Collaborative housing projects typically encourage residents to be actively involved in the decision-making and ‘management’ of their community. While this can bring some challenges, it is often seen as a very rewarding process for the community. Collective management can help to foster cooperation and collaboration, create a sense of ownership, and help residents adapt their housing as their needs change over time. However, exactly how much participation and collaboration is expected of residents is ultimately a decision for the group to make, depending on the skills, needs and expectations of the group. The best process for a small-scale community with residents who are likely to know each other well will probably differ from that of a large-scale community.
Establishing a vision
From the start, it is important to decide together upon a common vision for what the group wants from their housing, and how they will work together to achieve that. The specific details may not be covered in the high-level vision, but the group should document a process for communal decision making, divide areas of responsibilities between private matters and community matters, discuss cost sharing and maintenance, and what will happen if people aren’t getting along in the community.
Know your legal governance obligations
Different property ownership structures (e.g. Strata, Cooperative, Company etc) will have their own governance obligations to be followed and fulfilled as a minimum. This could include having elected directors, holding meetings with a certain regularity, and having accounts independently audited annually. These requirements are important to understand and meet, however they do not need to limit your decision-making structure. You could develop a more inclusive structure that meets these requirements while also addressing other parts of the community vision.
One of the most commonly asked questions about collaborative housing is ‘what if I don’t like who I’m living with?’. Neighbourhood disputes happen in any neighbourhood, and an advantage with collaborative housing is that you will generally have a chance to meet your future neighbours before you join. As in all aspects of life, disagreements, arguments and conflict will inevitably occur and greater collaboration can also mean there are more opportunities for disagreements. Groups should prepare for the complexities of collaboration when they form, and know what to do when issues do arise. This is relevant for both small and large groups.
There are a number of things that can be done to help deal with conflicts when they do occur. First, accept that conflict will arise, and prepare everyone with the skills to deal with conflict effectively. Second, have strong processes in place for working through disagreements and resolving conflict. Finally, make sure a clear process is in place for people to leave, or potentially should conflicts be unresolvable.
Day-to-day decision making
Governance in collaborative housing commonly emphasises resident participation, usually with decision-making based around some form of deliberation and discussion aimed at reaching consensus.
There are various governance processes that can be followed, depending on the size of the community and how involved community members want to be. Smaller-scale communities may be able to use relatively informal meetings, while with larger groups a more structured governance model is useful. Many types of collaborative communities consider consensus decision making, often based on Sociocracy, as the ideal model. For example, Narara Eco Village use sociocracy to run their community. The video below from two of the residents outlines their experiences with sociocracy.
However, other less participatory processes may suit groups better, for example replicating existing strata committee processes or outsourcing most management to a housing or retirement living provider.