Cohousing in Australia

Plus other low-cost, low tedium options for secure habitation somewhere



*For your entertainment, photos from Burj al Babas, the abandoned McCastle Development.

Scruffy notes from my cohousing working group on our research into how to find for ourselves some cheap, low-fuss, convivial cohousing in Australia. These notes are not really presented for public consumption, but rather as notes for a working group, but there was enough interesting stuff that I thought it worth copy-pasting. If you want to get in touch about anything discussed here please do, or join one of the meetup groups mentioned.

Models we have discussed

  • Joint purchasing of apartment blocks etc
  • Formal housing cooperatives
  • Moving somewhere more propitious

Collective housing structures

So, there are a lot of governance and ownership structures for collective housing, and TBH I have no strong opinions about which model is most awesome, there seem to be many perfectly good ones, and I'll mention some stuff.

https://www.collaborativehousing.org.au/ collates a few different options. Also Renew Magazine did a pretty tops story on these recently. There is also a cooperative that support housing cooperatives, Cohousing australia. I’ve put myself on the mailing list for all these organisations. There is a book that everyone recommends too; I'm pretty sure that’s in the google doc but TBH too busy to check right this second.

Policy setting

I don’t know much about this, but there are people who study this. There is a LinkedIn about policy setting for co-housing: https://www.linkedin.com/events/planningpolicyworkinggroup6839055508578693120/

Housing cooperatives

Housing co-operatives are a classic here. In NSW this seems to mean going through Common Equity. The major example to be aware of in practice is our local Alpha house.

Some fun resources on housing co-ops for folks to take a look at:

\[1\] - Aussie zine explaining co-op basics and key principles.

\[3\] - Intro to the legal aspects of starting a co-op. For those more legislatively inclined, see https://legislation.nsw.gov.au/view/html/inforce/current/sl-2013-0601#sch.7 which contains default rules for governing housing co-operatives.

\[4\] - This is a fun webseries about co-operative living set in Faire Op (Portland, Maine). As you'll see, the direction is a bit strange, but the experiences are joyfully and painfully real.

\[5\] - Review of organizational practices of many housing co-ops. It’s heavily US-oriented (material differences include that housing is much cheaper). The best couple of pages (IMO) are 19-20 on household conflicts and 21-23 on the types of organizations that help out with financing housing co-ops.

Non-profit eco-apartments

Those other orgs I mentioned in the last email:

They ain’t housing cooperatives; they are something a bit newer and different. These things hack traditional apartment designs to make apartments that are a little more sharing-oriented than a classic apartment and also rather cheap because minimalist. They also incorporate needs-oriented allocation. Plus: low effort, low cost. Minus: less collective and participatory, apartment tend to be oriented to singles or couples but not so very collective. Personally, I regard this kind of option as a backstop; If I can’t rally a solid a crew to do a more collective option, falling back on this weird architect-driven model looks OK to me, and I'm pursuing it low-key on that basis. (NB they have a stated policy that their model is NOT viable in Sydney because our land is too absurdly expensive and our transport too shit. Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Geelong, Melbourne... anywhere but Sydney.)

Also, an hybrid option I learned about was Urban Coup, who are launching at the moment: - they have a resident-led twist on the Nightingale model (and in fact get nightingale to build the thing customised to resident interest). They are explaining their governance framework tomorrow.

Buy a thing jointly and DIY your preferred collective design ("co housing")

Also interesting models, there are organisations that exist to facilitate some DIY, roll-your-own collective purchase models for housing such as Built for Good and Property Collectives. They seem to be interested in a wide range of different degrees of collectivism from saving a few percent off the normal purchase price though to more elaborate organisations. e.g. here is the Built for Good spiel:

What do I want?

We convert your ideas and wishes into professional speak so you can talk to real estate agents, architects and lawyers effectively.

How much can I afford?

We plug this into a financial tool and teach you how to use it so you can make decisions to make the most of your budget.

Find others who share your dream!

If you don't already have a community for your project, we help you find those people who share your values.

Go shopping for the right location.

Getting this right is critical.

We give you the tools and the process to work out what properties suit your goals and be the right canvas to create your project.

Are they any good? no idea. I found them on a random link-trawl over the internet. But the fact they exist suggests there are professionals in this area we can ask for advice, and they have facebook like from people I like FWIW

Property Collectives is currently recruiting for a few:

  1. Northside Collective -- an inner north collective (with 4 current members) looking at buying a site in Yarra, Moreland or Darebin

  2. Eastside Collective -- an eastern suburbs (with 3 current members) collective focused on Stonnington or Boroondara

  3. Outer North Eastside Collective -- an outer north eastern suburb collective looking to form a CoHousing project in Eltham

  4. Byron Collective -- a NSW north coast collective (with 4 current members) looking to buy a site in Byron Bay Shire and surrounds

Here is their info pack. (I found this mob through my bank,so they are presumably respectable.)

