Making It real
My story in attempting to bring a new housing type that improves affordability, livability & community resilience
Knowing that I wanted a house project that would have an impact beyond its boundaries, I embarked on exploring the property market of my neighborhood of choice, Northcote. I should also state that my journey to concluding Northcote was to be my home is not common to many. To get here, I lived within 13 suburbs of Melbourne exploring every point on the compass. From Vermont to Yarraville, Carlton and St Kilda, I covered a fair bit of ground whilst coming familiar with the different cultures that made each of these suburbs unique. Yet with Northcote, it took just 5 minutes one sunny Autumn’s Saturday afternoon whilst sitting in the front bar of the Wesley Anne that determined my fate. As I listened to the live stringed band in the sunlight with a beer in hand, I felt a general calmness that reverberated from within and outside the establishment that made me feel at home. That feeling was what gave me the fuel to pound the streets back in 2008 as I raced from opening to opening in search of my own slice of heaven. It wasn’t long before my excitement quickly turned into frustration, exhaustion, and utter despair.
At that time, the market was hot and real estate agents didn’t care if you were Arthur or Martha. Any house would sell and all they had to do was wear a nice tie, drive a fresh sports BMW and show up. I started daydreaming that when they would go back into their cars, golden hay would simply spew out onto the road as they opened their car doors. Not unlike what happens to many, my expectations dropped and I started looking further afield where prices seemed more acceptable. Even though at this time I was looking on my own, I was in conversation with many friends who were also going through the same process, yet they had different needs for a house. They were either on the cusp of starting a new family or needing a place to house a growing one. On top of this, it was becoming evident that the inner-north was going through a gentrification process as many of the original inhabitants were aging and could no longer take care of their dilapidated homes that were also not suitable for their aging needs. Even though this presented an opportunity for others, it made me wonder where these long-established community members were going, where their families were and whether we were building or renovating homes that in the future would prevent this from happening again.
There are challenges in all stages of our lives yet it's not hard to just focus on those that affect us now whilst delaying confronting others that we will inevitably face. As I knew there were housing affordability issues on the horizon, I was convinced an approach to buying a house needed to have more emphasis on the full gambit of life expenses that are not often considered when we first look at buying a house. And it was these expenses I thought I needed to better understood before determining what my future house would need to resolve.
My next entry will focus on these indirect and direct cost of living and how a house, through design, might be able to address these.
I won’t deny that I am someone that hungers and loves a project. Back in 2008 I found myself in a time in my life where I had a strong desire to tinker and deliver on a housing idea. I was not clear at the time what it would be, but I knew I wanted it to be more than a house that was just for me and my current needs. During this period of contemplation, there were rumblings of a looming housing affordability crisis with different voices increasingly promoting their views on alternative solutions to the broader audience. This discussion was gaining traction as it was being coupled with the increasing concern of the generally living expenses in such things as power bills, aged and child care. Unfortunately, I was finding that these conversations were becoming circular as the theory was rarely matched by action.
Then the mini Global financial Crisis hit in 2009 and as is common in such events, the hatches of business shut temporarily but for long enough to take some of the sting out of the residential property market. Even though the concern quickly shifted away from the environment and housing affordability to jobs and the economy, it was not long before living affordability would soon rise again to become a key public issue of concern. It was becoming clearer to me that unless there was a fundamental shift in how we supplied housing, it would result in long term social disadvantage of which would take decades to reverse. This was a challenging worthy of solving and one where I thought I was somewhat qualified to add value contribute and work on a solution. Unfortunately, as is seemingly customary with public affairs I also found myself being caught up in the never-ending cycle of having conversations, going to round table meetings and visionary workshops which typically ended up at where it all started. It was almost as though we didn’t want to change for fear of what it might bring.
Back in those early days, it was becoming increasingly apparent that the people who had the power to make change where it as needed the most, would not for one of three reasons. They did not believe there was a housing problem to solve, they did not want to disrupt the current market economics for fear of retribution from existing property beneficiaries, or the planning changes needed were too great a sell to the public at large. Regardless of what I considered a lack of leadership, I didn’t want to believe that a small change that I might be able to introduce, wouldn’t make a difference. I wanted to see if I myself could find, design and deliver a real live solution that might be replicated by others. My idea was forming as the problems where clear.
I decided that my house project would be one that was both affordable and would more effectively meet the needs of future families, regardless of what stage or circumstance of life they found themselves in. At the time of writing this first entry, the journey of the delivering the concept was 8 years well progressed but still not over. Due to the length of the journey and the obstacles that I have had to maneuver around, I thought it might be of value to record the whole process of ideation, design, delivery and hopefully a post review from those living within the house to see how much of the original objectives were meet. Perhaps one day it might be useful manual of what to avoid or an outline in how we can improve a system that is designed to improve community outcomes. Hopefully (not too far in the future) when I write my last article, I will have succeeded in delivering the home and the idea is replicated elsewhere.
Welcome to my journey in seeking to increase the resilience of my community.
Over 25 years experience in both the private and public sectors o f property
A lover of technology and design that is practical, beautiful and improves the way we live not as a individuals but as a thriving community.