Building a Shared Community

By Julia Bell

Nightingale Housing

Co-housing as a response to housing affordability – Building a shared community

Melbourne’s median house price has broken the $700,000 barrier, with median rental prices also hitting $400 per week. The housing affordability crisis facing Melburnians is made even more challenging by the lack of wage growth, with growth hitting a record low of just 1.9 per cent over the past year.

It is becoming apparent that we must find more innovative ways to respond to this housing crisis if we are to ensure Melbourne retains its ‘most liveable’ title in the coming decades.

As the composition of our households continues to change, so too does the housing typology needed. Our population is aging, and just over 30% of households will be single person households by 2026. Social isolation is a serious emerging issue. As lifestyles change, a new, sharing economy is emerging, consisting of new, more collaborative paradigms of urban living.

Co-housing, though not a new initiative, is emerging more frequently in medium-high density housing models as a way of entering the property market which enables sharing of bills, cars and household goods, as well as trading services like babysitting and care for the elderly.

Co-housing is defined as an intentional community of private homes clustered around shared space. Each attached or single family home has traditional amenities, including a private kitchen. Shared spaces typically feature a common house, which may include a large kitchen and dining area, laundry and recreational spaces. Common characteristics are described below:

  • Neighbours commit to being part of a community for everyone’s mutual benefit.
  • Cohousing cultivates a culture of sharing and caring.
  • Design features and neighbourhood size (typically 20-40 homes) promote frequent interaction and close relationships.
Balancing Privacy and Community
  • Cohousing neighbourhoods are designed for privacy as well as community.
  • Residents balance privacy and community by choosing their own level of engagement.
  • Decision making is participatory and often based on consensus.
  • Self-management empowers residents, builds community, and saves money.
Shared Values
  • Cohousing communities support residents in actualizing shared values.
  • Cohousing communities typically adopt green approaches to living.
Recent examples of co-housing at a high density include the Nightingale and The Commons apartment developments in Brunswick. The Commons was developed on the ideas of both achieving material reductionism and the positive social impacts of share facilities. 15% of the property is devoted to communal facilities, including a shared roof garden and laundry room. The communal spaces encourage interaction with neighbours.

Nightingale was developed on a similar ethos, guided by the notion of affordability. The combination of an economical design, sustainability and reduced developers profits makes the apartments more affordable whilst also nurturing a social and community atmosphere within the development.

A lower density version of co-housing that is also emerging is single-dwelling suburban blocks being adapted to accommodate two or three smaller dwellings with some share spaces, reducing the overall physical and environmental footprint per household. It is similar in principle to granny flat development but less restrictive, allowing more varied and flexible household groupings.

So could co-housing help us towards more affordable housing? Is it a way of improving social inclusion? What ways could we incentivise co-housing through the planning scheme?

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