13 Feb 2019

Is co-housing the key to closed property markets?

From Afternoons, 1:23 pm on 13 February 2019

This week New Zealand had its first ever co-housing hui with bankers, architectural firms, builders and designers getting together in Wellington to discuss how to build up this burgeoning movement.

Thomas Nash from Massey University was at the conference and he says at the moment co-housing is being driven by individuals and communities, but there’s plenty government can do to help the concept take off.

So what is co-housing?

An architectural sketch of the Cohousing project

The Dunedin co-housing project. Photo: Supplied by www.architype.co.nz

“As a narrow term it refers to resident-led building projects, in the wider context of collective urban housing it would include any community-owned or not for profit housing development and there’s a few of those around in New Zealand”, Nash says.

There is the High Street co-housing project in Dunedin and which comprises 20 to 25 units and another similar-sized project in Auckland, he says.

The idea is to pool resources and by-pass what he calls an “extractive” system.

“The housing system we’ve got at the moment is set up to benefit land owners and wealthy investors at the top, and it’s not set up to provide adequate housing for everybody.

“Do you try and rail against the system and force the government to change it, and force the banks and business interests to change it or find ways to set up an alternative parallel system outside that unjust structure and build your own?”

Nash says a deregulated and financialised housing system has driven up prices and caused the housing crisis in New Zealand.

Thomas Nash

Thomas Nash Photo: supplied

“That’s the reason why we’ve got huge housing prices in New Zealand, and other countries, because we de-regulated the banks and they decided to just create more and more money magically through mortgage debt so that they could enrich themselves through charging interest.

“That money doesn’t really come from anywhere, it’s just created.”

"With a collectivised housing model, the people involved in the project pool their money into essentially a building society to build their homes and create a “parallel system”.

And such schemes can be large-scale, he says. An example is in Norway.

“The Oslo Housing and Savings Cooperative been around since 1929, it’s built about 100,000 homes and it’s owned by its members. it’s got about 420,000 members and it’s built a quarter of all homes in Oslo. It’s not a bank as such but it has the savings of its members that it uses to build homes.

Closer to home the New Zealand Housing Foundation is growing strongly, he says.

“It is a community housing provider and in the last 8 years with $10 million of finance it’s created $300 million worth of assets.”

The foundation is a shared equity model for people on lower incomes and one of the projects is at Waimahia Inlet in Auckland.

Typically, there is an element of shared space in co-housing projects Nash says. But it’s a long way from flatting.

“A lot of that is about connecting communities together, part of the problem with the housing system is everybody is individuated away from each other and we end up living in isolation that’s having impacts on our social cohesion, on our community and on our mental health.

“Part of this movement of co-housing and collective urban housing is trying to bring people back together again we want to live with other people and in communities.”

In New Zealand the movement is being embraced by groups of individuals and communities but the government could do much to help encourage the fledging movement, he says.

So there’s a lot of good reasons why we should move away from a finance profit led extractive system for housing and more collectivised public housing model

First of all providing access to land for some of these developments and also tax incentives; there’s an organisation in Melbourne, Nightingale Housing - an architect led co-housing provider – that convinced the government there to take the GST off their developments because it’s the residents that are doing the development and there’s not really a sale from Nightingale Housing the entity to the residents.”

 New Zealand has its own precedents for this kind of arrangement, he says.  

“With papakāinga which are collective ownership systems for property and housing and those are having a resurgence around the country.”