Cohousing is defined as the desire of a combination of households to pool their resources in order to design and/or finance collective housing. It is a concept based on solidarity, democracy, responsibility, respect for the environment, sharing and social diversity. Cohousing projects can be found in rural, suburban or urban areas in many parts of the world.
Combining the need for privacy and the need for social ties, the collective housing project appears as a solution with multiple advantages. It is not only about the construction of a habitat but also that of a collective. A group is created and decides to live together. Everything has to be decided; What means should be put in place to communicate? How will decisions be made? How do we manage and share tasks? In the same place come together private spaces and common areas: guest rooms, shared laundry rooms, shared garden and terrace, games room or library. The inhabitants therefore experience group life while respecting everyone’s need for privacy. Most of the time people participate to the very conception of the buildings, deciding together according to their specific needs and their needs as a community of inhabitants. Objectives of bioconstruction, thermal insulation, energy and water management can be coupled with values of responsible consumption, purchases of local products such as CSA products or in local shops. It can also be a place for social, cultural and ecological experimentation. All this combined makes it a breeding ground for transition.
Bofælleskaberi, cohousing,habitat groupé, cooperative housing, inclusive housing, habitat participatif, habitat autogéré, coopératives d'habitants, Coopératives de construction et d'habitation, Vivienda cooperativa en cesión de uso, Cooperativas de Vivienda por Ayuda Mútua.
History of the concept
The importance of the cooperative movement in Spain, - especially in some regions as Catalunya - led to housing cooperatives as early as the end on the XIX century (read here in Spanish). First intent of cohousing as we conceive it now - with shared spaces and private spaces - the bofælleskaberi - in 1964 by the Danish arquitect Jan Gudmand-Høyer. In 1968, he published an article "The missing link between utopia and the dated single-family house". By the 80's, the movement spread all over Europe and beyond.
Public policies associated with this issue
Spain : In May 2022, the Social Rights Commission of the Parliament of Catalonia approved a motion for a resolution for the recognition and promotion of cooperative housing in cession of use. The approved resolution includes different proposals for cooperative public collaboration in relation to the transfer of land, economic and fiscal measures and support for senior projects, among others. This cohousing scheme was already mentioned in the Law 12/2015 on cooperatives in Catalonia, but no specific regulation was established.
France : Recognition of participatory housing in the Alur law (24 March 2014) and of inclusive housing for people with fragilities (age, disability) in the article 45 of the Elan law (23 November 2018).
Cohousing around the world
The first experiment of Jan Gudmand-Høyer failed but was successfull in the 70's. Since then, it is well established in Denmark, with very different groops of individuals, in particular seniors. Since 1981, the Danish government has been consistently supporting the development of many cohousing communities with new legislations and guaranteed loans. The demand seems higher than the existing offer though.
In recent years Spain is experiencing the emergence of cooperative models of housing in cession of use (Vivienda cooperativa en cesión de uso), as shows the approval of a motion for a resolution for the recognition and promotion of cooperative housing in cession of use in Calaunya in May 2022. They are articulated for the development of community projects such as cohousing, collaborative housing, with proposals with multiple impacts and the challenge of implementing the culture of public-cooperative collaboration to influence sectors with difficulties.The first experiences, arising from the real estate crisis, have become icons of socio-community and architectural configuration, and also references in other aspects such as care, sustainability and efficiency. The impact of these projects have increased the interest of public administrations.
These new community proposals represent a paradigm shift in the Spanish State with respect to traditional housing cooperatives, which have been articulated as a resource for financing and real estate development for subsequent sale in the free market. The new cooperative housing:cooperative project -- tailored to the human group, social structure for the management of community life, collective ownership and with cession of use of spaces, services to its members, left out of price increases and speculative interests of the market - are distributed in urban, peri-urban or rural areas, with the Senior variants for the elderly, with special attention to dependence and care, and the so-called intergenerational, as well as specific groups.
Examples of initiatives: aimed at the elderly, Trabensol, in a rural setting in Torremocha del Jarama; Entrepatios in Madrid, In 2022, there will be more than 35 projects in the promotion or coexistence phase in Catalonia, with a total of more than 650 dwellings, in particular in the city of Barcelona, La Borda, an emblematic case; Cirerers promoted by the foundation La Dinamo and the cooperative Civic Sostre, members of the Xarxa d’Economia Solidària (XES).
