New research by Western Sydney University has revealed that housing co-operatives may form part of Australia’s answer to affordable and stable housing choices amidst a growing housing and rental crisis.

A popular housing model in many parts of the world, although not yet fully embraced in Australia, co-operatives are an innovative form of housing that are uniquely defined by the active participation of their members in the governance, operations, and other activities of their co-operative.

Lead researcher, Professor Louise Crabtree-Hayes from Western Sydney University’s Institute for Culture and Society, says interest in the community-driven housing form is quickly growing and the outcomes for those it houses are extraordinary.

“The benefits of the housing co-operative model can be profound, with the unique requirement for active participation amongst their tenant-members driving positive outcomes, including long-term housing stability, a strong sense of home and community, and the development of skills that we found to be directly connected to employment and educational outcomes,” said Professor Crabtree-Hayes.

“We also saw that tenant-members have an enhanced sense of voice and empowerment over their living circumstances. Living in a co-operative may not be for everyone, but for those it suits, it can be life changing.”

The project worked with five sector providers and peak bodies, and co-operative tenant-members across four states, to purpose build and deploy its methodology. This captured over 80 per cent of the sector, highlighting the voices of over 300 tenant-members.

The findings reveal that costs associated with establishing housing co-operatives are generally on par with other forms of community housing and when greater co-operative participation in tenancy and property activities is factored in, including tenant-members’ time, this reduces the overall community housing provider costs.

The research also highlights the value of diversity and the extent of benefits experienced by tenant-members, with the model being flexible in how the co-operatives operate including governance, management, location, and built forms.

Liz Thomas, chair of the Australian Co-operative Housing Alliance (ACHA) said this research is essential in highlighting the value that this housing model could bring to addressing the worsening housing and homelessness crisis and diversifying Australia’s housing system.

“Resolving Australia’s housing crisis requires a multi-faceted approach that includes housing co-operatives.  This groundbreaking research will support and inform best practice and will be critical to the growth of the Australian co-op housing sector,” said Ms Thomas.

The research recommends greater support is needed to grow awareness and understanding for this model of housing, and to establish appropriate policy settings. By drawing on the lived experiences of existing tenant members, a range of rental housing co-operative models should be encouraged, rather than a one-size-fits all approach.

This research was conducted by Western Sydney University, Swinburne University, the University of Newcastle, and Griffith University. It was funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), Common Equity Housing Ltd, Victoria, Common Equity Housing South Australia, Common Equity New South Wales, Co-operation Housing, Western Australia and United Housing Co-operative Ltd, Victoria.

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