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In 2017, a group of local comedians banded together to start a cohousing property development. What happened next was... sadly predictable.


May 11, 2023 Society

I’m a millennial and I recently bought a house. It’s a miracle, a joy, a revelation, something I thought would never be in my future. And yet… one of my main sources of jokes has evaporated like my disposable income. The unattainable dream — the one that unified our generation in light-hearted boomer-bashing — is something I have now actually attained. I can no longer use my inability to get into the housing market as the easy punchline it once was. Last year, my 33rd year on this earth, my partner and I were able to purchase our first home just before prices started going down but just in time for interest rates to be high. Perfect!

I love our house. I feel so lucky to be free from the era of flatmates and sharing bathrooms filled with six empty shampoo bottles. To be dealing with only two people’s recycling and rubbish is pure bliss. But the dream we have ended up living is not the dream I had thought my first home would be. For almost five years I was part of a plan: a gorgeous group of six apartments that might have, from the outside, seemed like some sort of strange comedy cult.

The only reason I even considered getting into the housing market was because of my dear friend Alice Snedden. Alice and her family are smart and generous, and I somehow ended up in the right place at the right moment: apparently I could, without a deposit, buy into a property co-owned by a small group of friends. Technically, we were all each other’s landlords, but in actuality this meant no inspections, just great vibes and the occasional stint of DIY.

Very quickly, this tentative step into property owner- ship turned into an ambitious and exciting prospect. The idea was to bring more people in, knock the house down, and build six chic two-bedroom apartments on the site. There’d be room to park your car and store things underneath; there would be a shared rooftop space for us to have barbecues and chill in the sun; and there would be the joy of knowing that all your neighbours are friends.

I was very much a happy passenger on the voyage, as others took the lead and got the plans moving. It was 2017, and the budget looked great. We would each become owners of an apartment at cost price, and at turn-key the instant equity we’d get would cover most or all of the deposit we would need to get a mortgage. For a group of people in our 20s, most of whom were comedians and writers, it was an unbelievable prospect. I felt like one of the luckiest people alive, even though each of our meetings had a ‘doom-and-gloom’ section as we went through the risks.

We might survey the ground and find we couldn’t build something so tall on it. We were just a tiny bit over consented height, so we’d need permission from one of the neighbours, who was doing a great job at avoiding contact. We could have a huge falling-out with someone in the project and then be tethered to them for years. We weighed up our options; we were still keen. I was even planning to co-own my apartment with my one and only ex-girlfriend, Brynley Stent, in an amazing full-circle moment. It felt like a great pitch for a sitcom, but it was our real actual lives.

Fortunately, most of the risks we’d anticipated did not come to pass. The ground was perfectly suited to our structure. The neighbours eventually replied and came to the party. Everyone remained friends. But various delays meant the project didn’t start in 2018. And then it still didn’t start in 2019. And then it was 2020, and, you might remember, there was a pandemic. The meetings we’d been having in person changed to lockdown zooms, and across the course of two years, what had seemed quite ambitious evolved into being extremely, enormously, completely unachievable.

Construction costs just kept going up and up. Even as the plans changed to be more affordable — no more rooftop garden, beams right through the middle of certain rooms, less-flash materials — the price still kept rising. Eventually, we were looking at figures almost twice as high as we had originally hoped. The banks weren’t coming to the party, either. They were confused by the idea of a group of friends teaming up on a project to increase housing density and allow for homeowners who never saw that as a possibility. A private investor was needed. Eventually, it didn’t matter whether we had an investor or not: the instant debt was now going to be too much for most of us to service.

The good news is, in the wake of our apartment dreams falling down, slowly but steadily the strange comedy cult is clawing its way into home ownership. Just not together. Some of us have teamed up with friends in new partnerships. Some people once in the project now have shows on the BBC, so they’re doing okay. I was able to work in breakfast radio for just long enough to convince a bank I had a real job. We were all so tightly involved in each other’s lives, but these days we are spread out — in different countries and in different careers. But gosh, a little drink together on that rooftop would have been nice.

This story was published in Metro N°438.
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