In Italy cohousing is more and more frequent. Several examples are emblematic as Base Gaïa (2020) in Milan,the first example of self-produced cohousing. It was created at the request of a group of 10 families who formed a cooperative (2014/2015) and entrusted the realisation to a team of professionals. The aim of the experiment is to create a modern community based on the concept of "chosen neighbourhood" which is the basis of many cohousing realities. Designed according to ecological principles, the building was built using a combination of wood and concrete. In Bologna, Porto 15 was born in 2015, one of the first fully public initiative complexes in Italy. The structure consists of 18 flats, for a total of 54 beds, inside a building in the historical center of the city, owned by Asp - City of Bologna and rented at a contracted price to residents under 35 years of age. Cascina Siè: cohousing in the woods just outside Turin, which has found its place in the small village of Reaglie, in a nineteenth-century property surrounded by woods, fruit trees and gardens.(https://www.corradi.eu/en/magazine/cohousing-examples-italy)
In 2021, was constituted by a collaboration between organisations, the Alliance for Collaborative Real Estate Development (ACRED) as an alternative real estate developer institution. ACRED has the capacity to acquire, develop and manage community-owned real estate both for residential and for community purposes. The purpose of this new organization is to act as the facilitator of new housing cooperative projects. From April 2022, ACRED, in collaboration with the Budapest public workers’ union and the public service company that owns the apartments, carried through a process of consultations, negotiations and modeling that will produce a realistic legal, financial and architectural model for renovating and maintaining those apartments, and putting them to use by members of the union. This effort is supported by results of a survey showing that these workers are affected of a housing overcrowding higher than the Budapest and national average: lower rate of homeownership than the national average and; higher than average shares of their incomes on housing. This particular project could serve as a scalable model for other collaborations.
Participatory housing is recognized by the Alur law (24 March 2014) as “a citizen approach that allows natural persons to join forces in order to participate in the definition and design of their housing and spaces intended for common use, to build or acquire one or more buildings intended for their home and to ensure their subsequent management”.
If this phenomenon affects different kinds of populations, it should also be noted that colocation also represents a solution for older populations as demonstrated in the Bastamag article (in French) that presents the first cooperative of inhabitants for aging people in France: Chamarel-les-Barges, in the suburbs of Lyon, created in 2019. In the Bordeaux metropolis, in order not to be alone and to pool livelihoods, retirees create a tailor-made retirement home in cohabitation with collective and private living spaces, as part of a real estate project that is not speculative: the cooperative of inhabitants of Boboyaka la Castagne is under construction.
The self-managed, participatory, ecological and feminist house for women aged 60 and over: the Maison des Babayagas, inaugurated in 2013 in Montreuil after more than 15 years of gestation, is one of the emblematic places of shared housing in France. Of the twenty-five dwellings, twenty-one are reserved for women over 60 years of age, meeting the criteria for access to social housing. The other four, to young people under 30 years of age. Collective vegetable garden, shared monthly meals, associative activities in the neighborhood dot the collective life.
In addition, inclusive housing is a place of life, freely chosen, allowing people in a situation of fragility (related to age, a disability, an illness, etc) to live independently, while benefiting from shared services (health services, meals, animation, socialization time). Article 45 of the French Elan law (23 November 2018) now authorises the colocation of people with disabilities with a maximum of 5 people. One of the benefits of living in a shared habitat is conviviality and socialization within the home, in addition to household help, rehabilitation services, etc.
Even if these forms of housing tend to multiply, the legal, financial, etc. difficulties are still too numerous. The public authorities are not yet sufficiently supportive of cohousing.
The Community Land Trust Bruxelles was created in 2012 as an initiative of residents, activists and neighbourhood organisations, after the experiences of Community Land Trusts in the United States. The aim was from the beginning to give ownership to low-income families and to fight the housing crisis in the city. The CLT retains the ownership of land while using a governance structure involving future residents and organisations present in its neighbourhoods, There is a legal recognition by the regional government and support with grants. Beyond living together, the issue is also a political issue, that of the values of solidarity and questioning of private property and non-speculation of real estate, but also self-management, respect for the environment, etc. Another vision of urbanization, community, a form of emancipation through a housing tool?
