“Residential Living” is a small consultancy in Bochum specialising in Cohousing and Urban Renewal. For more information visit the website for: Wohnbund Consultancy NRW GmbH at http://www.wbb-nrw.de/startseite/
(Note – if you read yesterday’s post -9th June- it has been reformatted into two separate posts for easier reading. It is essentially the same with only minor changes.)
……. Unaccustomed to the heat of a warm summer’s day, sitting on the ground outside the central railway station of Bochum, I tapped away on the laptop. An amazing, red, collapsible bicycle suddenly arrived two meters away with a young man sitting on it. Sporting a long pony-tail and a big grin, Micha Fedrowitz extended his hand and welcome.
It had been a bit of a mission to get here. Train from Amsterdam into Germany, The Ruhr Valley, and here to visit the ‘Residential Living’ Cohousing and Urban Renewal Office in Bochum.
Pulling suitcases along cobbled streets and bumpy footpaths we arrive at the office, drag them upstairs to the foyer and collapse into comfy chairs around the meeting table. The office was equipped with an excellent ten year old espresso coffee machine and, settling in with outstanding German cakes (a rhubarb shortcake, chocolate chip muffin, apricot cheesecake and a big, chocolate biscuit cake), Micha started filling in the background of the area, his work with the rental housing sector and the nature of cooperative housing in Germany.
Micha is a Consultant for Cohousing projects. A small office of 8 or 10 persons working not only on cohousing, but also in urban renewal management. They provide help, including mediations, to groups in formation that need guidance and assistance. They offer two information sessions to clients and those who have concrete ideas and desires to go ahead, and who write up and submit their expressions of interest, are included in workshops, in training and planning. Experience shows that bottom-up groups are much more stable as they know each other better through working together for a long while.
The Ruhr was an industrial region of Germany situated in the big valley of the Ruhr River. When the coal mining and other industry stopped a lot of infrastructure was left behind. Much of the old industrial area was decommissioned and removed at great expense. Micha described a program that was initiated to convert some of the spaces into community friendly, useful facilities. Under this program – ‘Housing, Working, Leisure’ – some spaces have been allowed to regenerate into a park. Bicycle parks have been installed and some space has been renovated and reutilised; for example, an old gas-o-meter is now being used for scuba diving. Some refurbished industrial spaces have also been turned into housing.
With more time it would have been possible to do the Cooperative Housing Communities Bicycle Tour of half a dozen local communities. The communities here describe their style of housing as “Living Together” rather than “Co-housing”. The movement grew out of the brave efforts of squatters in Hamburg back in the nineties, who, after a serious fight including the use of Molotov cocktails, were eventually able to get their squats legally recognised under a co-operative model. As well as these co-ops, Germany also has some thousands of flats under the big Housing Association model.
Low-income people in the Ruhr area can usually find housing, even if it is of a low and cheap standard, by looking in the paper. The demand for housing is not quite so high here.
Federal funding is accessed to help build flats for low-income earners. This is done according to a formula. E.g. A single person is entitled to 50 square metres and strict eligibility criteria are applied at the time of entry. Federal assistance is available for up to thirty years but after the first ten years the cost of the borrowings is renegotiated. About fifty per cent of people needing help can access housing through ‘Housing assistance’. This area is a bit better off than other areas.
A principle of this housing is that it has to be stable, so they don’t want to see flats sold off to a private person. In co-operations (co-operatives) you can buy a share but you can’t sell that share to another person on the free market.
There is a wide range of legal formats available from, on the one side, private ownership – which in the community context often takes the form of the eco-village model (and there are many of them) to, on the other side, – big housing organisations or investors who want to invest in housing where the people who are living there are just renting.
Co-ops are in the middle between these polarisations.
Some people have formed smaller associations specifically to try to stem speculation and have increased participation and control.
Micha also explained that a housing co-operative can have two shares; one smaller, one bigger. The bigger share is in the Association and the smaller share is in the local coop to stop them selling your property.
A form of controlled gentrification is underway too whereby the Government will buy a run-down property that needs attention and sell it to someone for less on the agreement that they will live in it for at least ten years and commit to fixing the building.
Micha is also part of a network in the northern regions that organises an annual conference for about two hundred people in the sector. This year’s conference is to cover a range of specific housing sectors under the theme of ‘Radical and Normal’.
It would seem that “Radical” is being equated in some quarters as “unrealistic” and projects are being dismissed on that basis. We had a discussion about how the term ‘radical’ needs to be fully interrogated to drill down to whatever is the actual problem that the initiative is trying to address so that ‘radical’ projects can be assessed for their potential effectiveness not just on the basis of their perceived ‘realism’ or lack of. Radical means to get to the root of the problem.
Although co-housing is really based on the model of traditional village life, with an extra element of intentionality thrown in to respond to the mounting plethora of crises in human societies worldwide, it is, in that sense, radical.
It is also scale-able, viable, socially affordable, sensible, rewarding and urgent.
After this meeting it was time for some dinner so a delightful visit into central Bochum was in order.