A Cambridge family is paving the way for a radical approach to housing in the Waikato.
Brad White and Vicki Bullick have a dream to build a co-housing neighbourhood — a model of living gaining rapid popularity in New Zealand.
They are hosting an event next Thursday night to generate interest in the idea.
The modern theory of co-housing originated in Denmark in the 1960s and has spread all over Europe and North America.
New Zealand's first co-housing community, Earthsong, was set up in Rānui, West Auckland, in 1995.
Groups around the country are now building their own.
In co-housing, people typically own their homes and jointly own the land and shared facilities.
Homes could include large houses, flats, apartments or tiny houses, with residents sharing gardens, communal living areas, laundry facilities and spare bedrooms.
A co-housing development could have 12 to 35 dwellings housing a diverse range of people — individuals, couples and families.
Each co-housing project is unique. They are designed and run by the people who are a part of it.
Brad and Vicki say the benefits of co-housing are three-fold — reducing isolation, sharing resources and living affordably.
ANTIDOTE TO ISOLATION
For Brad and Vicki, the main attraction to co-housing is reducing isolation and loneliness.
In New Zealand, about 14 per cent of people aged 15 and older said they felt lonely some, most or all of the time, according to the 2016 Ministry of Social Development survey about social isolation.
Solo parents and people living outside of the family nucleus were more likely to report feeling lonely than those with partners.
"We live in an isolated world," Vicki says.
"I'm at home with the kids during the day while Brad is at work. Each day I do things in isolation — cooking, cleaning, looking after children — that my friends are also doing in isolation. If we lived as neighbours we could do it collectively. We would share resources and have a lot more fun."
Vicki says co-housing communities are designed to bring people together.
"The way these communities are built create opportunities for connections and interactions with people you might not normally see on a daily basis," Vicki says.
"You could bump into people in the shared laundry or community garden."
Most co-housing communities have no fences separating the properties and cars are parked to the side of the neighbourhood, allowing for green space and shared areas.
Living in an intentional community with diverse residents gives children and adults new experiences, Vicki says.
"Neighbours would bring different skills."
"Neither of us can play an instrument — but we've got friends and family that can. Imagine being able to expose your child to learning something new from a person that lives nearby, and to give experiences back to other people."
In co-housing, it's common for residents to share some meals and cooking responsibilities, with residents deciding the frequency.
Co-housing is also a solution for older people who live in isolation and want to be part of a community.
Brad's parents, Kevin and Yvonne White, are keen to join the community.
The couple, who are in their 70s, are ready to downsize from their three-bedroom house in Hillcrest.
Kevin, a retired electrician, and Yvonne, a retired nurse, look forward to sharing their skills and giving back to a community.
They also like the idea of reducing their carbon footprint and being looked out for — not looked after — by others.
In many co-housing models, residents share resources, tools and some facilities.
"Think about how many lawnmowers and washing machines are on your street," Brad says.
"Do we really need to each have our own?"
Brad says Auckland co-housing community Earthsong is a great example of sharing resources.
At Earthsong there are 32 homes set in 1.3ha of organic orchard and native bush.
"The housing development has less of an environmental impact than other developments of a similar size."
He says the co-housing model would benefit towns like Cambridge which are struggling to cope with growth.
"In co-housing you can have more people living in a smaller area because you don't have to factor in space for driveways and garages.
"Because of the way co-housing is developed, there is less of a strain on infrastructure, particularly stormwater run-off."
Brad and Vicki say co-housing developments can be built with a combination of affordability and sustainability in mind.
"The houses could be designed to use less power and catch their own rain water," Brad says.
"With them generally being smaller, overall build costs can be lower."
There would be ways to make them more affordable, one being for the land to be owned by a Community Land Trust — a private, non-profit organisation created to acquire and hold land for the benefit of a community.
Brad says the biggest hurdles are finding land, competing with developers and overcoming council restrictions.
Brad and Vicki want to normalise the idea of co-housing but admit it's not everybody's cup of tea.
"You have to want to be part of a community and contribute to the running of it."
"We love where we currently live, and I'm grateful to have a home, but I can see there are alternatives and those really appeal to me.
"Co-housing is not a 'one size fits all' situation and there are multiple ways to do it, like tiny house communities and pocket neighbourhoods. For us though, co-housing is the model that really resonates."
ALTERNATIVE TO QUARTER-ACRE DREAM
Mark Southcombe, senior lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington's School of Architecture, says co-housing is not a new idea.
"There is significant grassroots interest in co-housing in New Zealand. It's everywhere, from the top of the country to the bottom.
"In New Zealand we have papakāinga — a type of co-housing, and an exemplary model."
"Papakāinga are historic and contemporary Māori housing communities. The housing is usually marae based on collectively-owned Māori land."
Mark says co-housing is on the rise in New Zealand and is being championed by a new generation.
"It is spreading like wildfire."
"The access to housing is no longer possible for some people unless they have inherited money or have parental support.
"Housing is thought of differently from what it was in the 1960s and 1970s. There's a whole generation that is used to flatting together and likes the idea of sharing a house so that they can own it.
"There is huge interest from people — particularly younger people, but also people coming up to retiring age."
Mark, who has spent five years researching co-housing, says it's common to face many hurdles when planning co-housing, but not to be discouraged.
"The competition with developers is really hard, but it's by no means insurmountable. The reason for that is because of the collective financial resources of a group of people. The shared equity they have enables them to compete with developers.
"As the potentials of co-housing get increasingly recognised, there will come a time in New Zealand where social housing agencies start to seek partnerships with co-housing groups, as occurs all through Europe."
Mark says the Kiwi dream of owning your own quarter-acre has changed.
He says New Zealanders need to be open to different land-ownership models.
"There are so many fantastic examples of community land trusts and cooperatives all through Europe.
"It's common in many places to maintain collective ownership of land and protect that asset for future generations. All the central land in Amsterdam is leased, for instance. The community gets the financial value out of that, rather than individuals."
Brad and Vicki, who are part of the co-housing group Kirikiriroa Intentional Communities, are hosting an interest night next week in Hamilton.
A line-up of guest speakers will talk about how co-housing and other models can be viable and affordable housing developments.
The event is supported by Shama, a Hamilton charitable trust aiming to support the development of a multicultural New Zealand.
It is at Agora Event Centre, 13 Kent St, on Thursday, November 22 at 6pm. Tickets $10 from connectedaffordableliving.eventbrite.co.nz or $15 at the door. Refreshments and finger food provided.
For more information contact Brad White on 027 974 4070.