In Geneva, there exists several cohousing ongoing projects with different goals: for example La Cigüe, a student housing cooperative that offers affordable housing to some 700 students spread over a dozen buildings in the city. Each place is self-organizing, in dialogue with the others, in a federalist way, “Swiss style”: there are organizations at the level of the flatshare, the building, and the cooperative, by the collective and for the collective. The Archipel housing cooperative, with the help of the City of Geneva, a system that allows shared property with low incomes, will be habitable in 2024/25. It is codesigned by members of the cooperative and professionals. The Codha, Geneva’s largest participatory housing cooperative, with 17 buildings inhabited or under construction, combines private and shared spaces. At the scale of the district, one of the buildings offers a whole series of arcades of social and solidarity economy activities that animate social life: the headquarters of APRÈS (network of the SSE) and its Third Place (Tiers-lieu) L’ESPACE, a participatory grocery store, the offices of the local currency Monnaie Léman, a bar with dozens of local craft beers and a concert hall, a seasonal and vegetarian restaurant, etc.
The Coopératives d'habitation Suisse is the main association of "Maîtres d'Ouvrages d'Utilité Publique", that manages around 152'000 housings around Switzerland. They take land and buildings out of the speculative market and promote the creation of quality neighbourhoods with a social and generational mix.
The history of cooperative housing begins with the housing legislation (1968 - Ley Nacional de Vivienda). They are two main schemes and they are present all around the country (more than 30 000 in 2018), both include public funds, participation of the inhabitants in part of the building work, technical assistance from public entities, tax cuts, and are at affordable prices and follow cooperative principles. The Federación Uruguaya de Cooperativas de Vivienda por Ayuda Mutua (Fucvam) has extended its model to other Latin American countries.
Main networks working on this issue
At European level, Housing Europe, the European Federation of Public, Cooperative and Social Housing has held The International Social Housing Festival in 2023 in Barcelona.
The Fédération française des coopératives d’habitants Habicoop supports this model of sustainable collective ownership, for its social utility and for its non-speculative nature. Habicoop represents cooperatives before the public authorities and collaborates with groups or institutions likely to promote the creation of cooperatives. Between 2020 and today, cooperative projects have more than doubled: from 30 to 65! Certainly because housing is becoming affordable economically and these initiatives create social relationships that make them desirable.
Habitat Participatif France aims to contribute to the development of participatory housing by animating the Participatory Housing Movement in France, by making the diversity of projects visible and by promoting the development of participatory housing throughout France.
The REAS Red de Redes] in Spain has a Grupo de Trabajo estatal de Vivienda Cooperativa in cession de uso that works to communivate and promote cohousing, as a part od solidarity economy. The State-level Working Group on Cooperative Housing in REAS was set up in 2020 after the first state meeting on Collaborative Housing in October 2019 in Madrid. It works to promote the model and projects in three areas: structuring the networked ecosystem and creating spaces for collaboration between initiatives, advocacy and development of harmonised regulations, as well as the dissemination and communication. It is made up of 40 people from project members and staff from entities all over Spain. The network’s working group is growing and supports the creation of new territorial groups.
Also, Mietshäuser Syndikat and Sauriassl Syndikat from Germany, Cooplink Netherlands, MOBA Housing CSEE, ID22 Institute for Creative Sustainability, Sostre Cívic de Barcelona, IWO and Living in Metropolis SCE and Legacoopabitanti from Italy, Cooperative Housing International, CoHabitat Network, UrbaMonde.
In 1987, the Confédération Québécoise des Coopératives d’Habitation (CQCH) became the leader, promoter and national spokesperson for the Mouvement québécois des coopératives d'habitation. It represents 80% of the approximately 1,300 housing cooperatives in Quebec.
With Ripess NL articles or position papers
You will find the articles of the thematic issue on cooperative housing in the Ripess Newsletter of May 2022: http://www.socioeco.org/bdf_motcle-thema-200_en.html#type_ART_plusieurs
- the article on Hungary: Building participatory dwelling: solidarity housing for unions by Agnes Gagyi
- the article on Switzerland : Cooperative housing as a breeding ground for the transition by Antonin Calderon
With existing mappings
The Panorama des Coopératives d'Habitants in France.