25 February 2022

Greens less than impressed with government's 'missed co-housing opportunity'

| Lottie Twyford
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2020-10-26 ACT Greens Legislative Assembly Photo: Michelle Kroll

ACT Greens spokesperson for planning Jo Clay says the government has shown it isn’t ready to embrace co-housing, even though alternative solutions to the crisis are needed. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Choice, flexibility and quality. That’s what the ACT Greens say Canberrans deserve when it comes to housing options in the current stretched market.

But the party’s spokesperson for planning, Jo Clay, said the government wasn’t doing all it could to allow or support legal, quality co-housing designs and arrangements.

Ms Clay said if the government wasn’t prepared to lend its support to alternatives to traditional housing options, it could lead to a situation where people lived in caravans or tiny houses without appropriate rights.

In early February, the ACT Government responded to the Planning, Transport and City Services’ Inquiry into Draft Variation 365 which looked at co-housing in Canberra. Instead of agreeing in principle to the majority of the committee’s recommendations, the government only noted them.

It did agree in principle to “considering” a number of elements, however.

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Ms Clay said the response was a “missed opportunity” and proved it was “not yet ready to allow co-housing into the bulk of Canberra”.

“If we allow Canberrans to have good quality, well-designed co-housing, and the ACT Government explores different titling options for this alternate way of living, it will allow Canberrans more housing choice, particularly at a time where choice is limited,” she said.

Most of Canberra (80 per cent) is zoned as RZ1, where co-housing is not generally allowed because it’s largely reserved for single detached housing.

But a government spokesperson said it was testing co-housing, along with other alternative housing types in the RZ1 zone through its Demonstration Housing Project.

“The government will evaluate each demonstration housing site against a set of criteria including the sustainability of the building and the degree to which it supports different ways of living,” the spokesperson said.

“The lessons learnt from the Demonstration Housing Project will help inform future government policy and Territory Plan changes.”

The spokesperson said further Territory Plan variations were expected in coming months for other co-housing projects.

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Minister for Planning Mick Gentleman last year approved Territory Plan Variation 376 to support a co-housing demonstration housing development in RZ1 in Ainslie.

The Stellulata Cohousing project in Ainslie is the product of three friends – Ian Ross and couple Joss Haiblen and Trish Macdonald.

They wanted to remain in the cost-effective, supportive environment they’d lived in all their lives, while still having their privacy, sharing resources and downsizing to reduce their ecological footprint.

Their proposal was for three single-level units and a two-storey communal area with kitchen, living room and guest bedroom on a standard residential block.

According to the group’s website, they’ve recently found residents for their third unit.

Mr Gentleman has also recommended Draft Variation 372 for Watson Section 76, which included a co-housing component.

He previously told Region Media the variation to section 76 of the Territory Plan would allow the government to deliver a range of different housing options while protecting green space in the area.

Ms Clay said she was aware of the growing popularity of co-housing as people were drawn to live in communities and shared spaces.

“It’s a way for Canberrans to live together and co-operate with each other, and the ACT Greens support this. It gives the opportunity for people to age in place with a community that they have built.”

The concept of co-housing started in Denmark and demand is growing around the world. It’s different to previous modes of communal living or multiple occupancy development.

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The Greens are the government

The Stellulata project is an inspiring demonstration of the creativity and generosity of humans to solve the needs for shelter and community. Our need for connection and dignity is often trampled in the individualistic tide of modern life. My own attempts at communal living taught me how good governance and appropriate legal instruments are essential for success. There is much we can do in our neighbourhoods to build community but co-housing provides another pathway to healthy suburban living. Very exciting! ?

How did I miss the growing popularity of co-housing and the desire to live in communities, share spaces and resources?

It can be hard enough to share facilities in a house with members of your own family.

Ms Clay, I think you are confusing Canberra with Nimbin.

Whether this would be popular or not seems beside the point, i don’t see why it should be illegal to build. If there are people who want to live like this, why shouldn’t they be able to?

The obvious reason against it is because developers would use it as an excuse to build units where they otherwise wouldn’t be allowed.

Once upon a time, there was a challenge – public housing or a toy tram. The toy tram was a dream of the Greens. As the soup Nazi in Seinfeid says, ‘no Public housing for you.’

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