Co-housing in Scotland

Director Matt Bridgestock is part of a working group on co-housing, chaired by Architecture + Design Scotland, developing a co-housing event in Autumn 2016. Across Europe, co-housing represents around 10% of the housing stock with notable hot spots in Scandinavia where the share raises over 15%.

In ‘A Strategy for Housing for Scotland’s Older People 2012-2021’ the Scottish Government defines co-housing as:

“Co-housing: a form of housing in an ‘intentional’ community, which brings people together in groups to share common aims and activities. Each resident has their own home, but there are also communal facilities, often in the form of a common building. All aspects of development and management are undertaken by residents.” 

However I think this is quite a vague description and our experience of working with co-housing groups, there are three broad characteristics, outlined below.

  • Co-living – where facilities and spaces of the built project are shared between a group of people
  • Co-building – where the build process is shared between a group of people
  • Co-ownership – where the completed development is owned by a group rather than individuals

These are my characterisations and not exclusive, one development can have more than one characteristic but it allows me to outline some of the current Scottish co-housing projects and explore the models behind each type in more detail. There is lots of detail on the UK Co-housing network page.

Co-living

Co-living is characterised by simply having facilities that are shared between a number of homes and families. Each family has their private home but in addition, the group has a pool of shared facilities.  This can mean those facilities are used more often, cheaper and better than individuals might have. At its most basic level, this is shared garden space but this might include a common workshop or laundry space used regularly by everyone this means the equipment might be better quality. Shared transport, such as a car pool, helps keep transport costs down but also allows the group to choose to renew vehicles for more efficient ones regularly. Shared guest bedrooms and storage is a common trait, allowing houses to be smaller (and more affordable) but offering options for when you have people visiting. Many developments have shared kitchen and dining spaces allowing a regular social event between residents.

There is an interesting trend for developing co-housing models for older people, this allows specific facilities and carer to be shared between a group of individuals. This niche is being developed in Scotland by both Pennington Cohousing (Glasgow) and Vivarium Trust (Fife).

Example Projects:

Co-building

Co-building is essentially a form of self-build, it allows groups of people to come together to build their own homes. It may be that they do not share any facilities or ownership of the building going forward but cooperate to obtain land, skills, good prices and knowledge. The National Association of Self Build has much more detail on this type of cooperation.

We’ve visited Almere in the Netherlands where they’ve taken this idea much further, planning to self-build a city of more than 1,00 new homes, this video illustrates their approach.

Project Examples:

Co-ownership

In Sweden, housing co-operatives own 18% of the housing stock. Most of these are simply individual apartments and there is a specific legal structure which governs their management and co-op housing is defined as ‘affordable’ by law. In Scotland, there is a long history of housing co-operatives, Lister Housing Co-operative in Edinburgh (1976) and West Whitlawburn Housing Co-op in Glasgow (1989) are examples of larger scale co-ops which are also registered social landlords.

The legal structure of a housing co-operative enables people on low and modest incomes to collectively borrow money and raise mortgages which would be beyond their reach as individuals. It is possible that the homes are  indistinguishable from other tenure types and there is no requirement for shared facilities. Tenants form a management committee to look after the homes and undertake the long term maintenance.

In Germany, the Baugruppen movement is developing urban co-ownership blocks particularly aimed at young people excluded from traditional housing markets, creating places which are affordable in the long term.

Example projects:

A solution for Scotland?

Co-housing is becoming an established sector of housing in Scotland, currently less than 0.1% of the market. We imagine that over the next 25 years it could become much more significant, up to 5% of the market. This would equate to around 40 projects per year with an initial eight project pilot scheme (approx 200 units) spread across Scotland. With house prices rising quickly, squeezing out our older and younger adults, co-housing in whatever form can help with affordability, reducing resources and delivering high quality, innovative new housing.

Thanks to Steven Tolson for his assistance with this article.