Mehr Als Wohnen (More Than Living), Switzerland, is regarded as one of the most ambitious and innovative co-operative housing projects in the world. Credit Ursula Meisser
Mehr Als Wohnen (More Than Living), Switzerland, is regarded as one of the most ambitious and innovative co-operative housing projects in the world. Credit Ursula Meisser.
  • The term collaborative housing can cover a variety of housing types.
  • Common features include a mix of private and shared spaces; sharing of vehicles, equipment and resources.
  • In some countries, particularly in Europe, Housing Cooperatives make up as much as 40% of the total housing in a city.

Across Australia, housing affordability continues to reign as a critical issue that impacts a large proportion of society.

The so called ‘great Australian dream’ of owning a home is becoming further out of reach for a growing cohort and record low rental vacancy rates are also taking a toll.

UDIA has long been advocating for all levels of government to work together to address the issues that are threatening housing affordabilty and people’s ability to access appropriate housing for their needs.

While affordability is dwindling, as a society we are also grappling with the impact of an aging population, many of whom are feeling increasingly isolated due to living on their own.

In the context of these significant issues, collaborative housing models are an emerging concept in Australia that encourages participation, sharing and community-building for residents, while still offering a private, secure and affordable home.

Generally speaking, collaborative housing is shaped by the people who live there and is specifically designed to encourage social connection and to be more affordable.

The term collaborative housing can cover a variety of housing types but there are a few common features including a mix of private and shared spaces; sharing of vehicles, equipment and resources; encouraging informal social contact; and varying levels of resident input into the formative design and ongoing management of the community.

Caitlin McGee, Research Director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF), says that while collaborative housing might not be for everyone, it is an important element when addressing housing affordability and improving social connections.

“In terms of improving social connections it’s fairly simple,” Ms McGee says.

“With this kind of housing, it starts with community. People come together at the design phase, and they have a vision of how they want to live together, and you end up with a lot more sharing.

“It happens quite organically that you end up with a much more communal life than your standard apartment building model,” Ms McGee said.

The sharing aspect of collaborative housing can also lead to improved affordability outcomes in many cases, given the increase in shared spaces can mean fewer private spaces are required, making the overall development more compact.

There are different delivery models that can make collaborative housing more affordable.  Ms McGee advises that in some countries these models can result in a 20% cost reduction, although some of the models can be harder to make stack up in Australia where land costs are high.

ISF has created a Collaborative Housing website that provides an overview of the different models, including Cooperatives; Building Groups; Intentional Communities; Co-Living; Collaborative Retirement; Cohousing; and Small Blocks.

Perhaps one of the more commonly understood models around the world, is the Housing Cooperative, where the tenants who live in the housing ‘co-op’ are also the members who own it. Each member lives in their own dwelling, and actively participates in the management of the co-op.

In some countries, particularly in Europe, Housing Cooperatives make up as much as 40% of the total housing in a city.

Housing Cooperatives are a growing trend in Australia, with approximately 8,000 people living in co-ops around the country.  Here in WA, there are several examples including the new Kyloring Housing Co-operative at Witchcliffe Ecovillage, and there are several examples of other seniors living co-ops around the state.

Ms McGee also outlines some lesser known, smaller models that can provide affordable and innovative new housing options.

“One model is what we call small scale co-housing, such as a granny flat,” Ms McGee said.

“Our research shows that while a lot of council regulations allow for a granny flat, it could be made less restrictive to allow for other housing types.  For example, rather than one primary residence and a secondary residence which is the granny flat, what if you have two households who want to co-locate on one site and build two equal size residences?

“That means taking a site that might be for a typical family dwelling and allowing two or even three equal sized dwellings.

“This can be a great option for people who are already socially connected, such as intergenerational families or friends.”

A larger scale model that Ms McGee describes is relevant for 20 or 30 households or owner occupiers.

“These households might act as the developer themselves if they have the equity, or they might enter into a partnership or agreement with a developer to customize a development to their needs,” Ms McGee said.

Then there are rental cooperatives that need investors or government involved to fund it.

“At the moment there is a Federal Government push to look at how we can get more rental co-operatives, but often the conversation is focused on Build-to-Rent,” Ms McGee said.

“I would not really call high end Build-to-Rent collaborative housing, but you can use that Build-to-Rent model to deliver collaborative housing if you work with the community from the outset.

“Most of the Build-to-Rent that we see now, particularly in Sydney, is at that high end, luxury segment of the market.

“But there are people putting effort into looking at what that could look like in a more affordable context and how you can include social and affordable housing as well as market housing.  This would be geared to that level of people who are just above being able to attract a subsidy but are still struggling to afford housing, such as key workers.”

Another model that we don’t yet have in Australia that Ms McGee would like to see introduced here, is the Limited Equity Co-operative.

“This is where residents are not just renting, they can invest in the co-operative through purchasing shares, which gives them a part ownership stake in the co-operative,” Ms McGee said.

“It’s just a different version of a co-operative where you can achieve a little bit of wealth creation.”

Ms McGee says that there are enabling policies that could be implemented in Australia to support more diverse collaborative housing models, including utilising more government owned land for this purpose.

In places like Switzerland, particularly in Zurich, a certain percentage of government land needs to be set aside for cooperative housing. In fact, 20 per cent of all housing in Zurich is delivered and managed by housing cooperatives.  Projects are typically developed on public land, and financed through a combination of member equity, low-interest loans, and commercial mortgages.

“If it is government land and there is insufficient social and affordable housing available, could housing on that land be delivered under a collaborative housing model?” Ms McGee asks.

There is also a role for private industry to start getting more involved in collaborative housing models. Ms McGee says there are groups seeking ‘enlightened’ developers to partner with, who see the value in working with the community.

“While it is mostly small developers that are targeted for these types of projects, larger developers could consider allocating some land to a collaborative housing model, particularly if they are tendering for large, strategic sites,” Ms McGee suggests.

In order to see more collaborative housing in Australia, there does need to be a paradigm shift in terms of how we deliver housing.

“Given the current crisis, now is the time for innovation and thinking about how we do things differently,” Ms McGee said.

“If we continue to expect the same kind or profits then these models are not necessarily going to work, but if we are more open minded about how the benefits can be shared then there is a way.

“Investors might need to be prepared to take a bit less of a return but there is value in the social impact benefits and there is scope to find financial models that work.”


This story was originally published in The Urbanist magazine, an official publication of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (WA). It has been edited for republication by The Property Tribune. 

The Property Tribune thanks the UDIA WA for the opportunity to republish the work, and share thought leadership in relation to urban development and community creation with our readers.

Read the original copy of The Urbanist by heading to UDIA WA’s website under the News tab.

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