Published: 03 December 2012
Karren Walker interviewed
Extracted chapter from Griffiths, David (Ed.) Co-operators - Co-operation and Co-operatives, Southeast Housing Co-operative Ltd, 2012, p 43.
Twenty years ago Karren Walker was working part-time and studying, struggling to pay rent in the private rental market and about to drop out of tertiary education.
She joined Earth CERC and keenly participated in the early establishment of the group. In a relatively short time the Co-op acquired a CEHL-owned house, part of the Earth Co-operative in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, and Karen has lived there ever since. She has been a strong participant in her Co-op and eventually joined the CEHL Board and is its current Chair. In the subsequent years Karen has finished her original degree and gone on to enjoy further educational and professional achievements, many of which would have been a greater struggle were it not for the physical stability of co-operative housing and the mutually supportive co-op community.
Co-ops are a relatively unknown tenure option, one that provides housing security as well as a strong community and a place to learn and utilise new skills. Co-ops are here for a real mix of people, & CEHL provide a broad range of affordable housing, whilst maintaining a strong central ethos about the Co-operative program.
One of the key features which Karren believes underpins the success of participation within the Co-op is the original notion of ‘sweat equity’, where each of the co-operatives carries out some of the maintenance themselves as well as rent management and this is offset against their rent costs, keeping it at an affordable range, an increasingly important factor for single person households. Whilst Co-op’s don’t own their houses individually they invest time & care in their homes just as if they did.
For Karren she likes to think of her role as ‘stewardship’, managing and caring for the housing asset in her lifetime, for someone else to enjoy in future generations.
Karren Walker is a long-time member of Earth Common Equity Rental Housing Co-operative (CERC), in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. Earth is a group particularly interested in and committed to environmental issues and promoting a sustainable future for all; Co-operative housing is an expression of that desire. Karren’s involvement led her, in 2005, to stand for the Board of Common Equity, in one of the five positions reserved for Co-op members. She has been Chair of the Board since 2010.