Cohousing, the slow revolution of housing cooperatives
By Martí Figueras
Thursday, July 12, 2018

Not everything is buying or renting. Slowly a revolution is brewing, the cohousing revolution, housing cooperatives, a way of living in community while enjoying your privacy. A model with which you obtain numerous economic and sustainable advantages.
The cost of housing, gentrification, the performance of some real estate groups, speculation … Access to decent housing is one of the main problems of our society. But it is the society itself over the Administrations and against the trend of the Market who is organized and decides to try new alternatives that help them to have their own home without mortgaging their lives. In this framework the concept of Cohousing has arrived, which could be translated as co-housing. It is about sharing with a group of diverse people a common space, a community of private houses grouped together and with a public space to share. The concept originated in Denmark in the 1960s and has been materializing in Spain for some years now.

Origin of the cohousing model

Trabensol, the country’s cohousing community

Already at the beginning of this century began the first movements around cohousing. In fact, it seems that already in 1999 the first movements were made to create the first co-housing project. It was in Tarragona, but until 2001 the company Cooperativa de Viviendas Residencia La Muralleta was not established. In 2007, the urban plan was approved to start building on the land acquired by the company. In 2008 the works began and in 2012 the 16 houses of this community were already built.

But it is not La Muralleta but Trabensol, in Torremocha del Jarama (Madrid) the great cohousing project in Spain, the reference for many others. But both Trabensol and La Muralleta have one thing in common: they are two models of senior cohousing, that is, the community of members that make up the cooperative are all retired. One of the objectives behind these co-retirement homes is to achieve a new home in the community so as not to depend on the children and grandchildren. Trabensol is at full capacity since 2013.

Sostre Cívic and eCOHOUSING, entities in favor of co-housing
These two references opened the ban to a new housing model that is slowly becoming known and is getting more and more followers. Thus came two associations that were born miles away but with two common objectives: the dissemination of this new housing model and support all those projects that are created.

One of them is Sostre Cívic, a cooperative that has been operating since 2010, with more than 700 members, which promotes co-housing under the cession of use regime. Helena Trias is the architect and diffusion technician of the organization and it is she who tells us why they bet on the cohousing model of cession of use. “The property is always cooperative and collective and users have a right of use over housing.” In these cases, the cooperative is the owner of the houses and the partners contribute a reduced monthly fee during their stay. The person has the right to use and this is inheritable, transmissible and salable, but always through the cooperative.

Another of the associations that disseminate cohousing is eCOHOUSING, of which Rogelio Ruiz is one of its spokespersons. “ECOHOUSING emerges as an initiative of Equipo Bloque Arquitectos with the idea of ​​joining efforts to the diffusion and development of collaborative housing in Spain.” Ruiz emphasizes that cohousing arose “as a specific response to the needs and desires of a self-managed group of people older concrete who was looking for a satisfactory solution for the last stage of his life “.

Community, patrimony and financing

Raising a cohousing project is not easy. There are many steps to follow, but above all there are three essential elements that must be met to achieve it, “a cohesive driving group with a shared vision, a heritage (site, building) and financing” comments Helena Trias. The order of these elements is not necessarily the exposed, because there are times that until the land is acquired, the group can not be consolidated. Once these three elements are given, the community is defined, the houses are designed and projected jointly and the construction that can last about 3 years according to estimates of the Sostre Cívic technique begins.

Each part of the plan must be executed by the group, the managers, advisors and architects. But above all, the collaboration of the community involved is important. “Our goal is to build ways of life. For this, the first thing is to know how a specific group of people wants to live, with their specific needs and desires “resume Rogelio Ruiz. That idea of ​​the community also has to be transferred to the design of the houses. That is why “at the architectural level, the most important and differentiating feature is that a large part of the surface is dedicated to common spaces, even at the expense of reducing the surface of private space,” says the eCOHOUSING representative. As already mentioned, one of the three legs for raising a co-housing project is financing. The partners must provide an initial entry of social capital, over 20% of the project costs. “The projects that we currently promote have initial entries of between 9,000 and 35,000 euros depending on each project. This initial entry of the member is returnable at the moment he wants to leave the project because another person will enter in his place providing an initial entry “explains Trias. It is clear that to join a cohousing community one must invest a lot of time and money and often there is neither one nor the other. “Currently, it is not a model for people with fewer resources. Even though it’s cheaper, it’s not magic: building a building continues to cost money, “says Ruiz. “What is clear is that it gives much more for less. Housing represents the greatest burden and economic effort of our lives, how is it possible that we can decide so little about it? This is the response to collaborative housing. ” Even so, this model of revolutionary housing is because in the long run it is more economical than a house owned or rented because its quotas are much smaller and also implemented savings and sustainability measures, those that the community believes most convenient. “The cooperative may decide to install better energy systems and materials that, although with a higher initial cost, allow the cost overrun to be amortized within a reasonable period of time, thus saving money in the medium term”, summarizes Rogelio Ruiz. The cohousing senior That’s why cohousing seems to be a more viable option for the elderly, retirees full of reasons for not spending their last stage in solitude, with all the time in the world and with the possibility of managing their savings, or even selling his own house, to invest the money in a project of the type Trabensol or La Muralleta. According to Rogelio Ruiz “there are nine projects already in operation and we know about 30 in development.” In Catalonia, but, at the moment, no senior cohousing is in operation, as the partners of La Muralleta are the owners of each home. But in Sostre Cívic they are working on several projects of cession of use and looking for locations. The role of the administration The cohousing model is growing more and more and in two years it has consolidated as the alternative to the traditional models of purchase or rent. Even so, there is still a lot of work to be done to publicize the co-housing and at the same time seek collaboration with local administrations. In fact, in recent years, in this aspect, much progress has been made. Many politicians (state, municipal or local) already know the cohousing and some have added efforts to the cause. “There are already municipalities that are working on the assignment of land for this type of project and several have supported the realization of conferences, events, etc,” explains the spokesman of eCOHOUSING. The support of the municipal administrations is key especially in the acquisition of land. For example, “The land in the Metropolitan Area is very expensive and makes it impossible to raise many of the projects if it is not in collaboration with the public administration that provides the land” concludes Trias. But Rogelio Ruiz does not want to be deceived either. “In general, administrations are very cautious when offering their support, or because of their insecurity regarding the model.” Future of cohousing But, despite the stones found, the cohousing, in each of its manifestations (senior, multigenerational, for the disabled …) is making its way. “I think that in the coming years we will see more variety of projects, for increasingly diverse groups,” says Rogelio Ruiz. And there will be eCOHOUSING to promote all these projects, such as Brisas Canarias, a housing cooperative for dependent disabled people that is in the development phase. Cohousing is an initiative that is sensitive to all social groups and seeks to find the best housing solutions so that each person can live with dignity and accompanied. Meanwhile, Helena Trias from Sostre Cívic will continue to fight to promote and publicize this alternative to traditional housing in Catalonia. “We participate in talks, conferences, round tables, debates …. We also celebrate public events within the framework of projects to make them known and to be able to weave a good network with citizens. ” And without leaving the diffusion, the entity will continue to promote and manage projects such as Princess 49, the first cooperative housing project in cession of use in Barcelona, among others.

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