Research News

Posted by on 7 February 2020

My House, Our House, Their House: A Case Study of Shared Social Housing for Older Women.

Robyn Barry PhD.

In 2013, a Community Housing Provider opened two specifically designed five bedroom houses for older women to share. The women rent their own bedroom, with an ensuite and deck, and manage the other communal spaces with each other.  There was, and still is, widespread interest in what has been hailed as an innovative way of accommodating the increasing number of older renters for societies that are facing significant challenges with their ageing populations, loneliness and housing.

Here is a link to the PhD thesis following the first five years of this housing project. The thesis captures the lived experience of those involved; documents the development of this project; evaluates the project and provides a valuable resource for those who are contemplating funding, building, managing or experiencing shared social housing. The viability of shared householding for older people is also explored.

This research is an in-depth study of a particular situation and, as such, generalisation to other models or situations should be made with caution.  There are no definitive conclusions only real-life examples to learn from, and interpret, within context.

On one hand, there are some for whom this living arrangement appears to be working well. The positive aspects of sharing a house with others should not be negated. There are many instances whereby social cohesion and camaraderie is apparent. The life experience, character, and maturity of the participants are evident in the stories of how the women in this study share spaces and lives with each other. Those living there want to make this arrangement work for them, aware that it is possible they will be living there for the rest of their lives.  There are enough examples of what might be working well that can be used to support the replication of this housing model as a means of accommodating the increasing numbers of older renters. The findings, especially the positive elements, could readily be presented as a practical means of providing housing with added social benefits for those who want to promote shared social housing.

On the other hand, wrapping these examples up, tying them in a pretty ribbon and presenting this housing model as a clever solution to society’s woes can be misleadingly one-sided. If shared housing is to be replicated, and seen as a viable housing option by those who are tasked with housing provision, there needs to be some acknowledgement that this way of living is more likely to be a compromise than a choice for those who have a housing need. The attraction of shared housing for older people, without services and formal supports, is predominated by the need for shelter of which may be addressed more appropriately by affordable, sole-occupancy housing. The benefits of shared housing could lie more with the providers and funders than those who are expected to live in them. 

Compelling strangers, for whom sharing with others is not a preference, to live together is likely to create social stressors that may then necessitate social service interventions.

There are limitations to this model that this research uncovered:

  • Shared housing is not a popular housing option
  • Previous shared housing projects have not been as successful as anticipated
  • Living under one roof does not mean a sociable, cohesive household ensues
  • Shared social housing is not an intentional community
  • Residents do not have full control over whom they live with
  • Security can be contingent on household relationships
  • Ageing in shared households is also ageing in her space and their space
  • Moving to a more suitable place can be inhibited once in.

The implications of creating more social shared households need to be carefully considered for policy and practice.  At present, it appears that traditional housing is still the most appropriate accommodation option for older people, but that does not preclude the development of other models that might factor in the findings from this study.
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