Collaboration, Cooperation and Tenant Engagement: The Future of Social Housing


The European Federation for Living (EFL) just wrapped up its annual autumn conference located this year in Gent, Belgium.  Over sixty participants from across Europe attended the conference, ranging from social and public housing associations, universities and research institutes, and private businesses working in the housing sector. Tenant engagement and cooperative and collaborative housing were the main themes considered over the two day conference.

Experts in the field presented their research, experience, and best practices to the attendees. Professor David Mullins from the University of Birmingham outlined why tenant engagement is significant, while also discussing his comparative research on tenant engagement in Northern Ireland, Wales, The Netherlands, and Austria.  Find out more about his research here.  Barbara Steenbergen, from the International Union of Tenants, also spoke on the importance of tenant engagement, asking participants hard-hitting questions, such as, “Who should finance the training of residents for effective participation on a level playing field: a) the federal government b) regional or local public funds for housing c) housing providers.” Hannah Fischer-Baum, from Paris Habitat, and Sharon McIntyre, from the Wheatly Group, both presented best practices of tenant engagement within their respective organizations. Discussions on this subject rounded off with an interactive, round table discussion utilizing a participatory app. It enabled participants to respond to polls, while their answers were displayed in real time on the screen in front of the room.

The Alderman of Housing for the city of Gent, Sven Taeldeman, provided attendees with the context of social housing in the Belgium city.  This information allowed Bart Velleman, a representative from the Flemish Society Social Housing, to expand upon the local situation in more detail, allowing attendees to gain a true understanding of the housing situation within the very city they were staying.

Dr. Eric Meyer, Managing Director of the Institute for Cooperative Societies in the Center for Applied Economic Research at Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, presented on the function, contextual role, and significance of cooperatives in Germany and across Europe. He was followed by Chiara Rizzica, the Project Manager of Fondazione Housing Sociale in Milan, as she spoke about social and collective housing in Italy.  Chiara discussed innovations in Italian housing models, highlighting the city of Milan, how collaborative housing is structured, and how it may be used as a framework for larger projects throughout the E.U.  The cooperative and collective housing theme finished off with a round table discussion, led by Dr. Eric Meyer, utilizing the interactive app to obtain real time audience poll results.

The first day of the conference concluded with a presentation by Sorcha Edwards, the Secretary General of Housing Europe. Sorcha provided a European context to ideas of tenant engagement and cooperative and collective housing.  Both of these themes put “residents in the driver’s seat,” and Sorcha explained the importance of such with regards to migration, energy, and the empowerment of communities.  She conveyed examples from diverse countries across Europe, allowing all attendees to see the value these ideas could have within their specific home countries.

Volkshaard, a local social housing company in Gent and the host organization for the 2017 EFL autumn conference, prepared a site visit to different social housing locations throughout the city. They also prepared a walking tour of the city center, with stops at three restaurants along the way. It was a lovely way to experience the city of Gent.

The second day of the conference began with the EFL General Assembly. After its conclusion, all participants, EFL members and nonmembers, were invited to hear presentations on various projects for which EFL is apart. Such projects included the beginning stages of a European cooperative housing model, a TU Delft book project on “Affordable Housing Governance and Finance in Europe,” and a project on energy efficiency in the social housing sector, called Design4Engery, among many other projects.

The 2017 EFL autumn conference was a place for housing professionals to converse on important topics within their field. Inspiring initiatives were discussed, pertinent information exchanged, and professional relationships and contacts established. Attendance to EFL conferences and other events throughout the year is free with an EFL membership. To discuss membership opportunities or any other general question or comment, please contact Alix Goldstein at

Join EFL at the next conference in the spring of 2018 in Paris, France!

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