Social capital and housing

EUGENIE STOCKMANN is a sustainability expert and founder of Green Fabric, a social enterprise that facilitates cooperative housing development projects.

NO MATTER how much one saves by not brunching on avocado toast, house affordability is an issue Western Australians will be dealing with for a long time. With median house prices in Perth over $500,000, good news has come from the City of Fremantle, which is encouraging a cooperative venture for self-designed and built housing.

A 1477sqm site at 7 Quarry Street will be a showcase for an innovative development that provides a diversity of housing options with positive sustainability outcomes. Because it is to be designed and built under owners’ guidance, there is no developer’s margin – usually around 20 per cent of total cost – so the project can deliver more affordable housing.

The city was inspired by a model common in Europe – Baugruppen or, literally, ‘building group’, in which future owners and residents collaborate and build their own community from the ground up.

It’s a far cry from the means-tested co-op model that serves low-income residents and leaves them at risk of losing the spot if they grow too prosperous.

The new idea of cooperative housing is to cater for diverse segments, mixing up low and middle-income residents, adapting to individual needs and lifestyles, allowing people to prosper and move from renting to owning.

Following this model, the city and its councillors want to make 7 Quarry Street a proof-of-concept project, erecting social capital along with buildings.

Although financial benefits are the most pressing, cooperative housing also delivers solid social, environmental and community outcomes. Without sacrificing privacy, it allows for meaningful social connections, a sense of community and shared spaces and resources.

Cooperative developments have a higher quality of service when it comes to designing and building, as well as day-to-day operation, with owners and residents engaged in all stages. These innovative projects are flexible and adaptable to occupier needs and desires.

There is already a role model for how the Quarry Street project could develop. Genesis by The Green Swing in the Town of Victoria Park was born out of two couples’ desire for a small-scale inner-city development focused on sustainable outcomes and better quality of life.

As a housing development, Genesis pushed the boundaries of rules and regulations in its intentional design for environmental outcomes, communal living, public transport access and greening the surroundings; even the next-door sump was transformed into a community garden.

The 7 Quarry Street development in Fremantle is exciting because it can achieve similar outcomes at a bigger scale. Instead of Genesis’ four dwellings, Fremantle’s Quarry Street project will have 20 to 25 dwellings, opening great opportunities for diversity and affordability and an exciting design challenge.

A couple of large-scale cooperative projects in The Netherlands show what is possible. Iewan, for instance, is an affordable housing project, with 3-4 story apartment buildings, made from natural materials such as straw, and partly built by future residents and volunteers.

Before getting to the drawing board, however, there are concrete challenges to contend with, including forming a group of people who would like to own or live together on 7 Quarry Street, figuring out what legal structure the group will adopt, as well as what financing will look like. And it all depends on the people involved.

Green Fabric together with NGO Cooperation Housing, architect Sid Thoo, researcher Elizabeth Cheong, and development manager Anthony Rizzacasa are preparing an expression of interest to develop the 7 Quarry St site into an affordable, sustainable and community-oriented project. There are two community information sessions coming up on November 3 and 27.

The group wants to demonstrate that cooperative housing is a democratic model, ideal both for rental and ownership, that can deliver on perpetual affordability.

With a little avocado on top.

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One response to “Social capital and housing

  1. Pingback: Thinking allowed in the Fremantle Herald – Green Fabric·

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