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Tzika, Z., & Sentieri, C. (2023, June). Understanding community participation in cooperative housing using the capabilities approach. In European Network for Housing Research (ENHR) Conference 2023, Lodz, Poland.

Posted on 27-06-2023

As a response to the inadequate housing solutions provided by the housing markets, we observe the emergence of alternative initiatives and community-based approaches to housing provision. Such is the case in grant-of-use housing cooperative groups in Catalonia, which are either self-initiated or formed by secondary cooperatives or non-profit organisations. The democratic participation and organisation of the future residents are key elements of such housing initiatives, and they take place at different degrees at all stages of housing provision, from planning to construction, co-living, and maintenance. The processes vary as the motivations, visions, and needs set different priorities for each group. The capacity of each group to achieve their goals in terms of material and relational housing is being conditioned by their access to resources, their abilities, as well as different structural, operational and participant factors that constrain community participation. The aim of this paper is to understand the potential of community participation for different groups according to their varying resources and capabilities to promote more inclusive and equal processes. The participatory processes will be analysed using the capabilities approach. For that cooperative housing projects will be understood in relation to their resources (freedoms), opportunities (capabilities) of the groups and outcomes (functionings). The case of Catalonia will be used, using the data from the observatory of cooperative housing of Catalonia, as well as data from the fieldwork, observations and interviews. As a result, different participation typologies and consolidation processes have been identified. In that way, we can be aware of inequalities of access to resources, as well as deprivations of capacities and different profiles can be facilitated to have equal opportunities in co-creating their housing. 

Related case studies

Related vocabulary

Community Empowerment

Area: Community participation

Community empowerment appears in the literature of participatory action research (Minkler, 2004), participatory planning (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018), and community development (Luttrell et al., 2009) as a key element of participatory practices, understanding it as a process that enables communities to take control of their lives and their environments (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Many argue that community participation becomes meaningless if it does not lead to, or pass through community empowerment. As the term is being used in diverse and ubiquitous ways, it runs the risk of ending up as an empty definition and a catch-all phrase (McLaughlin, 2015). It is therefore important to specify the perspective through which we will view the term and clarify the nuances.  Since its origins, empowerment has been used in two different ways. Firstly, top-down as the power that had been ‘granted’ by a higher authority, such as the state or a religious institution, and secondly, bottom-up, as a process by which groups or individuals come to develop the capacity to act and acquire power. Examples of the latter can be found in social groups such as feminists working in nongovernmental organizations throughout the global south in the 1970s, who found a way to address social issues and inequalities that enabled social transformation based on women’s self-organization (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). The term was gradually appropriated by welfare, neoliberal, and social-neoliberal agendas whose priority was individual agency and choice. In neoliberal rationality, empowerment is related to efficiency, economic growth, business productivity, and individual rational choice to maximize profit in a competitive market economy. In social liberalism agendas, empowerment is understood as ‘effective agency’, where ‘agency’ is not an inherent attribute, but something that needs to be constructed through ‘consciousness-raising’ (McLaughlin, 2016). A broader definition sees empowerment as a social action process through which individuals, communities, and organizations take control of their lives in the context of changing the social and political environment to improve equity and quality of life (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Rowlands (1997), refers to four types of empowerment: power over, as the ability to influence and coerce; power to, to organize and change existing hierarchies; power with, as the power from the collective action and power within, as the power from the individual consciousness. Using this classification, Biewener & Bacqué (2015), adopting a feminist approach, understand empowerment as a multilevel construct with three interrelated dimensions: 1) an internal, psychological one, where ‘power within’ and ‘power to’ are developed, 2) an organizational, where ‘power with’ and ‘power over’ are strengthened and 3) a social or political level, where institutional and structural change is made possible through collective action. Thus, community empowerment links the individual level, which involves self-determination, growth of individual awareness, and self-esteem, to the collective level, relating critical consciousness and capacity building with the structural level, where collective engagement and transformative social action take place. This view of empowerment, which considers its goals and processes, has a social dimension that is lacking in other approaches that prioritize individual empowerment. Aside from the feminist movements, the philosophy and practices of community empowerment have been greatly influenced by the work of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and an advocate on critical pedagogy. Freire proposed a dialogic problem-solving process based on equality and mutual respect between students and teachers; that engaged them in a process of iterative listening-discussing-acting. Through structured dialogue, group participants shared their experiences, discussed common problems, and looked for root causes and the connections among “problems behind the problems as symptoms” (Freire, 1970). The term conscientization, that Freire proposed, refers to the consciousness that arises through the involvement of people in the social analysis of conditions and their role in changing them. This awareness enables groups to be reflexive and open spaces, to enact change or to understand those limited situations that may deter change (Barndt, 1989). Empowerment can be understood as both a process and an outcome (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018). As a process, it refers to “the development and implementation of mechanisms to enable individuals or groups to gain control, develop skills and test knowledge”(Harrison & Waite, 2015) and it entails the creation of new subjects who have developed a critical consciousness and the formation of groups with a ‘collective agency’ ‚ or ‘social collective identity’ (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). Empowerment as an outcome refers to “an affective state in which the individual or group feels that they have increased control, greater understanding and are involved and active” (Harrison & Waite, 2015). This can lead to a transformation of the social conditions by challenging the structures and institutionalized forms that reproduce inequalities. The values and the significance of community empowerment can be further applied in the participatory and community-based approaches of the housing sector. Examples of such approaches in the housing provision are the housing cooperatives, and self-developed and self-managed housing groups. Housing cooperatives aim at promoting co-creation to engage future residents, professionals, and non-profit organizations in all the stages of a housing project: problem-framing, designing, developing, cohabiting, managing, and maintaining. Such organisational models stress the importance and pave the way for community empowerment by uniting individuals with similar interests and ideals, enabling them to have housing that responds to their needs, preferences, and values. The participation of the residents aims to strengthen their sense of ownership of the process, the democratic decision-making and management, and the social collective identity, making community empowerment an integral characteristic of cooperative housing initiatives. With this social perspective, residents can gain individual and collective benefits while contributing to fairer and more sustainable urban development on a larger scale (Viskovic Rojs et al., 2020).

