How The Pandemic Has Changed The Dynamics Of Share Houses

Clashes over vaccination status and adhering to health orders have become a standard part of share house life.

share houses during covid australia photo

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Being in a share house in lockdown is essentially your own low-budget version of Big Brother — you never really know when you will be set free, and you’re all under immense pressure processing a very strange scenario with nowhere to go and nothing to help simmer the tension.

Lockdown has been a long road for everyone, and it’s cast a new light on the politics within share houses, with housemates having to navigate different levels of COVID anxiety, a propensity to follow or flounce the lockdown rules, and vaccination status.

And this lockdown has been harder for some share houses than the latest lockdown. The novelty has worn off, we all have less patience and more fatigue. Netflix marathons and baking trends don’t cut it this time around. And there is a strange sense of policing or calculating levels of risk depending on what you each do and where.

“Especially going back into the second [lockdown], like it just became like this really, really tense environment,” says Jess* — one of three housemates all in their 20s in Sydney. “I’ve been pretty much in weekly therapy just to have a bit of an outlet,” she says. “Someone could be listening [in on the Telehealth appointment], but at this point, you just can’t care.”

“[Watching Big Brother], people have overreactions and you’re like, ‘That is not a rational reaction. Why are you this emotional?’ And then you realise, when you’re in a house with a bunch of people and you cannot get away from them, those reactions are the ones you start having more [often] than not,” says Jess.

House Tensions

In the before-times, we didn’t have to consider how we would go being locked down with someone for months or need to ask about their conflict style or view on vaccinations during a house interview.

The Doherty Modelling expects lockdowns will continue, and Gladys Berejiklian has reserved the right to lockdown areas if concerning COVID cases pop up, so these considerations won’t dissipate anytime soon. They are some of the many ongoing adaptions that the pandemic has pushed us into. Ads on Facebook sharehouse communities now tout the vaccination statuses of future roomies.

“Conversations we were having weren’t actually doing anything decent. They just exacerbated the problems.”

“It’s easy to get along with someone when they’re happy and they’re going out to work and seeing their friends,” Jess tells Junkee. “But when they’re isolated from their family, [and] you’re essentially working with them, living with them, sleeping with them, it really brings to light all the ways in which you differ.”

Because of the lockdown, even the most trivial things became excruciatingly infuriating. The housemates realised they had different conflict styles and were struggling to resolve issues.

“It meant that conversations we were having weren’t actually doing anything decent. They just exacerbated the problems,” says Jess. “My two housemates at the beginning of lockdown were really having beef with each other. And every time I came home one of them would say, ‘I’m ready to move out,’ which was really awful.”

COVID Anxiety

The pandemic has illuminated our propensity to follow or flout rules, and how much we think they apply to us. A friend that you would have expected to be extremely aboveboard mightn’t care less for the 5km radius rule, or brushes off other restrictions with ease. It’s a strange conundrum to find yourself in, looking for solidarity from a friend and instead finding them bending the restrictions to fit their own conveniences in a way you wouldn’t have expected.

Taylor* moved into her home of three other housemates two weeks before Sydney’s lockdown began. She hid her level of anxiety and “paranoia” about the pandemic from her new housemates. One of her housemates was dating casually, and invited a second date to come over early on in the lockdown.

“[She said], ‘He works from home, he doesn’t see anyone, he doesn’t have COVID,’ you know — just like that whole spiel,” says Jess. The housemate asked if the others would mind — they weren’t bothered. “And I was not okay with it, but I felt like I was being dramatic about it because I was the only one who saw a problem… She just doesn’t think about us getting COVID as a result of her behaviour.

“So I said, ‘Look, to be honest with you, I’m quite anxious about COVID. That doesn’t sit well with me.'” Taylor felt like it wasn’t worth the risk when the lockdown was originally just going to be a couple of weeks, but her new housemate had the date over nonetheless, putting them all at risk. “I was so pissed off because I was like, ‘This is a pandemic,’ and I voiced that I’m anxious about it, and you’ve just completely ignored my anxiety and you’ve still brought him to our house.”

Future Flatting

The pressures of the pandemic have made honesty and boundaries all the more important for future housemate interviews or lockdown plans — are you all comfortable with casual dating or would you rather stave off until the lockdown ends? Do you like to stick to the rules or push the boundaries? What’s the plan if one person is a close contact?

On close contacts, some share houses have been strict, with the the person only leaving their bedroom for the bathroom, while others have been less so. And it’s a logistical nightmare when you think about it. Taylor still struggles with her housemates’ different levels of respect for the rules. When one was a named a close contact, they stayed in their room for the first few days, but later their caution wavered.

“Towards day seven, they were just in the kitchen at the same time that we were in the house, and in the backyard with us. And it was it was probably not what NSW Health would have wanted,” says Taylor.

As property in Australia remains fairly inaccessible, and the class divide starts to hits harder, individual approaches to COVID will impact the rights of the people you live with. Going by Gladys’ future rules for 80 percent freedoms, if one housemate is not vaccinated, the house can’t have people over.

Taylor says she’ll have a conversation up front about future housemates’ expectations. “I kind of wish that I’d had the conversation with my housemates, like as soon as we had gone into lockdown, to be like, ‘OK, what is everyone’s boundaries? Are we going to stick to it? What are we going to do,’ because there was just too much grey in our house… Yeah, that is definitely important to me if I moved again.”

“[But] I probably wouldn’t want to move into another share house, to be honest.”

* Names have been changed for privacy

Edwina Storie is a multi-platform journalist whose greatest pandemic project was eating an entire cake in a day.