Communal Apartments Could Be Your Solution to NZ's Housing Crisis

Get all your friends together and build an apartment building yourself.
September 20, 2017, 3:24am
Concept drawing of a co-operative apartment by Sarah Townshend.

The housing market in New Zealand is shit. In Auckland, it's really shit.

I know it, you know it, and it's clear Bill and Jacinda know it. Both party leaders are trying to bait soon-to-be first home buyers with housing policies so that they show up to the polling booth on September 23.

National has offered to double the Government HomeStart grants so a couple will be eligible for $20,000 towards an existing home or $30,000 for a new build. Labour has offered a raft of policies including a ban on foreign buyers in the hope that this will make the housing market less competitive. Solutions to the housing crisis are long overdue considering the average cost of a home is $640,000 in New Zealand and $1 million in Auckland.

Apartments need to be designed so people actually want to live in them, says Sarah Townshend

Auckland-based architect Sarah Townshend says it's great that the main political parties are taking the issue seriously but we also need to think more broadly about the way we design both our homes and communities. More affordable high density housing like apartments are desperately needed but these need to be designed so that people actually want to live in them long term.

Townshend has spent a year researching Baugrappe housing which could provide a compromise between the unattainable three-bedroom house on a section in the suburbs and the unappealing shoebox apartment with a 1msq balcony on Queen St. VICE sat down with her to find out more about this type of housing and whether it could be the next big thing in Aotearoa.


Vice: Hi Sarah. So in a nutshell what is Baugrappe housing?
Sarah: Baugruppe is German for Building Group and is essentially a group of people who pool their financial resources to build an apartment building that suits their needs and is affordable. In Germany these are usually facilitated by an architect who plans the building, helps members arrange loans and decide the apartment allocations. Once the building is complete it is then run by the group.

Do you think we could have these in New Zealand?
I don't see any reason why we couldn't have Baugrappes to New Zealand—they are a great alternative to developer driven housing models that are common in New Zealand. In Germany help is provided by the government which sets aside affordable land and provides members with low-interest bank financing. We could have that here as well or building groups could be set up privately without government help, like the Commons which is based on the Baugrappe model.

Sarah Townshend's concept drawings for co-operative apartments.

What would be the main benefits of this housing model for typical Kiwi first home buyers?
First and foremost they would save money from pooling resources. The building can have shared facilities like laundries to reduce costs as well as communal vegetable plots and BBQ areas on the rooftop. The building can also have spaces that are able to generate revenue over time such as a café, kindergarten, and shared office or retail space. The revenue can either be put back into the running of the building or used to offset mortgages. Imagine a home that could help you pay back your mortgage.

The second major benefit is community. For those that are communally minded, sharing resources and common spaces can offer a more supportive and communal living environment. For example, an elderly woman in the community may be able to look after your children one afternoon, in exchange for a trip to the grocery store at a later date.


Any drawbacks?
The co-operative living model obviously isn't for everyone. The design of the co-operative can only assist in creating the community—it is the people that live there that will ultimately shape the success of it. So it helps if you get on with your neighbours.

How does it work legally? Is it like a freehold property or leasehold or a bit of both?
All members have their own separate mortgage which covers their home as well an even percentage of the communal spaces within the complex. Communal spaces include everything outside of the home like the gardens, tool shed, BBQ area etc. It's not too dissimilar to a freehold unit title.

You did consultation with wannabe first home buyers as part of your research to see whether they would want to live in this sort of housing—what was the feedback?
I surveyed 60 people over social media who don't own a home and got a lot of good feedback. Of those 60, 20 said they would be interested in living in a co-operative if it meant they could afford their first home. Most of the people who were keen were aged 24 to 40 and lived in Auckland.

I originally came up with the idea to research co-housing after sitting around drinking red wine with my friends trying to work out how we could enter the property market. Pooling our money together to create a property syndicate was an idea that kept coming up and when we all tallied up what we each spent on renting per year it seemed like a really smart thing to do.

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