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)



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Cooperative housing in Barcelona

Posted on 01-02-2023

Cooperative, community-led, or collaborative forms of housing appear as collective responses to the way we inhabit. At times they are perceived as experimentations in a certain socio-spatial context that seek to push the limits, question or re-interpret existing practices of inhabiting. As a phenomenon tends to reappear and grow in periods where the mechanisms in place for the provision and distribution of housing are not providing solutions (or adequate solutions) for all households. The main values that have been identified as drivers of such initiatives are: fostering a communal way of living, seeking affordable solutions through collective action, rethinking the ecological impact of housing, and addressing gender equality, as well as aging issues. The difference between cooperative housing and market or state-provided housing is that it attempts to overlap three aspects of housing that are usually separated: property, development of housing, and participation in decision-making (Lacol et al., 2018).   In the last months, I have been conducting my case study research in Barcelona, as part of my secondment, where there is a renewed interest in this form of housing. Since its initiation, starting from bottom-up collectives, and neighborhood movements, and growing towards more parts of society, the groups manifest for the right to housing, stressing the importance of the engagement of the inhabitants and the creation of non-speculative and long-term affordable housing. Currently, there is a collective effort in place, from the groups and the support organisations, to promote the model and make it more inclusive. A platform was created at the regional level, where all the cooperatives participate to discuss the evolution of the model. The values that the platform is highlighting as the core of the model, and the ones to reinforce and improve are (XES, 2019):   Non-profit and collective property The cooperatives use collective tenure forms, through long-term and secure access to housing but without the possibility of owning the property and making a profit out of it.   Community engagement and self-management The participation of the inhabitants in the decision-making is at the core of this model. As each group is different, with different priorities, resources, and skills, community engagement can take different forms.   Affordable and inclusive housing One of the key stakes of the model is affordability. The main mechanism for that was initially the grant of use of land, instead of buying it. However, as the model is evolving more mechanisms are being tested and implemented to include more people.   Replicability Collaboration and exchange of knowledge are being promoted among the groups. As practices are being shared and knowledge is being slowly generated, we can look at the lessons learned and understand the critical points.   Sustainability Most of the cases are opting for sustainable housing solutions, by focusing on low-carbon materials, the passive design of the building, and renewable energies. As we are in a moment, when energy and material prices are increasing because of inflation, we see how the trends of the material choices of the initial projects are changing towards locally produced ones.   References: Lacol, la Ciutat Invisible, & la Dinamo Fundación. (2018). Habitar en comunidad : la vivienda cooperativa en cesión de uso. Catarata. XES. (2019). Regulatory principles of cooperative housing in grant of use by the sector for cooperative and transformative housing of the social and solidarity economy network of Catalonia.

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)


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Urban regeneration and new housing research — European network of housing research conference (ENHR) 2023

Posted on 01-09-2023

In the final week of June, I had the luck of participating in this year´s ENHR conference which was held in Lodz, Poland. This three-day event was a great experience, featuring a plethora of insightful presentations stemming from research projects addressing the current housing challenges. Amidst engaging conversations and exchanges with colleagues, the conference provided the opportunity to delve into the issue of urban regeneration. The topic of this year was “Urban regeneration: shines and shadows”, and as the conference was held in Lodz —a city undergoing significant revitalization over the past decade—we were able to witness firsthand the profound impact of urban renewal. The central question explored in the main plenary sessions was: Can regeneration occur without triggering gentrification?   I participated in the collaborative housing workshop, which featured an impressive lineup of presenters covering a diverse range of topics related to collaborative housing models. The workshop consisted of five sessions, each offering insights into various investigations of community-led housing. There were presentations that delved into the historical evolution of cooperative housing in different parts of the world, including Finland, Hungary, and Denmark. We also learned about ongoing research projects focusing on the current state of cooperative housing in cities like Barcelona, Prague, Berlin, and Leeds. In other sessions, we gained perspectives on topics such as Generation Z's attitudes towards cooperative housing, the phenomenon of home-sharing in Brussels, and the dynamics of senior cooperative housing in the Netherlands and Denmark.   I presented my paper: “Understanding Community Participation in Cooperative Housing using the Capabilities Approach: The Case of Catalonia”. This took place within a stimulating session chaired by Claire Carriou. Alongside me were Henrik Larsen, who presented a historical overview of cooperative housing in Denmark, and Valentina Cortés-Urra, who shared her latest research on scenarios for the development of collaborative housing in Chile.   Leaving the conference, I felt inspired by the presentations and the things that I learned from all the participants! I am grateful that this conference brings together all these amazing researchers. With a refreshed perspective, I feel excited to continue the work and already looking forward to next year´s conference!

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)

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