When I moved in to the Cohousing Co-op in 2000, it changed my life. The houses had just been built, and I’d been part of the group for seven years to get to this point.
It started in the 1990s when I came across a notice for the Cohousing Co-operative, a group that was trying to get funding for affordable rental housing to build a cohousing village-like development.
I went along to some meetings and decided to join. It was a group of people who’d already been doing this for a couple of years and they’d put the notice out to get some new members because they were struggling to keep going. There was three of us joined that meeting, and not long after, the state government agreed to fund the co-op under the Community Housing Program.
I was living in pretty awful rentals at the time. The first one had a backyard about 2m square and the rooms were dark, and it was expensive. But it was near the services I needed for my daughter, like schools. Eventually we were able to move two doors down and it was cheaper, and lighter. But very old and draughty and cold in winter, and hard to get the landlord to fix anything.
For years we lived in difficult conditions, paying too much income in rent and not always having enough money for food or heating or to keep the car on the road. Sometimes between houses we were homeless.
When we eventually moved in to the co-op it was an amazing relief to know that the rent was going to be affordable and we could stay as long as we wanted. It had taken years of paying for childcare to go out to meetings in the evening to get the co-op up and running, but it was definitely worth it.
We had been able to have input into the design of the houses and were around during the build to help with all the decisions that needed to be made along the way. We each painted the inside of our houses, to help keep the costs down. I remember my dad coming and helping to paint the ceilings!
The idea with cohousing is to have a few features that make it work well as a community – a commonhouse where we can all eat together a few times a week; the car park on the outside of the property, so in between the houses is car free and kid-safe; kitchen windows overlooking the common area for that visual connection; small private backyards (to escape to when needed); happenstance meeting spaces in the common areas to catch up with and hang out with neighbours
The cohousing aspect of how we live is interesting. It’s nice having a community outside your door, but what I really like about here is the co-operative ownership. We’re an affordable housing organisation and we all rent from the co-op, and we also manage the co-op.
Before living here I was renting from landlords. In that situation, if something’s broken you can’t fix it, you’re dependent on them to do it. It keeps you in quite a ‘juvenile’ state, not being able to do things for yourself. But in the co-op we work together to organise repairs and put in gardens and sheds and manage things like paying rates and insurance. But not only that, we also develop the policies and procedures of the organisation, about how to make decisions together, manage the budget, deal with conflict, things like that. So you get the opportunity to learn a lot of things that you wouldn’t otherwise. And then those skills transfer across to work and make you more employable, because you have more experience.
In the time that I live here I finished studies and went to work in the community sector and as my daughter grew up I moved into full-time employment and I’ve been employed ever since. I’ve also completed two post-graduate qualifications in that time. I’m sure that the stability of being here, of knowing that I wouldn’t have to move, and all the disruption and expense that goes with that, and also of just having an affordable rent based on my income, meant that I was able to focus on my work and studies.
If I wasn’t living in the co-op I don’t think I’d have the qualifications that I have, or the job that I have. I think I would have been trapped in lower paid work.