The lack of housing appropriate for comfortable ageing in inner-city Sydney has inspired a group of Balmain locals to kickstart a co-housing project for older residents.
The AGEncy Project seeks to develop a predominantly seniors but also “multigenerational” co-housing model that could serve as a demonstration project and be replicated across Australia.
Founding committee member Keryn Curtis, who is a researcher in ageing, says the group consists of many people in their 50s starting to think about how they can age well in the future.
“In Balmain there are terrace houses or two and three storey houses,” she says. “You are going up and down stairs all the time and you have old narrow hallways. If you are in a wheelchair, or a walking frame, or just unsteady on your feet, it’s a real trap.”
Research shows that people age much better when they don’t have physical barriers to access their physical location.
“It leads to social isolation … loneliness is the new killer,” Curtis says.
Residents of The AGEncy project would have their own apartment, villa unit or even house but would benefit from communal facilities such as a shared kitchen, mini cinema, playground and consulting rooms for GPs and physiotherapists.
“It’s people coming together with a shared vision,” Curtis says. “It’s not a commune and not living in each other’s pockets.”
The AGEncy project held an inaugural public meeting in September to gauge interest. They have an architect on board and are looking for an appropriate site for the development.
“We are in the inner city so space is an issue,” Curtis says. “The options are converting an old factory or warehouse, or building something new of medium density.”
The group’s first preference would be accessing government land at White Bay on a 99-year lease. The idea is that interested parties would pool their money to finance the development in a staged process excluding the need for a developer.
Housing for carers
The AGEncy project will consist of approximately 30 apartments with four or five apartments set aside for families on lower incomes. This would be subsidised as part of the development cost.
The inability of aged-care workers to live close to their clients in affluent suburbs results in long commutes. The affordable housing provision of The AGEncy Project would enable care workers to live near their workplaces.
Curtis says the housing will be for “moderately cashed-up buyers” but will not be “gated” or “exclusive”. Rather, it will be a new model of housing to support good communities.
The development will be designed and orientated to minimise or avoid the use of air conditioning. It would take advantage of low-carbon materials and renewable energy and would most likely have a rooftop garden like The Commons in Melbourne. The group will vote on which features to implement.
Curtis expects the development to take 10 years to get off the ground.
“I know it’s a good model,” she says. “In Europe and the US it’s a well-loved model [but] it doesn’t exist in Australia.”
Curtis says inspiration for the project has come from many sources including an accessible artists’ colony in Los Angeles and free accommodation for university students in aged-care facilities in Germany and The Netherlands. The students assist residents with activities in return for their board.
“We want to create a sense of community and mutual support to retain our independence as we get older – an enabling versus disabling environment,” she says. “Age friendly can be good for everyone not just older people.”
The next public meeting for The AGEncy Project will be held in February 2017. For more information, contact Keryn.