Published: 03 December 2012
Extracted chapter from Griffiths, David (Ed.) Co-operators - Co-operation and Co-operatives, Southeast Housing Co-operative Ltd, 2012, pp 38-39.
Dear Great-Great-Great-Grandchild, there are things about my life that I want you to know. As a young adult, I lived during times when things were simpler and the family was the cornerstone of all economic and social life. I write this in 2011, in a first world western society where we believe our lives to be complex, arduous, fractured and individualistic, and driven by the need for financial security. Yet, despite all of this, there remains a firm commitment by some to ‘Community and Family’ as society’s top priority.
Some very smart and influential people got together one day in the last quarter of the 21st century to ‘brainstorm’ ways for government to better meet its obligation to provide housing for its citizens. (Yes, housing is now considered a basic human right!) Although political and global economic developments had begun to lead society down the path of what we call economic rationalism (a strange neo-conservative concept that sought to promote a free trade economy and privatisation of state owned assets and services, in particular that of housing provision), a few solid social structures and support groups and their philosophies had remained to meet society’s objectives in a more communal way.
I was a very young unmarried mother when I applied for public housing. You may find it hard to believe, but there was a time when women were shamed by a system that financially and economically segregated mothers based on their marital status. So, for my son, Shia, (your Great-Great-Grandfather) and me, moving into our first state provided home was a significant step towards independence. However, coming with that was the stigma, the lack of amenity provided and the limited say over our future. When those same very smart and influential people I mentioned above, got together to create alternative models of housing, we jumped right in to help and the Northern Geelong Rental Housing Co-operative (NGRHC) was formed.
The NGRHC provided us all with a sense of community, houses that blended into mainstream urban areas, security of tenure, improved facilities and social pride. Remember that a home is more than just a building or structure that gives us shelter. It is a place in which we can be free to express ourselves, to learn, grow, thrive and feel safe. And that is the good fortune I wish for you in your lifetime, as it has been for me for the past 27 years in my beautiful co-op home.
I wonder whether the NGRHC will still exist? I hope so!
Our modern day understanding of ‘home’ is inextricably linked with the social expectation that ‘home’ is only attained once an individual begins the arduous journey down the road to home ownership. To not travel this route, to opt for choices other than home ownership, puts individuals at the risk of not only insecure and unaffordable housing, but also sets them up to be judged as making less of a contribution to society than those who purchase a house.
The Northern Geelong Rental Housing Co-operative since its inception has at its core the belief that a sense of home is critical to a person’s sense of self and well-being. Long-term affordable and secure housing that creates a sense of ‘ownership’ is the key to both individual and community prosperity. Home is not attained through purchasing debt or the location.
For members of the NGRHC, ‘home’ is not only a shelter or somewhere to sleep, but a place for socialising and building relationships, a place for work, for relaxation, for contemplation and a place where one’s unique cultural identity can be expressed. Home is also critically linked to the individual’s sense of community; where they are welcomed and valued.
Excerpt from No one’s Home, Cathy Walker’s Report into Homelessness for the Salvation Army, 2003
In this context the success of the NGRHC lies not in its exemplary property and tenancy management, or the opportunities provided to members for participation education employment or social connectedness, but in the sense of ‘ownership’, security, community and liberty that is guaranteed for its membership.
If decision-makers are only concerned with putting roofs over people’s heads, providing short -term solutions to long-term issues, then the ongoing ‘housing’ and social inequities that plague our citizens and government alike will only continue. Personal, co-operative, respectful and supportive housing such as that supplied by the NGRHC, proves a significant solution in addressing long-term affordable housing.
Reprinted with permission from A Home for Life - Celebrating 28 Years of the Northern Geelong Rental Housing Co-operative, Northern Geelong Rental Housing Co-operative, 2011, pp iv and 35.