There are several examples of this, e.g. Bega’s Bend.

Acquiring a posse

Next thing I was interested in was trying to accumulate critical mass for a collective/cooperative/gang to get housing solved with.

There are groups for this. I know that Newcastle does this with NewCoh (see also their facebook). In Sydney there is a meetup group which has been going for a while so I whacked myself on that but haven’t had a chance to follow their threads much yet.

How much to share

Essentially, do you have your own kitchen or do you share a kitchen? There are a lot of different appetites here. If you buy a bunch of apartments, you share a garden but essentially nothing else. If you co-build or renovate you can consolidate more resources - workshop, bathrooms, event spaces, living rooms, kitchens, co-working offices... The more things you share, the cheaper it can be (up to the fact that most dwellings are built for community, so sharing stuff can be difficult) but also the more people you are intimate with. People have varying appetites for community; Some people feel they need 10 square meters of private space, and some feel they need 100 square meters. What are the arguments for these different degrees of communality? There is a famous ted talk arguing that you want at least some communal space.

For people who share lots of stuff, there are resources like the intentional community reddit. (i.e. share houses with long-term commitment)

Where to live

Conveniences

Microburbs provides data-driven mapping of areas' various qualities. Their data is a little old now (2016 IIRC) but they have lots of good stuff - public transport, 'hipness' ethnic diversity indicators...

One thing they do not include is political leverage of various areas. I care about that, so I mapped it for you.

Climate change

On the timeframe of a 30 year mortgage, which was one of the time scales we discussed, climate change is definitely a factor. tl;dr: Under a business-as-usual world economy, Sydney is projected to sit on the mid-slopes of a climate disaster mountain. From here on north it is increasing risk of firenadoes, and drought seasons are going to make the last bushfire season seem tame. So if we want to invest in a real-estate with higher probable value at the time the mortgage is over, a higher value retirement nest egg is to buy in Vic or Tas with the option to rent out the basement to a displaced Byron Bay refugee family. To be clear, we are all looking at firenadoes; the question is one of relative importance and strength. Here are some local tools to explore this:

Firstly, the CSIRO tools are probably the best local models, which means, for what it is worth, the most precise and adapted to local circumstances

However, it is hard to get the real juicy stuff out of them, like flood and fire risk.

For those, we need to resort to more generic global apps:

  • Inland floods: > Aqueduct

  • Coastal floods: > Seeing

  • Firenadoes: No good resources for australia yet, so we need to guess > it from the CSIRO extremes data.

These gives us interesting maps. TL;DR THE INNER WEST IS IN A DANGER ZONE CHECK THE ELEVATION OF ANY PROPERTIES. ALTERNATIVELY: BUY IN THE INNER WEST NOW AND YOU WILL HAVE A BEACHFRONT PROPERTY IN A COUPLE OF DECADES.

Pollution

In an urban context, you might be interested to see this map of the lead levels in Sydney soil by Macquarie university’s Vegesafe.

In a rural context, bushfire smog is a non-trivial risk to health, and is obvs also related to climate change. Does anyone have up-to-date statistics on this in Australian context? There is an excellent list of resources and challenges for lung health from California.

COVID and other contagions

COVID looks like it will be with us forever, and we don’t know the long-term trajectory of that bad-boy, but it might seriously change the trade-offs of urban living. Or not.

For now, here is a piece by Elizabeth Aceso for some risk calibration.

Buyers' agents

Buyers agents might be good for people with specialist housing purchase needs. Do any of us know how to choose amongst them? There are a few top-ranked results from google:

I don’t have much understanding of the incentives facing these people.

Governance

Two things here:

legal/financial

structure of the entity which owns the development and determines the rules and procedures for who lives there and when.

Community procedural

How does a group doing co-housing decide stuff?

urbancoup’s members presented on this and thought about this for WAY TOO LONG. I did learn about Sociocracy from them which sounds like a low-lift governance model.

Housing theory and policy

Questions to answer about goals

Multi-generational

Shared kitchen

Shared guest room

Shared workshop

Shared event space

Shared garden

Price

City?/Country?/ Urban fringe?

NSW/Qld/Vic/Tas/NT?

Build from scratch?

Convert apartments?

own/rent?

co-op/strata/other?

How much capital can you stump up now?

What do you want to do if someone needs to sell?

How much can you raise as a loan? (This is complicate because it depends on the parties?)

How many people do you represent (some of us already have crew)


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