Co-housing and housing co-operatives are a real alternative to our current housing solutions and for many people are or would be are a good solution to the housing crisis.
As we will see, they are very worthwhile but sometimes hard to achieve. Maybe we should fight to make them more accessible to more people.
What is co-housing?
Co-housing is all about people coming together to do it themselves. Here is the description in Wikipedia:
Cohousing is an intentional community of private homes clustered around shared space.
Each attached or single family home has traditional amenities, including a private kitchen. Shared spaces typically feature a common house, which may include a large kitchen and dining area, laundry, and recreational spaces. Shared outdoor space may include parking, walkways, open space, and gardens. Neighbors also share resources like tools and lawnmowers.
Households have independent incomes and private lives, but neighbours collaboratively plan and manage community activities and shared spaces.
It may seem a new idea to many but actually, it’s very old – a small community looking after each other and working together.
This is how communities lived for millennia before our cities grew into big lonely places and we came to rely on government and big organisations to sort things out rather than each other.
Not a commune
You may be thinking ‘Oh that sounds like a sort of hippy commune’ but actually it’s not. People have their privacy but also have community.
However many co-housing groups are very concerned about the environment and try to live in a more sustainable way. Growing some of their own food, cutting down on unnecessary duplication by having communal laundry areas, workshops and the like.
But take a look at this video which explains it in a bit more detail:
According to the excellent co-housing website, there are now 19 built cohousing communities, which does not seem very many, but apparently, there are some 60 developing projects.
They are all different. In many, the inhabitants have actually built the housing themselves, such at the LILAC community in Leeds.
In others, they have bought existing properties and adapted them, for example, the Trelay Community in Cornwall.
Similar projects are housing co-operatives such as the Cornerstone Cooperative where a large house was purchased in Leeds which is owned by the co-operative and rented out to residents who are all members. Here is Cath Muller who has lived there for over 20 years:
“We chose the big house in Chapeltown because it had big gardens and lots of cellar space and we bought a second house within 18 months.
“Over 20 years and 100 members later, we’re still going strong with businesses operating in the cellars of both houses, productive gardens, excellent workshop spaces and infamous annual parties.
After paying off their mortgages and loans, Cornerstone members decided to keep rent the same and use the money to help other co-ops across the city. Cath said: “
We have invested over £60,000 in other housing co-ops, given £25,000 to another co-op in Woodhouse to stabilise its finances and regularly give money to causes we support.
The article goes on to say that housing co-operatives are also a good model for student housing and they are looking to develop this in Leeds (and no doubt elsewhere).
Finance and stuff
Some schemes have been funded entirely by the owners by selling their own properties and getting a bank loan for the balance. However, others have been able to obtain grant funding.
At least one group, the Threshold Group, is run in partnership with a Housing Association.
A long slog
From reading some of the stories it looks as if most of the groups have had struggles in setting up and some have taken many years to develop – particularly those who have built their own homes.
But a successful co-housing group is undoubtedly a wonderful and supportive place to live and worth the effort.
It would be nice if there could be more of them. In fact they sound to be to be a much better solution, for many people, than traditional social housing.
If this interests you, the best place to start is the excellent UK Co-Housing website where you can read about other projects and see some great videos – including the one I have given you above.
If you are serious, probably the next thing to do, is to join the co-housing network and reach out to some of the existing cohousing groups and talk to them.
It seems that there is a lot of advice out there if you look for it. Funding and planning permission are probably two of the biggest issues, although I suspect the most important thing is the people involved – their vision and staying power.
If you live in or have helped develop a co housing group please leave a message in the comments with any advice you may have for someone considering starting their own project.