Communities leading their own housing solutions

Collaborative, non-market oriented housing is considered a valuable response to the chronic housing crisis (Tummers 2016). It provides new solutions for improving access to adequate, sustainable homes, alongside public social housing schemes. With appropriate land policies, community-oriented housing can enable residents to put their own housing needs before private profits.

Approaches to collaborative housing – and degrees of municipality involvement – vary enormously between cities. Examples include community-led, participative co-housing, self-build, cooperatives, Community Land Trusts (CLT), ecological housing initiatives and social production of housing. Models vary according to factors such as the philosophy of the people engaged in their common project, and the socio-economic and legal context – and national legacies of past collaborative housing movements (Matthew Thompson, 2020)

Setting the scene

Inspiring case studies

These examples of innovative city strategies to support collaborative housing are selected from UIA projects and URBACT networks, and from other experiences shared during the ‘Cities engaging in the right to housing’ initiative.


Community Land Trust as an alternative to real estate speculation

CALICO is an intergenerational, collaborative, care housing project co-managed by Brussels Logement regional authority and Community Land Trust Brussels (CLTB).

Launched in 2018, CALICO secures the affordability of a multi-storey building, with apartments shared among three partners: CLTB; a feminist association; and an NGO accompanying individuals and families in crucial moments of life and death.

Additional apartments are available for people experiencing homelessness, and common spaces are open to CALICO residents and neighbours. Decision-making is based on sociocracy – a democratic governance system that includes not only public authorities and residents, but also neighbours and civil society representatives.

The land is secured through a trust managed by the CLTB. While CLTs are usually based on homeownership, the experiment here is to include affordable housing units for rent.

This innovation – made possible in part by UIA funding – is unique, and a promising step towards scaling up the project to city and national level.



Municipality and residents co-creating regenerative housing

In a city whose public housing sector is rapidly shrinking, the E-CO-HOUSING project, located in the district of Zugló, is designed to create an environmentally sustainable living community.

The aim is to create a prototype for an economically feasible, environmentally sustainable, social housing scheme that can be replicated in other parts of Budapest and in other cities.

In cooperation with green technology companies, environmental and social NGOs, and a university, the district municipality has engaged a focus group to co-design a housing block with community spaces, shared facilities and smart technology solutions, allowing future residents to monitor their energy consumption.



A long tradition of cooperative housing

While not the most affordable way to live in Switzerland, the most traditional form of collaborative housing – housing cooperatives – has existed here since the early 1900s, in a great diversity of forms.

In the 1980s, new ideas about living together (known as the Wohngemeinschaft concept) inspired a new generation of cooperatives. Today, cooperative housing in the cantons of Zurich and Biel makes up nearly 20% of the market.

In Zurich, 25% of all rented flats are not-for-profit, and there are about 35 000 cooperative housing units. Local and regional housing subsidies are complemented by federal mortgage guarantees and a central issue office for non-profit housing construction.

In addition, the Swiss Housing Cooperatives Association helps new housing projects with revolving funds, solidarity funds and equity participation.


Focus on:

Berlin, a new Community Land Trust in a dynamic housing scene

Berlin’s complex housing collaborations range from squatter movement collectives to intentional co-living communities of specific groups such as LGBT or the elderly.

Examples are the so-called Baugruppes, groups of future residents who commission or build their own housing development, and the Genossenschaften building cooperatives that ensure affordable rents for all members.

Meanwhile, Berlin is experimenting the first CLT in Germany – called Stadtbodenstiftung – a democratically controlled local organisation run as a foundation, with direct participation of residents, neighbours, donors, public bodies and experts.

More than single housing projects, the Berlin CLT allows housing activists to build a more coherent policy framework across the city, closer cooperation with local government, broader democratic decision-making structures and a more solid, long-term perspective for collaborative housing.


Key takeaways

Reflexions shared over the course of the UIA-URBACT ‘Cities engaging in the right to housing’ initiative in 2020 revealed key actions governments can take to support collaborative housing.

Collaborative housing, focus on Berlin

A talk with: Florian Schmidt, councillor of the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, Berlin