INNOVATIVE DESIGN: The recently completed intergenerational co-housing Nightingale Housing project # 1, which is located in Brunswick, Melbourne.
INNOVATIVE DESIGN: The recently completed intergenerational co-housing Nightingale Housing project # 1, which is located in Brunswick, Melbourne. Peter Clarke

New ideas to shape present and future living

THE world of ageing is evolving in many different ways compared to the experience of previous generations, particularly with living choices.

For so long we had the choice of either ageing at home or selling up and moving into a retirement village.

But that is changing, driven by the baby boomers who have an appetite for living choices that are contemporary and apply across the generations.

Sustainability, affordability, fighting homelessness, social connection, shared economy, ageing in place, control of the living space and communal are the buzzwords of the new housing options.

Some of these options are deliberative, small-scale, collaborative and co-operative models, and build-to-rent. And these are only the current models, several of which are already in place in northern Europe and in the US.

Expect more choices as social innovators, financial institutions, public organisations and government agencies all come together over changes to financing and legislation to allow these evolving models to become part of the mainstream offerings.

Another barrier is getting older Australians to accept this evolution to co-housing living choices.

University of Technology Sydney's Research Director and former architect Caitlin McGee said that when seniors heard the term co-housing, they tended to think of it as the "extreme end of spectrum".

"It's not a commune," she explained. Co-housing has been a fringe movement in Australia up to now, but the examples are getting more mainstream."

Collaborative housing

Ms McGee said collaborative housing could be alternative communities and it could be mainstream. It could incorporate several generations or be seniors only, and could be owner-occupied, rental or a combination.

"Typically, you have a slightly more compact home in lieu of the greater shared facilities," she said. "There is a whole spectrum of these developments that essentially have two principles - they integrate more sharing and they are about resident participation rather than speculative housing where a developer builds and then sells."

Affordability in construction and in the cost of living are key drivers in these models. Sharing of garden tools, social areas, the laundry, grandkids' play equipment through to car sharing and achieving water and energy efficiencies, and even a shared visitor overnight accommodation rather than having a guest bedroom within the home, can all be options.

"It means apartments are delivered at a lower cost, typically between 15 or 30 per cent less than equivalent properties in that area," Ms McGee said.

Building close to shops and a transport hub are also an important part of these models.

It's also about residents having control over the residential design and ultimately its management, and about having a sense of community and integrating with the wider neighbourhood.

The following models are underpinned by the fundamental principles of co-housing and layered with a range of unique characteristics.

Prospective owner-residents of Nightingale 1 meet for a community dinner and information session ahead of the building starting construction.
Prospective owner-residents of Nightingale 1 meet for a community dinner and information session ahead of the building starting construction. Kate Longley

Nightingale Housing

Nightingale #1 is the only known completed co-housing build so far in Australia. It's an intergenerational, resident-run, owner-occupied, 20-unit block in Brunswick, Melbourne.

"The model is founded on three basic principles - environmental, social and financial sustainability," Nightingale Community Engagement Leader Dominica Watt said.

Savings are achieved from the use of clean-energy services and low-cost utility and building costs which help with long-term affordability.

The units are sold at a cost which includes a capped 15 per cent return to the initial project investors.

"Construction savings are shared with homeowners, who meet each other and the designers, well prior to the building being built and after they have been successful in the ballot."

Following the deliberative design approach, owners are intimately involved in the common area design process.

"It gives residents the chance to work together and we know that is a really important key in creating community," Ms Watt said.

"By the time they move in, everyone knows each other and it feels like a safe, connected environment."

Nightingale #1 includes value-aligned commercial tenants on the bottom floor while the top floor has a shared garden and laundry facilities.

There are resale rules and the prices are tethered to the local market.

Deliberative design

AGEncy is a resident-led model where a group of Sydney friends and acquaintances, aged from 54 to 71, are working together to address their future living needs.

Co-founder Keryn Curtis, 54, said it would be like living in a normal owner-occupied apartment building.

"But also having a relationship with the people living in the building and shared amenities," Ms Curtis said.

