Working co-operatively to improve New Zealand housing

Inner City Wellington’s second seminar in a series of three on “Living Environments for Our City Tomorrow” was fully booked and the attendees were treated to a stimulating presentation and discussion by Dr Morten Gjerde, Head of Architecture at Victoria University.

Gjerde presentation with audience


The presentation was centred on concerns over affordability, appropriateness, and the limited choice of today’s housing. Dr Gjerde explained how an almost complete reliance on the private sector, where developers do not adopt a long-term view and are generally risk averse to trying new models, has resulted in housing falling short of need. And, by adopting the path of least resistance and a minimum standard approach, developments have become more about profit and generally have a poor lifecycle. As a result, current methods are unable to consistently provide appropriate affordable housing and there needs to be a change in thinking - away from a reliance on private developers.

Given our current housing shortage Dr Gjerde suggested we need to look for alternatives such as cooperative housing models. Membership in the cooperative is by way of a share purchase which gives the right to purchase a licence to occupy one housing unit.

Using Scandinavia housing associations as an example Dr Gjerde explained how, in the 1920’s when there was an extreme housing shortage in Norway, people established cooperative projects and worked together to design, develop and manage affordable housing. This meant cutting out developer’s margins (which are 20-25% in New Zealand) and taking control of the project with residents involved in the decision making and planning.

As the cooperatives expanded in Scandinavia a National Association developed to provide guidance, advocacy and support, and by 2015 there were 43 associations, 500,000 housing units and membership had passed one million people. These cooperative developments have resulted in communities with a shared place identity and strong social bonds.

Dr Gjerde pointed out how cooperatives such as Fonterra which is owned by its members and community play groups have been accepted and succeeded in New Zealand, so why not cooperatives for housing?  Examples of small cooperative housing do exist here, the Earthsong community in Auckland built on ecological principles being one, but these are not on the same scale as the Scandinavian models. Some Iwi have begun to consider cooperative housing but, if the benefits of co-operative housing are to be realised, the government will need to respond and work closely with the housing associations to ensure their viability. Particularly around land availability and how Crown-owned land could be released for this type of development.

In concluding Dr Gjerde acknowledged cooperative housing may not solve all our housing problems but points out that it is clear the current developer-led model is not meeting our needs and the constrained environment which house-building-for-profit operates in, must shift.

You can download Dr Gjerde's slides by clicking here [PDF, 8.7 MB].