professionals aged 19 to 35.
The Atangard Community Project, a registered not-for-profit society, now occupies the entire second floor of the building at the corner of Essendene Avenue and West Railway Street in downtown Abbotsford.
There, residents pay affordable rent – between $375 to $500 per room – in exchange for a communal living situation, including shared chores and group dinners.
Stained carpets have been replaced by dark-hardwood floors. Colourful artwork lines the walls.
Each room has a unique character as determined by the resident’s decorating tastes, and doors to each suite are often left open. Currently, 24 residents occupy 19 single- and double-occupancy rooms.
The lack of privacy is not for everyone, but the openness, and the sense of family it creates, is what draws people to live at Atangard, said Lisa Ottevangers, 22, a resident who is also a member of the project’s board of directors.
“If I need someone to talk to, there’s always someone there. I love the idea of sharing life with people,” she said.
Interested tenants must complete an application form and undergo an interview. The goal is to include like-minded people who believe in the strength of building relationships, as well as environmental and social responsibility.
They must sign a contract, agreeing to certain responsibilities such as cooking dinner for everyone twice a month, helping with the household cleaning, or caring for the community garden.
Many have an artsy side, resulting in impromptu jam sessions or additions to the makeshift art gallery lining the walls.
About 60 per cent of the current residents are students. For example, Binder is studying to be a teacher, while Ottevangers is working towards a career in social work.
Others have jobs. Mark Freeman, 26, is a flight attendant for WestJet, while his wife works at a plant nursery.
They live at the Atangard – named after the hotel that first occupied the space – partly to save money to pay off debt, but mainly because of the atmosphere.
“I live in the same house with all my friends. It’s almost like you’re getting away with something,” Freeman laughs. “My life is in this building, and it is awesome to me.”
Ottevangers acknowledges that there can be the occasional issue over, for instance, dishes left in the sink, but the residents are good at communicating with one another and working out their differences.
The benefits of having a group of people to lean on far outweigh these small issues, Binder said.
“You’re losing personal space towards the betterment of other people,” he said.
Adam Roper, 27, said the Atangard has provided him with something that might otherwise be missing in his life.
“I found myself a home here.
“Over the years, it’s become a family in the true sense,” he said.