Agree on governance
In collaborative housing, residents often take a more hands on role in day-to-day management and decision-making of their community. While requiring residents to be more active participants, this can be balanced by a greater sense of community independence[MD1] and satisfaction. Like many aspects, the degree of resident involvement in governance is a decision for community-members. Governance considerations include:
Developing a common vision
A common vision or mission statement for the collaborative housing community is important to develop early on. Agreeing on a vision will help the community to figure out what type of governance will be best suited for their ideals and needs. Figure out what is the purpose of governance within your collaborative development; is it simply about coordinating maintenance, managing conflict and fulfilling legal obligations as you would with a strata committee and body corporate, or does your community have social and environmental goals that would be helped by using a more participative and collaborative form of governance. An inspiring vision can be important in energising, guiding and bonding members. If your project follows this path, make sure members joining later are given a chance to understand and (hopefully) embrace the vision of the community.
Murundaka Cohousing Community hired a professional facilitator to run a weekend visioning retreat for future residents prior to moving in, to develop a formal community vision agreed upon by the whole community.
We are a cooperative community, relating to each other with respect, compassion and support.
We acknowledge the traditional owners on whose land we are living and working, and pay our respects to their Elders past and present.
We live sustainably: Conscious of ourselves, our local community, the world and our legacy for the future through our individual and collective actions.
We live with integrity: Balancing rights and responsibilities and behaving with authenticity.
We are self-reflective and outward looking: Curious, courageous, collaborative, valuing the cohesion of the group and the wisdom of all.
We are part of our broader communities: Learning from and engaging in dialogue and action.
We have fun: Encouraging trust and harmony through play, spontaneity and creativity.
These statements represent our vision of what we want to be together and who we are already. We’ll aim high and forgive each other when we fall short.
Know the legal obligations for governance
Different ownership and legal structures (e.g. Strata, Cooperative, Company) will have their own governance obligations that need to be followed and fulfilled. This might include officially appointing directors who meet regularly, holding Annual General Meetings, and reporting on financial status to a government body such as the Department of Fair Trading or Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC). These requirements are important to understand and meet, however they do not need to limit primary decision-making structure of your housing community. Your community may decide to keep formal governance to that required legally, or develop a more inclusive governance model that meets these requirements while also addressing other parts of the community vision.
Governance in collaborative housing commonly emphasises resident participation, usually with decision-making based around some form of deliberation and discussion aimed at reaching consensus among community members. The aim is to foster cooperation and collaboration, create a sense of ownership of issues and solutions, and allow for adaptable and customised living solutions.
Australian models may differ from International models, given cultural differences and the novelty of the model. This may mean less resident involvement—for example, residents may be involved in some relevant decision making, but may prefer to have a community that is managed by an aged care provider, community-housing provider, a retirement villager operator, a developer or a strata manager. Alternatively, it may mean embracing the work of running and building a community so as to experience tangible and intangible benefits that those living in collaborative housing often describe.
A key consideration for any new community is how much support is needed to make a decision. For some communities this is determined by the legal structure, for others the residents can decide. Strata law spells out what decisions need a simple majority (50% +1) or unanimous agreement, or somewhere in between. Many cohousing communities aim for consensus decision making (100% agreement), but may have processes to work through contentious issues that can’t reach consensus. There are a number of governance models that are already in use in Australia which could be used or adapted for your community. These include a ‘mainstream’ strata model, participatory housing cooperative, forms of sociocracy, or potentially outsourced governance. More details are in the attached fact sheet.
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