The group plans to be the developer of an inner-city site. Eight people have agreed to be the project funders, which they hope will deliver 12-14 apartments.

"Everyone is part of the co-housing group," Ms Curtis said. "It's an intentional community; you have to take part.

"From the ground up, you decide what you do and don't want to share."

The end result is a development based on the individuals' needs and affordability, not on what a developer decides is the market need.

Village approach

IRT plans to have in place within about two years a new retirement village at Kanahooka, NSW. It will include in one area of the village nine one-bedroom, self-contained, owner-occupied units of about 50sqm each.

"We were looking at other options for downsizers with the idea of giving them a slightly different mix of private and public spaces," IRT Head of Strategy & Innovation Rob Bruce said.

"The residents can set their own agenda within that space and collaborate on whatever they like to whether it's art projects to car spaces, cooking together in an oversized kitchen, watching movies together, all of which will help solve some of the problems of social isolation and loneliness."

This one-bedroom home is similar to the concept CHASM is working on for its pilot program. Image supplied by CNH Transportable Homes Chinchilla.
This one-bedroom home is similar to the concept CHASM is working on for its pilot program. Image supplied by CNH Transportable Homes Chinchilla.

Small-scale co-housing

This model is based on renovation or rebuilding of an existing home or block of units to achieve an increased number of residents on the site, Ms McGee explained.

"They could informally look after each other which might reduce the need for formal care," she said. "If care is required, at least they will be co-located and it might be cheaper or easier."

CHASM in Maleny in Queensland is developing a version of small-scale co-housing to give its older residents the choice to remain living within their existing community.

"Ageing in place is a crucial thing," CHASM co-founder Marg McKenzie, 65, said.

Whether they do retrofit or new build, each of CHASM's designs considers ageing needs.

Growing property prices and Airbnb has made several of Maleny's former rental properties unavailable.

"People were finding they were being priced out of town and having to move away to find somewhere cheaper to live," Ms McKenzie said.

"The community were strongly in favour of co-housing as long as the model provides a combination of private and shared space.

"It's not a commune. It's more a collective of people who share a vision of how to live together."

The CHASM team is encouraging its community members to understand they can create a secondary dwelling.

"If we can get people in the town to agree to and can afford to do that, and then rent it out, then you are providing affordable rental housing for these people who are in housing crisis," Ms McKenzie added.

CHASM's Marg McKenzie with Julia Peddie, with ZONTA's Margie Richter (centre) receiving a donation from ZONTA.
CHASM's Marg McKenzie with Julia Peddie, with ZONTA's Margie Richter (centre) receiving a donation from ZONTA. CHASM

Co-operative community

The residents of this affordable housing model, who are often long-term tenants, have control of the decision-making on the management of their environment.

In Cabramatta, Common Equity NSW is developing affordable, ageing in place housing specifically for older Vietnamese and their extended families.

The model will also create opportunities to maximise savings in transport, energy and food costs through various sharing and pooling processes.

Another of its projects is Newcastle Cohousing (NewCoh). It's focused on achieving a self-managed, intergenerational housing group which combines private living and community sharing.

It's in its early design stage, but the plan is to allow for both rental and owner-occupied apartments and town houses.

Both projects are aimed at small self-contained residences, but with several communal areas set up to encourage sharing and social interaction.

Build-to-rent

The Property Council of Australia CEO Ken Morrison said build-to-rent developments would be owned by institutional investors looking for income, such as super funds, and focused on tenancies of much longer than 12 months.

These complexes will provide affordable intergenerational housing in an area that is well serviced, and where not all amenities are built into the apartment.

"There is a much bigger focus on common facilities," Mr Morrison said.

"It's more than just a place to live; they feel part of the community. The economics of this makes it possible because of the single ownership and the motivation of the owner-manager to keep the tenants happy which makes them highly motivated to continue with their leases."

Sydney's Mirvac and Melbourne's Salter and Grocon groups are all interested in the concept.

On the Gold Coast, the 2500 Commonwealth Games Athletes' Village units are being transformed into this model.

When?

Anyone interested in these housing options should "watch this space" and start doing their research now. It's a rapidly changing space.


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