I was at an event organized by ARCAM tonight concerning co-operative housing projects which are already very popular in Berlin but are rapidly expanding to other cities. Amsterdam is busy launching its own initiative and Michael LaFond from Berlin presented their experiences with this way of building.
It was an interesting evening to attend. The slides were poorly visible from the back, but I managed to jot down a large part of the Q&A where most of the action was. It is interesting to see how eager for knowledge the Amsterdam crowd is. It strikes me as odd that building a house yourself would be novel, but given the market as it is, it is. Also: the Dutch with their capacity for trade and organization should be pretty good at this thing. If that will be so, remains to be seen.
Notes first quoted:
Muni of Amsterdam is going to emit a bunch of self building plots
There’s going to be an event this weekend in Houthaven for the first batch of plots.
Michael LaFond, American Architect living and working in Berlin
id22, Institute for Creative Sustainability
focus on co-housing, community organized housing projects
daz – köpenickerstraße
local innovation, community
emphasizes participation in cooperative and community oriented designs
organize Wohnportal, platform for architects and housing activists to get their project out there
last year: started working with people in other European cities
organizing a tour of the creative sustainability projects around the city
An increased demand even in participation.
1.9M housing units / 3.5M residents
Weak presence of corporations on the market though everybody leases.
Since 2009 Berlin offers land to Baugemeinschaften at fixed prices.
The best concept and not the highest bidder wins.
1. Neighborhood and community orientation
2. Architecture and urban design
3. Sustainability and ecology
Change in economy and demography forces Berlin like Amsterdam to look at the concept of building houses yourself.
Baugemeinschaften started in Tübingen and Freiburg
List of examples among which:
* Möckernkiez, public access
* Spreefeld Berlin, secured a road to the land and got the land cheap from the Federal Government, some of the best architects in Berlin
* AH+, outside of the city center, buildings will produce more energy than they consume
Baugemeinschäfte are growing larger to the 100 and more houses per project
Co Housing Cultures book due to be out
Manifestation this weekend with the release of 300 plots.
Initiator of the Vrijburg Project, landscape architect also present.
Vrijburg has failed in collaborating with Nuon to create sustainable energy projects.
Now the questions as much as I could transcribe them:
Q: How do you manage people who want to rent? Or people with unequal incomes.
LaFond: 3 of the projects are affordable housing, some in re-adapting existing buildings. People pay €5-6/m2. There are examples of non-profit cooperations. People that really don’t have any money, can’t live there.
Q: The real-estate market in Amsterdam is rather transparent. Transactions are being done between housing corporations, developers and the city. Can co-housing create more transparency in the housing market? So that fairer pricing of land becomes a possibility?
LaFond: By making the scale of projects smaller that becomes easier. For democracy, the equal distribution of land is very important.
Q: The self-build aspect? Who carries the risk if the plan fails?
LaFond: You can have affordable houses from non-self-organized projects and vice versa. People that do have money: a core group forms and they look for a piece of land with or without an architect, or they apply to a city land auction, with a group facilitator. They identify the concept and organize a Baugemeinschaft. People bring their own money and they need to go to the bank themselves for credit. The ones without money need to get support from a foundation or other organization. The main reason that projects don’t succeed is because they can’t find any affordable land.
Q: How important is the role of the architect?
LaFond: If you want to emphasize the group or community, the focus should be with them. There’s always the combination of the future inhabitants, the architect and the moderator. The most important thing in Berlin is that people adhere more strictly to the division of roles and don’t try to play multiple parts.
Q: Do the architects design the energy systems?
LaFond: Almost always there will somebody extra working on that.
Q: How do people find it?
LaFond: There’s the website. The events where people come together and word of mouth about the project. Some architecture firms have their own waiting lists for people who want to be on the next project.
Q: What’s the role of the moderators?
LaFond: There’s no investor/developer for these projects, that’s why they are more affordable. Btu that’s also why it demands more intensive participation. They need to understand people and organize them. Manage relations. Sometimes have to protect participants from the architects. There are not that many people who can do this and want to do this. Most architects can’t or don’t want to do this. (There seem to be companies specialized in this.)
Bob van der Zande (stad Amsterdam, Zelfbouw) also present.
Q: Is the municipality thinking about social housing in the next 10 years?
Van der Zande: We are hoping that there are so many different houses being planned that the option of social housing will materialize.
LaFond: Some of the co-operative projects will give people the money they invested back but they cannot sell or speculate on the house themselves. This changes the house from a property on the market into something that is there to use. More projects like that are needed to guarantee affordable housing in a city on the long term. If people can make money on their property and there’s nothing to prevent it, it is not odd that they will do so.
Q: How is the other obstacle (that of financing) being tackled?
LaFond: Constructions take some time to develop. Umweltbank and GLS bank are very important for these projects. They make less money from the interest and they have a greater desire to support ecological and social projects. It happens that people can collectively apply for money to get credit so not everybody needs to have the same amout of money. GLS is the best example in Germany. They offer different kinds of Burgschaften, you need to have a combination of money, income, property, or a relative who has money. Now also Kleinburgschaften: 25 people can all risk €3000 to join together and cover the risk. Das Miethäusersyndicat (started in Freiburg) exists to help housing groups to buy their buildings and renovate them. Because they have so many buildings now they can get credit to do more buildings. These structures took 20 some years to develop.
Stiftung Trias and Edith Marien Stiftung don’t like private ownership much. They work to take land away from the market. Community land trusts.
Vrijburg architect: In Amsterdam one bank is interested in these projects: the Rabobank. All the other banks are running away.