“Moving into cohousing actually felt really private to me. Chris and I first moved in to a one-bedder, 45 square meters so a bit smaller than your average apartment. I think there’s this sense that to have privacy you need space but I don’t think so. You just need good design because when people come and visit us here, we come and meet them at the gate and we usually make it into the common house or barbeque area and end up staying there because its beautiful, its comfortable, and that’s the interesting place for them to be.”    - Heidi

“I saw Murundaka at the time as like a big share house but with your own private space and longterm renter tenure. You can’t really be kicked out as long as you pay your rent. You could stay here for 20 years. We’ve always been kicked out and moved along from share houses so this was appealing. Especially because if you have reasonably low stable rent, you don’t have to take out a big mortgage and you can avoid that commitment for a while… so this represented long term stable rental accomodation and the freedom to do other things we enjoyed, which you might not get so much if you have to pay off your mortgage.”    - Greg

“If you want to stay together as a community you have to work on the little things together. Lots of communities - especially for all older people – lose out when they hire people to do their chores and their handy work for them.”

“A lot happens just chatting in the hallway. Checking in with someone about a task or something like moving the couches… then it will turn into a chat about what’s going on in their life.”    - Giselle

“What destroys a group isn’t the decision making process, “it’s peoples’ personal stuff that’s going on and how they’re dealing with it… when people don’t own their own problems they blame others… If you’re upset about something and you’re not willing to reflect on yourself about why, which of your values is being challenged, how are you contributing to this upsetness… because other people can’t fix your own negative feelings. People who don’t own their own personal stuff don’t go well in community because there are so many people around them to blame.”    - Heidi

“Conflicts happen mostly around shared areas, like whether or not the common kitchen was going to be vegetarian or not. And the garden, it has taken a long time to get the garden going… but once you’ve been through conflict together it’s empowering. You build confidence as a group so in the future you get over the petty stuff that divides most neighbours. And you get to know people better, realising each other’s capacities. You have a deeper, richer community”    - Giselle

FROM I TO WE: MURUNDAKA COHOUSING COMMUNITY

Murundaka Cohousing Community is one answer to many pressing questions – How could we reduce social isolation and sprawl in suburban areas? How could we make longterm renting more secure and affordable? How can we work together with our neighbors to live more sustainably?

 

Located in Heidelberg, a historically lower-income suburb of Melbourne, it is home to 40 residents ranging from infants to seniors. Following the cohousing model, they live in smaller-than-average private units clustered around large shared spaces like the common house and garden. Design-wise, this answers the problems of sprawling one-story fenced-off plots by creating a “medium density” model. While conventional housing models tend to strip tenants of their agency, the participatory governance structure gives each member an equal say in decisions. It's owned by a housing co-operative and all the units are rental with longterm tenant security so you would never face drastic rent hikes or eviction from a landlord. With sustainability at the core of their mission, neighbors work together to reduce waste, share cars and appliances, install solar power and cultivate the garden.

 

This may sound like a utopic breeze, but it takes a lot of time and effort to make Murundaka a reality. The collective decision-making meetings, lack of private space, constant maintenance projects, and interpersonal conflict might be too intense for some people. These hesitations were a common theme during the first 3 months of my ethnographic research on communal housing models (part of an Institute for Sustainable Futures study on cohousing), so when I arrived at Murundaka for field work I wanted to know how residents make this model function. After 3 weeks living there doing “participant observation,” communal meals, garden work days and interviews, I found that most peoples’ negative perceptions of cohousing are not problems in the lived experience. I took some videos to capture daily life and residents’ perspective as a side project to our research report. The quotes below are from other interviews I did with residents during my stay.