The struggle for collaborative housing

Co-housing, collective housing, collaborative housing, co-living, cooperative housing. All different names for one growing housing phenomenon; people are starting to live together again— not with their family members, but with relative strangers. Organised by the Italian organizations Fondazione Housing Sociale and Legacoop abitanti the Collaborative Housing workshop deals with this upcoming housing form. How can cooperatives be viable housing alternative in the 21st century?

Article by Joop de Boer, ISHF team

Collaborative housing is hot. In a world of individualism, a new generation seems to be interested in living together, in sharing stuff, ideas and services and in enjoying each others presence. They want to be part of a community again. This leads to all kinds of new housing forms, from co-living buildings to collective living projects and shared-living environments. Most of them pop up in world leading cities and are a direct answer to the increasingly stressed housing market and new flexiblised lifestyles. This development also introduces new business opportunities to the housing market. Venture capital-driven and international operating organisations tap in to this market of co-living with a lot of start-up flair. They offer small apartments upgraded with cool luxury extras, shared spaces and on-demand access to collective services. This provides housing alternatives for millennials, who nowadays have huge difficulties finding a reasonably-priced apartment in the city.

This event, however, is not about this major urban trend in housing. To the contrary it explores the social housing alternative of this co-living trend. This is probably not as hip and happening, but it builds upon years of experience with living together. For ages small collectives of people chose to set-up co-housing initiatives from a true social perspective, in all kinds of different countries and with all kinds of motivations.

There is a lot of idealism involved. Co-housers look for solidarity, community involvement or sustainability. Sometimes there are practical reasons too, such as organising daycare for children, or collective wifi, gardens and mobility. Another reason to start co-housing is to live together with like-minded people. The elderly for instance start to live together to stay part of the community and to not get lonely. In the Netherlands a project combines students and the elderly under one roof for that reason. In Ireland elderly gay people look to initiate a collective housing accommodation, and in Italy families and the elderly are often living together in co-housing complexes.

All this is not meant to set up a profitable business, but to start a ground-up housing alternative. It not only helps the tenants involved but also improves the city as a whole— according to Michalis Goudis (Housing Europe): “Co-housing has proven to provide answers for the big societal questions, such as loneliness, demographic change and a lack of sense of community, and it’s also more energy-efficient.”

The international cases presented from Italy, Estonia, The Netherlands, Spain and Ireland show this, but they have also one other main element in common: It’s never easy. Co-housing is always complicated. It’s hard to generate funds, it’s hard to get a building site, it’s hard to decide together and organise solidarity and it’s hard to manage a community. Apparently it ain’t easy to live together.

This article is part of a special series in which Pop-Up City reflects on the first edition of the International Social Housing Festival taking place in Amsterdam between 13 June and 21 June 2017 in Amsterdam.

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