Tim Gummer

After a flurry of new initiatives emerging over the last year, 2017 finds some of us with more muted expectations about the prospects for collaborative housing projects - particularly in our larger cities.

The classic ‘self-developer’ cohousing ownership model tends to rely on a small group of extra-committed and extra-financed to step up and invest in a site, ahead of a wider group. With banks becoming even more picky now, unless projects include very well resourced individuals, then securing a site will be out of reach.

Added to this is the attrition of commitment, that a number of Auckland groups have experienced  despite gathering numerous memberships with a high proportion of self-declared ‘seriousness’, groups have struggled to get beyond the concept stage when their really committed base turns out to be an order of magnitude less than those declared.

Where do the solutions come from?

Growing the pie has to help.  There isn’t unanimity about this amongst the broader coho community, I know that some groups prefer keep a low profile, but given the realities of commitment attrition, its hard to argue that less is more.

Certainly government, both local and central, can play a bigger role, by resetting the role of social housing beyond it’s current ambulance at the bottom of the cliff status, and providing preferential opportunities via land, resource consent dispensations etc for projects whose realisation is clearly a public good. The labour party for one, has professed a commitment to rebooting social housing.

But as architect and senior lecturer Bill Mackay recently pointed out on Nine To Noon, the state has a much smaller role in the national economy than it did in the heyday of state housing boom.

Having more developed legal frameworks available, will help build confidence and may encourage a wider range of individuals take a leading role with site purchases.  This is an area that both the Christchurch-based Ohu organisation and an Auckland group have picked, building on the experience of others - particularly Earthsong.

Meanwhile, sanguine though we have to be about the challenges, interest in cohousing continues to grow, with more and more people signing up on this site, and coverage in mainstream media.  Just this month Dunedin’s High St community announced that all but four units have been sold – this will arguably be this country’s first genuinely urban cohousing development.

The visibility of projects like this will inevitably inspire many more to pursue cohousing as a viable option. And at the very least, the pie will likely grow. 

And as to whether government begins to be part of the solution - at least on the central level, we’ll have to see how the year plays out.