11 May 2023

Watson cohousing proposal moves to design stage

| Ian Bushnell
Join the conversation
meeting of people in a room

Cohousing Canberra President Ian Ross talks to members at a meeting for the Watson project. Photo: Toni Hassan.

Canberra’s first large cohousing project since the 1970s is a step closer, with architects appointed to provide master planning and preliminary designs to be submitted to the ACT Government as part of its Demonstration Housing program.

Canberra Cohousing was accepted for the program in 2018, and after a series of delays was invited last year to tender for a 5000 square metre block in Section 76 Watson.

READ ALSO New Build-to-Rent-to-Buy pilot scheme to give young women a ‘fair crack at happiness’ and home ownership

It has run two workshops this year, the second only last month with AMC Architecture, which will prepare masterplans and designs to present to the 100 or so members in coming workshops.

Cohousing Canberra president Ian Ross said the government was expected to release a tender for the block restricted to Cohousing Canberra in June, and the group would have six to 12 weeks to respond with a proposal.

Mr Ross said the proposal would be for about 20 to 30 households and could be a combination of townhouses and apartments, given there are preferences for both.

“Canberra Cohousing needs to demonstrate that they are able to build roughly what they proposed in 2018 when they submitted to the Demonstration Housing process, including financial, organisational and design aspects to show that it is feasible,” he said.

The government was yet to provide a valuation for the land so Canberra Cohousing was not able to say how much the development would cost.

“Until we’ve got to a point where we’ve got some design options and importantly until the government gives us its first valuation, what they’re going to charge us for the land, that could be a make or break piece of information, we’re not in a position to look at numbers,” Mr Ross said.

He said a lot of people could only get serious once they have seen some design possibilities and what it would cost them.


What’s planned in Section 76, Watson. The cohousing block on Aspinall Street is marked with a 5. Photo: Supplied.

But a sale cannot proceed until the construction of a cul-de-sac and services on Section 76 is completed, expected to be in April 2024.

The group was still exploring funding options and talking to developers and community housing providers given there was a commitment to an affordable housing component in the proposal.

“We’ve come a long way since October last year and we’re in a position where it’s very doable, but there are many steps to go through yet,” Mr Ross said.

He said the members included people of mixed ages who were seeking a shared way of living and a sense of community or village life.

“Overwhelmingly they’re talking about some aspects of community and sharing – the garden space, tools, library, meeting space, having meals together, being able to have smaller units because you have that shared resource – and then just the sense of community that a lot of people living in the suburbs don’t have that might have been common in years gone by,” he said.

Committee member Toni Hassan said potential occupier owners and investors wanted to prioritise opportunities for community building and sustainable living.

“This is a very exciting project that gives people in Canberra seeking a social and sustainable alternative to the way we live in the suburbs in the face of challenging climate change,” she said.

READ ALSO ACT to get more social and affordable homes under housing fund deal – if Greens don’t block the bill

Mr Ross said the time was right for a cohousing model in Canberra.

“After COVID and all the things we’ve been through, there is a sense of wanting to support each other,” he said. “It is a situation where you’re not just living next door to people, and you have a level of relationship with your neighbourhood that isn’t that common.”

Mr Ross took the reins at the group after successfully guiding his small Stellulata cohousing project in Ainslie, which is now ready to consider its first tender from a builder.

To learn more, visit the Cohousing Canberra website.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.