Wellington Scoop

Co-operative housing – the example from Scandinavia

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

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 1920s 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 developers/ 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 pointed out that it is clear the developer-led model is not meeting our needs and the constrained environment which house-building-for-profit operates in, must shift.



  1. michael, 24. June 2018, 16:32

    What a great idea for NZ. If the government was prepared to think outside the square and make land available either at a cheaper price or leasehold, then under the cooperative schemes many people could afford a house.
    Doubt it will happen though as we always seem to continue down the same inefficient route making houses unaffordable and developers rich.
    The government should also look at why building materials are so expensive in NZ compared to elsewhere.

  2. Diane Calvert, 25. June 2018, 11:22

    I think the key here is finding ways to cut out private developers’ margin. The model of Housing Associations certainly has its merits and should be one of the tools in our toolkit to address long term housing supply.

    Many thanks to Inner City Wellington for organising the discussion. We definitely need to find more ways for communities to join the discussion rather than leaving it to the bureaucrats.

  3. Ross Clark, 26. June 2018, 2:04

    Two different issues here, which need to be kept separate. One is the overall availability of housing, and the other is the availability of “social housing”, for those parts of the community who can’t afford, e.g., private rented accommodation.

    Oh, and a third issue is good public transport serving areas of social housing – more often said than done.

  4. Neil D, 26. June 2018, 8:25

    Nice idea Ross, how does social housing work in the Gorbals Glasgow or ‘train-spotting’ tenements of Edinburgh nowadays? Everything looking peachy?


    Across Le Manche, Nicholas Sarkozy had a plan magnifique to improve the life of the Parisian banlieues and link them up the leafy suburbs with impressive metros but his plan didn’t garner much support.

    And in Sydney, the Bondi Beach extension was resisted by rich man Packer because he didn’t want hordes of ‘westies’ alighting from trains outside his expensive apartment. I think you will find that middle and upper classes quite like to keep their suburbs distinct and separate from ‘social housing areas’.

  5. Wendy Armitage, 26. June 2018, 9:18

    @Ross Clark: As I understand it, cooperative housing also provides affordable rentals as some shareholders do not live in the complex. For example, in Ireland co-operative housing provides about one third of the country’s rental accommodation.
    One could assume that if the NZ government supported this kind of development, the same situation could happen here. Not only would it provide affordable housing for those wishing to buy, but affordable rents as well. Also, because the residents are involved in the running and maintenance of the complex, strong healthy resilient communities evolve.

  6. Ross Clark, 26. June 2018, 19:31

    Wendy – thank you. Another model you could think about is how things are done in Singapore. There, as I understand it, most housing is provided by the equivalent of housing associations, and the degree of middle-class buy-in is as a result much higher.

    To clarify – I don’t doubt the need for social housing, at all; and Neil’s comment above is a reminder that where to put it can be as much of an issue as how to pay for it.

  7. Jonny Utzone, 27. June 2018, 9:24

    Ross, and some schools will redraw their boundaries to stop students from new social housing areas getting in. It’s just happened in Auckland with Mount Albert Grammar cutting out Labour’s 1,800 shoe-box homes planned for the old Unitec site.