Four years ago, Kate Kelly was under such rental stress that she went looking for a van to live with her son.
- Cohabitation involves the construction of several dwellings on the same block, with shared amenities
- The model provides cheap and affordable housing and has changed the lives of low-income people
- While popular in Europe, co-housing has yet to take off in Australia
The disabled single mother spent 70% of her income on rent and had been on the waiting list for social housing for years.
“I had gotten to the point where I was not using gas or electricity on the days my son went to his dad’s house.
“I didn’t buy the medicine I needed for myself, I didn’t go to the doctor.
“I couldn’t afford to find friends, because it costs money.”
By chance Mrs Kelly met someone who lived at the South Hobart housing co-operative who offered her the chance to keep the house for one of the tenants.
At the co-op, she had her own house with a garden and a view of Kunanyi/Mount Wellington.
Her rent was never to exceed 30% of her income, and she had a ready-made community that welcomed her and her son with open arms.
After the home-sit, a permanent space was freed up. Years later, she’s still there.
“I pinch myself every day when I wake up here,” she said.
“He has a community and I have a community too.”
What is roommate?
Cohabitation consists of the construction of several dwellings on the same block, where certain amenities are shared.
In South Hobart there are 12 houses and a common building all facing a central pedestrian “street”.
Each house in the village is different, ranging from two to five bedrooms, and all have a private garden or balcony with views west over the mountains, or east towards the River Derwent.
The common building includes a kitchen, dining room, lounge area, laundry room and guest apartment.
There is ample green space to the rear of the development, and communal gardens and courtyards throughout.
While the residences have their own kitchens and dining rooms, every week there are communal meals, which the residents prepare for each other.
The model is designed to encourage social interaction, but it is not mandatory.
“I found there was actually a concerted effort to maintain privacy and respect here,” Kate Kelly said.
“So the living room is really self-contained and it’s really private and it’s really nice, but if you want to, you go out on your porch and have a chat.”
Under the co-living model, the properties are all rented individually to one tenant.
South Hobart is a co-operative, meaning the entire property is owned and run as a not-for-profit business by its members and a board of directors.
Each tenant pays a very small annual fee to be part of the cooperative and the rent is paid to the organization.
Each member is responsible for the maintenance and administration of the cooperative and, as in any organizational structure, has defined roles and obligations.
“It works like a business, lives like a community,” Kate Kelly explained.
The amount of rent paid by each tenant is based on the size of the property and never exceeds 30% of household income.
Rescued from homelessness
Living there changed the lives of Charlie Woolley and his two-year-old son Jasper.
Before moving in in October 2020, the 22-year-old had been unable to find an affordable rental and was living in a student boarding house.
“I think there’s a bit of discrimination against those who have pets and children, which are often things you can’t just bring home,” Ms Woolley said.
“There are homeless shelters, but the waiting lists for these are just insane.”
Being a young mother on the verge of homelessness was incredibly stressful.
Ms Woolley admits she found the idea of co-housing a little daunting.
“It was a little scary at first, because I had never seen the level of community that was happening.
“People hear things like ‘joint meals’ and ‘shared rent’ and they think ‘what are you doing?’, ‘are you trapped?’, ‘you need me to call someone ‘a?’
“But it’s an amazing place to live.”
She now pays less rent for a three-bedroom house with a view of the city than when she was in boarding school.
Sounds good… so why aren’t there more of these accommodations?
By sharing amenities, food, and the cost of installing things like solar panels, co-housing is relatively cheap and environmentally friendly.
Having dozens of people living on the same block means they are also very space efficient.
Elena Perera of Co-Housing Australia thinks it’s a combination that can help solve Australia’s housing crisis.
“We see co-housing as a model that can provide affordable private and social housing,” she said.
“Around the world there are many, many more in urban and suburban settings, and that is the area we would like to see flourish in Australia.
“Our motto is that we want to see a cohousing project in every suburb and city.”
The problem is that it is very difficult for these kinds of projects to obtain funding.
“Banks are not really used to lending to collectives.”
Although Ms Perera believes that is starting to change, progress is slow.
She says the fastest way for cohousing projects to start popping up across the country is for governments and financial institutions to realize their potential.
“It really depends on partnerships with government, lenders, social impact investors, superannuation funds and the community housing sector to partner with groups.”
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