Co-operative housing is helping to address the lack of affordable housing in Australia, where more than 1.1 million people are suffering the effects of poor-quality or unaffordable housing.
Around 2,500 co-op housing properties have been developed in Victoria state, where social housing represents only 3% of all housing. By contrast, the national average is 5% – while in the UK, social housing accounts for 17% of all households. The lack of affordable housing has resulted in homelessness and unsanitary living conditions.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to articulate the benefit of co-op housing and some solutions to the housing crisis we face,” says Stephen Nash, managing director of Common Equity Housing Limited (CEHL), whose 2,200 properties across Victoria provide housing to 4,000 people. The company is owned by 114 co-ops and registered as a housing association.
But Mr Nash says this is “a very small proportion ” of Victoria’s housing.
One of the goals of CEHL is to expand the range of people who can access co-op housing and attract middle-income people. It secured funding through the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Package (NBESP), the Australian government’s austerity stimulus, which helped build 4,000 new housing units. The federal government also helped build 18 eco-units in Heidelberg, Melbourne, using an environmentally sustainable design and based on co-housing principles. Residents occupy their own homes, but share facilities such as garden, laundry and recreation rooms.
More recently, CEHL has bought an old primary school in Geelong, where it will develop 59 apartments. This is the first stage of the St Mary housing development, which will include 193 apartments – including social housing for low-income earners – office space, a café and open public spaces. Common Equity Housing is partnering with a local hospital, which will use some of the meeting spaces and buy apartments for their visiting staff.
Mr Nash visited the UK last year and spent time at Rochdale Borough Housing, to learn about staff and tenant representative structures and methods of building communities.
“It’s very inspiring,” he said. “We’ve got a lot to learn from how the UK successfully embedded the co-op model as viable alternative.
“It’s important we understand the experience here, what’s worked well, what the challenges were and how they overcame them.”
For Australian housing co-operatives, he adds, the greatest challenge is “to find ways to grow in an environment where the model is not well-known at this stage.
“I think we can offer solutions to address the housing crisis and avoid the poverty, alienation associated with it. It’s an empowering model as well, people have a say in how the housing goes, involve in running the co-op. It’s an opportunity for people to develop confidence and skills to go into further education and employment.”
To this end, CEHL is offering eight scholarships to co-op household members. They receive up to $2,000 each to help them into different levels of education, from certificate level to postgraduate degrees.