Urban Policy & Research journal: Realising Collective Self-Organised Housing in Australia

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Earlier this year Dr Jasmine Palmer published an article "Realising Collective Self-Organised Housing (CSO): A Network Agency Perspective" in the Urban Policy & Research journal.

The article observes four alternative development projects in Melbourne as well as examining the efficacy of land and finance policies introduced in Berlin and London to assist collective self-organising multi-unit housing delivery.

All the projects researched aimed to increase owner occupier agency in the design and construction of townhouses and apartments.

The projects studied include:

  1. Property Collectives projects
  2. Nightingale Housing projects
  3. Citiniche
  4. A local cohousing community project

These projects are compared to each other but also compared to Berlin building groups (baugruppe).

On the Property Collectives model, the research notes that:

  • "of the Australian cases, PC offers the most direct engagement of households in the development process, but also has the highest barriers to participation. Members require financial equity equivalent to 30% of the total development cost and must have the capacity to share development risk. It is the only Australian case examined which matches Sharam's definition of deliberative development." 
  • "by directly involving a client group of future residents in the design process, the cohousing community and Property Collectives arguably have the greatest potential for innovation."
  • "to be effective, as in the case of PC and Berlin building groups, capability-based resources need to be controlled directly by or for the instagating resident group, improving the residents' structural position in the network, increasing their agency."

The article also points out a distinction between agent-led (professional facilitation) and self-organised projects, particularly in the context of Berlin housing market.

This distinction is interesting to me as I reflect on our role in helping to establish new projects.

Within our current and past projects, I can think of examples where our involvement has been agent-led and self-organised. The distinction here perhaps lies in whom plays the role of project initiator, the project promoter.

Every project needs a project promoter. It is this initiator who establishes the initial vision and once it is shared it is up to others to adopt, co-opt, refine and finalise it.

If I think of projects like the Bellfield Baugruppe or the Byron Bay Collective then these projects could be defined as self-organised, as they involve future residents initiating the project and seeking like-minded people to join. With the Property Collectives Advisory team playing a professional facilitation role to enable the project using the Property Collectives model.

However many of our projects reflect a mixed approach. For instance the Victoria Street Collective began when a future resident approached us to see whether we could assist in building up a community around the project. They wanted to see a project realised that carried on the vision of Mike & Lorna Hill who established the WestWyck eco-village. We supported the initial core Collective purchase the land then introduced the project to people in our network we thought would be interested in participating. So this project reflects a somewhat combined approach.

Whether this project is agent-led or self-organising is interesting but also semantic. The important thing is that the future residents are empowered to make the key decisions about how their project is realised. This is what this research identifies. This is what our model does.

Regardless of the method of origination, on reflection I feel the value we add to this CSO housing in Australia is that we have:

  1. Created and refined a process (in the absence of an existing framework) and
  2. Developed a network to support this process

We act then as the guardians of this process.

Giving members of each Collective the agency they need to realise the housing solution that matches their specific needs.

On future policy considerations to support the growth of this type of housing delivery, the research indicates that:

  1. future owner occupiers achieve an improved structural position in the housing provision network to increase their collective agency i.e. the future residents retain control
  2. fortification of existing actants be avoided
  3. avoid increasing network complexity or prescribing a fixed, ideal alternative
  4. avoid unintentional constraints and subversion of intennt
  5. achieve policy neutrality over time


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