Manchester Urban Co-Housing – MUCH – is a small local group of people who are interested in developing a cohousing scheme for older people. We are all long-term Manchester residents with a wide range of experience in community organising, including lifelong learning, housing, economic development and regeneration. We believe cohousing can provide both a positive personal choice for older people as well as a way of supporting Manchester’s commitment to be an age-friendly city –http://www.manchester.gov.uk/info/200091/older_people/6464/age-friendly_manchester .
What is Cohousing?
Cohousing is a type of collaborative living that combines the benefits of people owning their own residences with the advantages of shared resources, including opportunities to enable mixed tenure with some residences for rent. Cohousing projects are usually set up and run by their members as intentional communities, i.e. the residents have positively committed to living in a mutually supportive way, with everyone having ownership of the legal structure that is set up for the cohousing development. Personal space such as gardens are smaller to allow for shared gardens or allotments. Common space enables sustainable and sociable sharing of resources like laundries, guest rooms, transport, etc. and rooms for relaxation, occasional shared meals and other functions. The design of cohousing deliberately promotes opportunities for regular interaction amongst residents to encourage a strong community. Developed in Denmark during the 1970s, cohousing spread to other European countries and North America, and has started to attract wider interest in the UK. There are currently at least two developing groups in Manchester and around the UK there are about a dozen established cohousing communities with another 50+ at different stages of development. Whilst most of these are multi-generational, there are a number aimed specifically at over 50s. More information about cohousing in the UK can be found at http://cohousing.org.uk/
Cohousing was one of the housing models investigated and positively reviewed in the HAPPI report (2009) http://www.homesandcommunities.co.uk/housing-ageing-population-panel-innovation . It is seen as a way to address some of the problems experienced by an ageing population such as isolation, unsuitable housing, and a lack of options to enable forward planning. Whether it is under-occupation of larger homes, or a health problem which leads to a change in housing requirements, current housing offers are not felt to be meeting these needs and such a blockage has the ripple effect of increasing pressure on other services such as public housing, health and social care.
We are aiming to:
- develop a new-build project of approx. 20 dwellings
- encompass a high level of sustainability in terms of construction, maintenance and running costs
- create a design that enables supportive interaction both within the cohousing project and the wider community
MUCH has spent a number of years researching cohousing, visiting other projects in the UK and abroad. We have established a company limited by guarantee and propose a tenure model that is predominantly self-funded, owner-occupation, however we are interested in including other tenure options if possible. We have worked with an architect to develop site evaluation and design criteria and anticipate that the mid-point purchase cost per dwelling should be about £180k. Existing members currently have sufficient equity in their homes to meet that and we will ensure that new members will also be able to meet financial requirements. On that basis we have developed a business plan before approaching potential funding lenders and partners such as other housing organisations.
Cohousing Models for Manchester
Within the UK there are other cohousing models being developed including cooperatives, other forms of mutual ownership and a number in partnership with social housing providers to include other tenures. They range from new-build to retro-fitting of existing dwellings and other buildings in the community. MUCH is currently talking to Manchester City Council and others involved in the Age Friendly Manchester initiative to share their expertise and assist the City in exploring cohousing as a contribution to creating an age-friendly city. This includes seeking advice on identifying possible sites for development and reviewing any planning issues that might be relevant to this type of scheme. The creation of a successful cohousing community could then act as an exemplar for others groups in the city and, as the MUCH project is established, we would hope to be able to support other cohousing initiatives.
The research carried out as part of the development of Age Friendly Manchester’s housing strategy identified significant numbers of owner-occupiers in the city who are over 50, many of whom will want to downsize and move into more manageable homes as they age, releasing family homes from under-occupation. Whilst this group may not be eligible for social housing, a lack of suitable alternatives and decreased mobility may leave them isolated. This could lead to increasing demands on the devolved health and social care budget, as a lack of social contact is known to have a detrimental effect on the health of older people. Cohousing could enable the city to provide another more flexible offer for older residents, who don’t need extra care but would benefit from the self-support and community that cohousing offers. In addition, because cohousing is developed and managed by the community members themselves and not commercial providers, the financial benefits stay in the local economy. We believe that by supporting cohousing the city would be able to retain older people who have directly invested in the city, its services, organisations and communities, both financially and socially – and who would continue to do so in the future.