Auckland co-shared housing project Cohaus wins resource consent battle

An architect's impression of Cohaus, a 20-unit apartment block being built and owned by its residents in Grey Lynn.
SUPPLIED
An architect's impression of Cohaus, a 20-unit apartment block being built and owned by its residents in Grey Lynn.

After a lengthy battle, a groundbreaking housing project in Auckland has been granted resource consent.

Cohaus is a 20-unit apartment project in Grey Lynn being designed and financed by the people who will live in it.

The project is the brainchild of married architects Thom Gill and Helle Westergaard, and their friends, David Welch and Georgianne Griffiths. 

Gill said co-housing was different from other apartment blocks in that "the residents are co-developers".

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"Which means they're taking the risk but they're also getting something that's closer to their needs and they're also getting to determine how money is spent."

The idea gathered momentum to the point where last year, the group bought the Fairleigh Lodge boarding house site in Grey Lynn.

The Cohaus site will ultimately house about 50 people with shared parking, a courtyard and storage.
SUPPLIED
The Cohaus site will ultimately house about 50 people with shared parking, a courtyard and storage.

Gill and Westergaard have designed the plans, and submitted them for resource consent in March, but it has taken until this week to get approval.

Gill said the process had been "pretty challenging".

"There aren't too many projects that come along that have the kind of skill base that we do, I suppose, and the commitment, and also you need a fair bit of capital to even attempt it."

But asked whether there were any ways to improve the system, he said it defied quick answers. 

"We are simply thrilled to have consent at this point and pleased that council did in the end recommend approval at the planning hearing."

Initially, Auckland Council recommended the project be turned down due to a lack of parking, but it reversed its decision before an independent planning hearing.

There are only a handful of co-housing examples in New Zealand, including High Street which is underway in Dunedin.
supplied
There are only a handful of co-housing examples in New Zealand, including High Street which is underway in Dunedin.

​Cohaus will have the equivalent of about half a car park for each unit, which Gill said was intentional, as the building was handy to town and the group wanted to be less reliant on cars.

Though unusual in New Zealand, co-housing was a mainstream model for housing in Northern Europe and the US, he said.

A number of Cohaus' future residents were town planners, architects and artists, "so we've got plenty of good opinions."

Selecting residents for the community had been "quite organic," and based mostly whether they would get along with the others.

They had taken advice from Auckland's other major co-housing community, Earthsong in Ranui that residents had to interact a lot to maintain trust.

"You can't just all come together every now and again because you're doing group decision making, which is quite difficult and money is at stake, legal obligations are at stake, your future home is at stake.

"You're basically like a small start-up company. And like any start-up, it's all about people."

As a way of addressing Auckland's affordability problem, Gill said people had been very curious about the co-housing idea.

"They think it sounds difficult, but really interesting .And as we talk to younger people who are worried about 'How are we ever going to afford a house,' they're really interested in these sorts of ideas

The Earthsong eco-village at Ranui, west Auckland, is regarded the country's oldest urban housing community.
DAVID WHITE/STUFF
The Earthsong eco-village at Ranui, west Auckland, is regarded the country's oldest urban housing community.

"Because ultimately they will lead to more affordable housing and housing that's more compact and has more shared aspects, which is very much in tune with the way lots of lifestyles are going."

Cohaus plans to keep costs down by keeping units small – around 72 square metres for two bedrooms – and maximising the number of units on the site.

The units will be priced according to floor space, and will share common facilities such as a courtyard, storage and a guest room.

Most of the units are already taken and all going well, the 50 or so residents hope to move in within two years.

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