Collective forms of housing and ownership

Panel discussion and workshop at the 4th European Congress for Social Solidarity Economy, UNIVERSSE 2017 9-11 June 2017, Athens

Over the last years, even though the discussion on social and solidarity economy and the commons is being broadened and, at the same time, endeavours of self-organization and equal production grow in various fields, the debate in Greece usually does not include the shared management of resources like housing, land and urban space. The reasons behind this are, among others, the limited development of social housing policies, the pivotal role that land and housing ownership has traditionally played in Greece – operating also as a safety net during periods of crisis – and the overall underdevelopment of the cooperative economy, hence the absence of relevant experience, not only at the level of social practices but with regard to the institutional framework as well.

Yet in countries of northern Europe models of collective ownership like cooperative housing are quite common, allowing for small or large cooperatives to share the cost of their housing and to benefit, as does the environment, from the common use of spaces, infrastructure and tools, through processes of self-management, participation and solidarity. The economic, political and ecological crisis renders such successful models sources of inspiration for the development of alternatives, as an answer to urgent housing problems, but also as a new paradigm of local intervention, built environment upgrading and overall amelioration of living conditions,in countries like Greece, Italy, Spain, Serbia and Slovenia that do not have a similar tradition.

An attempt to address the issue of collective ownership has begun in Athens recently. Through research on the current legal framework and social context, this attempt aims to propose tools and to shape pilot paradigms which could be used by groups that are interested in starting their own initiative The network of cooperating groups (Co-Hab Athens, Inura Athens, Nethood) is, to this end, in contact with existing initiatives from abroad with the goal to create a network of experience and knowledge exchange, at a European level.

In meetings and workshops that have taken place over the last year, with the contribution of researchers-members of collective housing initiatives from Germany (Mietshauser Syndikat) and Zurich (Kraftwerk1, NeNa1, et al.), practical methods and tools have been analysed, based on examples from the center of Athens,in order to discuss the possibility of developing similar schemes adapted to the Greek context. Such schemes should achieve balance between the long-term processes that are often required for the successful creation of a collaborative project – all the more so in the case of cooperative housing – on the one hand, and the urgency to develop alternatives for the multiple needs that have emerged during the crisis in Greece, on the other.

The dissemination of the idea of collective housing constitutes an integral part of this research effort and it is aimed to inform and acquaint the public at large with associated practices and methods. Parallel to the research on existing cases from abroad, the next steps includeworkshops in neighborhoods and in situ processing of examples that couldaddress local problems. Another objective pursued, is to explore the potentials and limits of the existing institutional framework, understand the needs that such initiatives have for institutional supportive structures and formulate specific proposals that could be adopted under current circumstances.

At the 4th European Congress for Social Solidarity Economy “UNIVERSSE 2017” which is taking place in Athens between 9 and 11th of June, the initiative on collective housing will participate with two events:

On Saturday June 10th(16:30-18:30), there will first be a short introduction and summary of the initiative’s actions so far,while afterwards we will have the chance to listen to the experience that representatives of two other initiatives will share with attendants: one from the cooperative housing program of the Municipality of Barcelona and one from the initiative to adapt the north American community land trusts model in Brussels.

The following day, Sunday June 11th (12:15-14:15), the discussion will resume at the workshop that is organised in cooperation with the Initiative Committee of the Residents of Exarhia, during which the needs, desires and possibilities that exist in the neighbourhood of Exarhia and would allow the materialization of such a collective project will be explored. As a follow-up, a series of workshop sessions is planned throughout the next year, that will work  on one (or more) pilot proposals for the neighbourhood, that could gradually lead to the creation of a housing/community cooperative.