Co-housing option for older Canberrans faces development obstacles

Thursday, July 5, 2018

TT: Why have you become interested in housing options for older Canberrans?
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AS: This is both of professional and personal interest to me right now. Like a lot of other baby-boomer empty-nesters my wife and I have been looking to downsize but in a way that will sustain us through our ageing years. That means co-housing with friends on a large block in our current neighbourhood rather than moving into an unfamiliar neighbourhood or making an early booking into a retirement complex. Co-housing may avert or at least postpone the health care option which is just as well as there won’t be enough facilities or carers to look after all of us.

TT: So what’s stopping you from doing that?

AS: The difficulty is in finding suburban blocks that allow small boutique strata townhouse re-developments which would suit two or three modest townhouses. Such developments are currently restricted by rigid zoning restrictions. Planning rules make it very difficult to build multi-unit developments in standard residential areas and prohibit unit-titling. Without separate titles, it is difficult to get finance and allow mobility in and out of such developments.

TT: Aren’t the rules protecting neighbours from over development?

AS: Yes, but good design can still protect a neighbour’s privacy and sunlight, and noise is hardly likely to be an issue. Unfortunately, despite rigid controls, there are not many good examples of such redevelopments and hence community associations generally object to them.

TT: How would your development differ?

AS: Firstly we are talking about smaller, smarter homes with less car parking. In many cases the total built area would be less than many single existing homes in the same neighbourhood.

TT: What else would influence the impact on neighbourhoods?

AS: Careful block selection – for example, corner blocks on the southern side of adjoining homes which would not cause overshadowing. In our suburb, there are suitable blocks (e.g., adjoining nature reserves) which could be sympathetically developed without adversely impacting on neighbours.

TT: How do you propose to get planners and local community associations on side?

AS: The best way would be to lead by example and build a demonstration project. Community associations are mostly made up of the same people who would benefit most from such an initiative and the government is committed to affordable and sustainable housing choices. We also need the lending institutions and their valuers to get on side and drop their biases towards larger, often lower quality and less sustainable, homes.

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