Housing associations are difficult to get started in the Netherlands. If residents succeed in realizing a building together, a few dozen affordable homes will be created at most. It can also be different. Two cooperatives in Berlin and Zurich realized a multi-functional newly built neighborhood where several thousand residents are protected from large rent increases for a long time.
Who from Berlin Gleisdreieck Park the new construction of Mockernkiez When you walk in, you’ll see a dozen cream-colored apartment buildings, such as several that have popped up in the German capital in recent years. Some have small balconies on their slender facades, others have indoor loggias. In one of the gardens laid out between the buildings, two residents weed. Some mothers enjoy themselves on a café terrace latte macchiato while keeping an eye on their playing offspring. It is also very quiet on the street. Cars have been banned to the edge of the neighborhood, and an elongated residential block with shops shields the neighborhood from the noise of the Yorckstrasse behind.
At first glance, there seems to be something special about the new neighborhood. Even so, the 471 rental apartments that were completed in 2018 were not built by a project developer or municipal housing company. They are the initiative of a residents’ collective. Nine years earlier, the group cleared a vacant plot from the German railways for eight million euros – a tenth of its estimated current market value. with the plan to realize a collective housing area there.
There are now around 2,200 people who, as members of the Möckernkiez cooperative, are co-owners of the property and the public space. For a monthly ‘user payment’ of an average of eleven euros per square meter, they live in an apartment and can help make decisions about the neighborhood. Although everyone has to buy a share in the cooperative at the entrance of 920 euros per square meter of housing, a considerable waiting list has arisen for the project in Berlin, which will be more expensive.
As peaceful as the neighborhood is now, the construction of the houses was so tumultuous. After the design was approved by the members and three banks appeared to provide a large part of the financing, the concrete mixers could be commissioned in 2013.
After a year, the funding proved not to be as watertight as the board had told the members. While five of the fourteen multi-storey buildings were already finished, construction had to be halted. Only after a year and a half did a new banking consortium led by the cooperative GLS-Bank show itself ready to finance 63 percent of the necessary 111 million euros. The rest of the investment was paid by the members themselves. The cooperative did not have much to expect from the municipality (which at the time was embroiled in all sorts of financial scandals). The construction of the neighborhood was successfully completed in 2018.
Less sustainable and cheap
The rescue operation has left its mark. For example, a number of buildings, which would include a hotel, were to be sold to a third party. The 21 other business premises, which are home to general practitioners, lawyers and a bicycle lobby club in addition to traders, are rented out by the cooperative itself.
Mocknerkiez and green
The project has also become a little less climate-friendly than intended. “We had to cut down on the number of solar panels, and the planned heat recovery from waste water has also been scrapped,” explains cooperative director Bernhard Drechsel. Nevertheless, the houses still meet the strict standards of the German Passivhaus concept. Because the negotiations with GLS-Banken led to higher rents, some promoters also had to give up from the very beginning. This is to the great frustration of many shareholders.
Still, the organization tries to rent out its homes as spaciously as possible. For example, some of the vacant homes will be prioritized for tenants with a physical disability or people in an emergency situation. Half of all housing is accessible for wheelchair users, and three large apartments are available for foster homes for problematic migrant youth. The cooperative is also working on a fund to support low-income tenants in the future.
Urban Living Laboratory
While the Möckernkiez project in Berlin almost collapsed due to the inexperience of its directors, the cooperative More like Wohen no shortage in Zurich. The organization was founded in 2007 by the regional umbrella organization for cooperative housing associations. He wanted to celebrate his hundred years of collaboration with the city council with the construction of an ambitious housing project. Eight years later, she realized a sustainable residential area with 373 homes and a wide range of community facilities and shops on a municipal plot on the outskirts of the city.
Hunziker Areal playground
It is in several ways has become a laboratory for all kinds of construction and social innovations. For example, some of the housing complexes are built with wood and recycled concrete. The residual heat from an adjacent waste plant is used, among other things, to heat the homes. The residents were also intensively involved in the design of the residential area from the start.
There are still more than forty The neighborhood group active, where the cooperative members carry out joint activities. Ten percent of the housing is rented out to students, refugees and people with disabilities through intermediary organisations. “We wanted to investigate in this neighborhood how different groups of residents can live together in a comfortable and sustainable way in this time,” says cooperative director Andrea Wieland.
Generous state support
The new housing development was possible because 35 other co-operative housing associations in the city raised initial capital. This was later supplemented by the mandatory personal contributions from the cooperative owners, so that 16 million euros were available from own funds. The city council of Zurich also decided to buy a share in the new organization and offered a cheap loan through its own pension fund. In combination with some favorable credits from a regional fund and two national schemes, this resulted in an additional DKK 66 million. EUR for the project. Just over half of the necessary 185 million euros was eventually borrowed at market interest from a banking consortium.
1,265 people now live in the traffic-poor neighborhood, where families with children make up the majority. On average, households pay a housing allowance in addition to the contribution for their cooperative share, which with 17 euros per square meters is approximately twenty percent lower than in commercial projects in comparable locations. Thanks to the city’s and the canton’s active promotion policy, Mehr als Wohnen also receives an object subsidy, with which twenty percent of the homes can be offered cheaper to lower income groups. “We would have liked to have attracted more elderly people with our facilities for living groups. But they are often unfamiliar with this way of living and find it difficult to leave their familiar environment,’ says Wieland.
It will not have been because of the facilities in the area. In a somewhat remote area, a striking number of small shops and facilities have set up, such as a bakery, a children’s clothing store and various therapists. It has not succeeded in attracting an organic supermarket or a grocer, but the cooperative will get a second chance. Due to the great success of the Hunziker area, the cooperative is further away winterthur started another housing project. Delivery is scheduled for the end of next year.
Long-term housing insurance
The projects in Berlin and Zurich show that cooperative housing projects need not be limited to sympathetic but modest contributions to a more relaxed housing market. New housing estates of four hundred homes or more could provide long-term protection for several thousand residents against the rapidly rising rents in European cities. Speculation is excluded because the land and buildings are jointly owned by the residents, who jointly decide on it. The wealth of community facilities and shops plus the sustainable and inclusive character are other important advantages of this alternative form of development.
Mehr als Wohnen shows that experience in project management and financing is important to bring these large-scale collaborative projects to a successful conclusion. Financial support from the government also helps projects get off the ground faster and makes them more accessible to people on lower incomes.
Scaling up in the Netherlands
Dutch initiatives can benefit from these experiences in Germany and Switzerland, certainly because larger collective housing projects in the Netherlands are still a difficult story. But there are also opportunities in the Netherlands. For example, Platform 31 and Den Sociale Boligstimuleringsfond (SVn) are working on an additional financing option for cooperative housing associations on top of their bank loans. The foundation that the municipality of Amsterdam has set up via SVn for this form of housing is the starting point.