Building a collaborative economy platform to support cohousing initiatives: The case of Collaborative Housing Limerick
Author: Kim O’Shea, Interaction Design Centre and Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, University of Limerick
Case study type: Local initiatives
Keywords: Cohousing, Collaborative Housing, Community Action Group
The Collaborative Housing Limerick group formed in May 2018 and continue to meet on a monthly basis. The group aims to explore the opportunity and create a collaborative housing and/or cohousing model in Limerick, Ireland, as they collectively see the need for more accessible, affordable and community-led housing models in Ireland. This has become particularly relevant at present when a national housing crisis has exposed the issues surrounding developer-led housing initiatives that are pervasive in Ireland. This group’s focus is on sustainability and the use of renewable energy in their future homes.
This group is amongst the most active community-led housing initiatives in Ireland today. As such, they have created an online presence for both sharing knowledge and resources within the group, and publicising the existence of the group to a wider national audience. The Collaborative Housing Limerick group utilise a shared Google drive, an email subscription list, a dedicated website and a Facebook page. The use of these various technological tools for collaborative and coordinative purposes leverages the knowledge of the current core group regarding collaborative and coordinative tools. However, the use of these tools is dictated by personal preference, and does nothing to undo the uncoordinated and disjointed nature of the national collaborative housing community. Several other collaborative housing groups around the country have Facebook pages, but there are several that do not have an online public presence. For communication across groups and individuals at national level, many other platforms have been used, for example Loomio, Google Groups, a forum, but the discussions on platforms such as these are not constant and tend to flow when cohousing events are looming, but ebb when there are none. Going forward with this case study, as a PhD research case study, I hope to develop a platform to assist with collaboration and communication for the Collaborative Housing Limerick group, which would also allow for collaboration with other collaborative housing groups in Ireland.
Collaborative Housing Limerick is an interesting example of the collaborative economy as it is a local initiative, in the form of a community action group, that has identified a need for collaboratively created housing and volunteer their time to explore the topics of collaborative housing, cohousing and community, with their ultimate goal being to share a living space with one another. Collaborative Housing creates the conditions for other forms of collaborations to happen: community gardens, shared care of the young and elderly, shared transportation, shared energy schemes.
Currently, this group is self-funded whenever there is a need for financial contributions. The group meets on a monthly basis in various locations, which are free of charge for use. As the group is still at the exploration phase, there has been no need for any financial contributions. As this group is endeavouring to create a pilot cohousing arrangement in Limerick, they are researching various funding models and opportunities for pilot housing developments available in Ireland, including grants for energy efficiency. Finances have been a near-permanent topic of discussion at group meetings since the group’s inception due to the nationally high costs of property. They are researching and exploring a variety of avenues for potential financial assistance for their endeavours. The group are also in the process of creating a “Vision Document” which they hope will serve two purposes; firstly as a charter for members of the group to commit to, and secondly as a document used to gain outside support and assistance from public figures and institutions.
There are a number of potential impacts of this local initiative. The group are sensitive to the environmental issues involved in creating any sustainable, resilient housing model, in terms of both using “green” materials to build the homes, and the subsequent carbon footprints generated by the homes as they are lived in. The potential to receive a grant for energy efficient homes, coupled with the group’s own desire for the use of renewable energy, makes sustainability a necessity for this group going forward. Ultimately, they would like to create a cohousing community in the city centre of Limerick . There is a desire from this group to create a community, as opposed to just a housing development. The majority of the group are aged 35+ and have expressed a desire to rekindle a sense of community in their lives as this would be both advantageous to their current lifestyles, and as they age. Cohousing is currently not recognised as a standard model of housing in Ireland. Very few cohousing arrangements exist in the country, and as such there is little support both financially and legally for this endeavour. This group currently views these as significant hurdles to their endeavour, but if they were to navigate their way through the issues, it could have a significant impact. If this philosophy of cohousing became culturally normalised, it would make it far easier for any future cohousing group to organise and realise their own ambitions. At the Housing Ourselves conference in 2018, a meeting point for community groups in Ireland, the groups present noted that there is no singular example of cohousing succeeding in Ireland, and that the development of one exemplar project would pave the way for other groups as “the groundwork would have been done”. Culturally, this is not a model of housing that is recognised or widely accepted in Ireland, with the concept being misconceived as a “commune”. However, an exemplar project could be the turning point. Once this cultural shift to acceptance had occurred, it could encourage those who would not have actively sought such a lifestyle, but now can consider it on its merits as it a reasonable option for an alternative and sustainable way of living. In turn, governmental policy making could shift in its favour and become a self-perpetuating system.
At present, the research question in this study is “How could open source, peer-to-peer technologies be deployed, using co-design and collaborative practices, to enable sustainable solutions to the social, economic and environmental challenges we are currently facing with regard to housing?” This study began in May 2018 when the Collaborative Housing Limerick group first met, and is continuing to date as an ethnographic case study on collaborative housing in Ireland. I am taking an action research approach to this study, with the issues identified as the lack of: legal, financial, and social awareness, and support of collaborative housing models in Ireland. I have adopted the role of ‘participant-as-observer’ in the Collaborative Housing Limerick group, meaning that I am present at group meetings both as a group member and in a research capacity. I undertake participant observation while at the meetings, and I record notes in the form of meeting minutes and field notes. Meetings are held in various locations in Limerick City, on both weekdays and weekends.
As this is an ongoing case study, I only have preliminary findings, the most substantial of which is that while the topic of collaborative housing and cohousing is being explored by multiple groups in Ireland simultaneously, the findings and progress of each group are not public knowledge, which has left each group researching the same information to a great extent. There is little-to-no communication between the active groups in Ireland, which is one of the main factors influencing the direction of my research, towards developing a collaborative platform design. This study aims to highlight the issues surrounding community collaboration, longevity and success in relation to large-scale endeavours such as collaborative housing. I hope, in part, to address these issues with the development of a collaboratively designed, open-source platform which can be deployed both within communities as a collaborative and communicative tool, and to the wider network of national community action groups to aid with knowledge and resource sharing.
For more details, see: Kim O'Shea and Gabriela Avram. 2019. Housing Ourselves: An Exploration of Collaborative Housing from an Irish Perspective. In Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Communities & Technologies - Transforming Communities (C&T '19). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 295-299. DOI: 10.1145/3328320.3328397