19 Apr 2017

Cohousing: the solution to a crisis?

From Nine To Noon, 9:36 am on 19 April 2017

As policy makers puzzle over how to increase the supply of housing around the country a group of people in Dunedin think they've found a novel solution.

The group are hoping to build New Zealand's second ever co-housing community on the site of an old primary school in High Street.

Co-housing works by having small private homes with shared facilities such as a commercial kitchen, workshop and backyard.

An architectural sketch of the Cohousing project

An architectural sketch of the Cohousing project Photo: Supplied by www.architype.co.nz

The concept is common in Scandinavian countries but only one project has got off the ground in New Zealand - Earthsong in West Auckland

The project’s leader, Catherine Spencer, told Kathryn Ryan the model they’re using respects both private and public space.

People can have their own regular home and also share in facilities that increase social interaction and community resilience, she says.

The private homes will have between one and five bedrooms, a regular kitchen, dining area, living space and bathroom, as well as a private outdoor space.

“So that if you get up in the morning and you want to go and put on your fluffy slippers and sit drinking your cup of coffee and not interact with anybody, you have some space to do so.”

The complex will have shared spaces, both in terms of grounds and buildings.

Spencer says the complex’s dining room will be multipurpose, with tables able to be packed away for movie nights, yoga classes or group activities.

There will be a small commercial kitchen to be used for shared meals, which she says people are free to participate in if they wish.

The shared facilities have sustainability benefits, as well as social ones, as they are able to reduce the carbon footprint of the private homes, she says, by eliminating the need for surplus rooms that are seldom used.

“I don’t need to build guest rooms in my new house because there will be guest facilities in the common house, so that means I can build something smaller, it becomes more economic for me and those guest facilities get used and booked by the whole complex.”

The village will use the building leftover from an old primary school, which will be refurbished to be used as a common house.

Spencer says the project’s organisers are operating as a company, which has purchased the land and will be carrying out the building.

At the end of the build the houses will be unit titled and the company will become the body corporate.

“Because one of the things about co-housing is that it’s driven by the people who want to live there, rather than an external developer, then we are the ones that can set the rules and decide how we proceed, and what we want and what’s important for us.”

She says it’s not the best model for cohousing, but it means there’s a framework for the project.

“Because we’re a company and companies are set up to make profit, but basically we’re running it as a not for profit company, but they aren’t really recognised by our legislature in this country.”

They will use an external valuer to determine properties’ values.

She says they’re working with Dunedin Council, which is supportive and is buying into the social housing units.

Due to current zoning laws they had to have a publically notified resource consent hearing.

Spencer hopes the difficulties they’ve experienced in setting up the project will get easier if more co-housing units are established.

“The legal arrangements, the financial arrangements, the council arrangements all need to do this catch-up.

“Once more co-housing units and social housing get built, we hope this will get easier.”

The organisers are now about to submit their building consent application and hope to start construction before the end of July.

The project is expected to take 18 months to two years to complete.

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