The 1960’s saw Melbourne, Australia sprawling out from Port Phillip Bay into the beautiful green hills that stretch away from the water. Both the city’s population and housing speculation boomed. Developers snatched up land, segmented it into lots, prepped it for construction—tearing out trees and installing streets, sidewalks and utilities—and then sold bits of land to future home owners, people ready to build a home and move their families to a better place.
In Australia, home ownership represented a penultimate dream, a sign and symbol that you had arrived, socially. Homeownership also indicated economic stability. This dream of stability, however, remained out of reach for many citizens. That was where Rochdale Estate Cooperative came in.
In 1963, fifty-one future homeowners formed a cooperative and leveraged their joint assets to purchase land for a small subdivision. At the time, a cooperative permanent building society financed construction and a cooperative trading society offered appliances and furniture at low cost. But the price of developed land formed a barrier for families and individuals with less income.
Through the cooperative purchase and development of the land, though, Rochdale Estate Cooperative made homeownership an achievable goal for its members. Together they purchased land, put in utilities, streets and sidewalks and did not have to pay the high prices developers ask for land. Members, in fact, enjoyed a cost reduction of 35%. Then each member build their own house on their individual section of the subdivision.
Besides the economic advantages members gained, the group also offered access to financial education. Members received training in making budgets and counseling that encouraged responsible spending habits. The coop offered something more intangible as well: the ability to be involved in the design of the community from the get-go—to say which trees should not be cut down, how lots should be laid out—and to have close ties with neighbors long before anyone moved in.
Today, Melbourne’s suburbs continue to expand out beyond Rochdale Estate and the subdivision no longer rests at the pastoral edge of the city. Developers continue to purchase and partition land into housing plots for the city’s 4.5 million inhabitants. While, after developing the land, the coop became obsolete and dissolved, members still enjoy their homes. Neither the oil crash of 1973 nor the recent global housing crisis endangered the comfort of homeownership that Rochdale Estate Cooperative allowed its members.