Societies are looking towards innovative ways of accommodating the increasing number of people reaching 65 and without the provision of home ownership. This research follows five years of the development of a philanthropic social housing initiative whereby 10 women over 65 shared living spaces in two purpose-built houses. It investigates the viability and limitations through a context-based, naturalistic case study. The researcher is both a Trustee and a Relationship Manager of these houses, enabling an insider’s access to the experiences whilst posing ethical and methodological challenges that are a salient theme. Ethical concerns about objectivity, conflict of interest and power imbalances are moderated by a relational/collaborative orientation to research and practice.
Narrative inquiry includes reporting the lived experiences of the participants and drawing on participant observations, interviews, notes, reports, and the researcher’s journal: rich narratives illuminate the complexities and contradictions of shared households. The research is contextualised within literature showing that previous housing initiatives, whereby strangers share living spaces, have not been as successful as anticipated. This study concludes by speculating that we are possibly repeating ideologies implemented 20 – 30 years ago if looking towards shared housing as a solution to social challenges. It notes that the ideologies are formed by those who are charged with finding solutions, but not necessarily shared by those who are expected to live in these arrangement. Whilst providing affordable accommodation, the houses are also a social environment which can be both convivial and challenging, with variations of lived experiences and no easy reconciliation when conflicts of interest arise. One person’s attempts to achieve comfort and mastery of their environment can impact on other’s attempts to do the same.
The richness of data provided here enables insights of use to future housing planners. It raises awareness that ‘ageing in place’ in shared households is also aging in another’s place, and gives concrete evidence of how shared space plays out in lived reality, the positive benefits of congeniality, the daily negotiations, and the reactions that spiral into dissatisfaction. The thesis concludes with the need for clarity about what shared housing might deliver.