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Tzika, Z., & Sentieri, C. (2023, October). Towards collective forms of dwelling: Analysis of the characteristics of the emerging grant-of-use housing cooperatives in Catalonia [Poster Presentation]. In 2nd Participatory Design Conference. Transforming the City: Public Space & Environment, Inequalities & Democracy. Athens, Greece

Posted on 21-10-2023

The cooperative housing model that has emerged in Catalonia since 2015 has received interest as an alternative form of housing, originating from grassroots initiatives and placing the emphasis on community Cooperative housing appears during periods when prevailing housing markets fail to provide adequate solutions Groups are engaging in self-organisation, and collective decision-making, to assess their needs, negotiate resources, and co-create alternative housing options While affordable housing access remains a core objective, cooperative housing goes beyond that, challenging individualistic living norms and emphasizing community relationships Based on the analysis, it is observed that Catalonia´s cooperative housing model has been evolving towards greater diversity, offering new possibilities for dwelling and fostering community-oriented housing This evolution is evident in both the spatial characteristics of the houses and their social organization However, despite efforts from the cooperative housing groups and non profit organizations in the sector to address challenges related to inclusion, long consolidation processes, and financial barriers, there is still room for improvement

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Community Empowerment

Community-led housing

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)


Area: Community participation

Community-led housing involves residents, often organised into community groups, actively participating in planning, designing, financing and managing housing projects to meet their specific needs and preferences. This active involvement nurtures a sense of community ownership and control. This sense of community encompasses  feelings of belonging, shared identity, and mutual support among the residents of a community-led housing initiatives. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with the term "collaborative housing". Collaborative housing also refers to a participatory approach to housing development; however, the focus is on collaboration with the different stakeholders and encompasses various non-profit housing delivery models. While self-organised collective housing efforts are nothing new, a new wave of such initiatives has emerged in Europe since the 2000s (Lang et al., 2018; Tummers, 2016). In recent decades, market-provided housing has been the predominant model in Europe, often prioritising economic gain over the right to adequate shelter. The primary housing options from a tenure perspective are home ownership and rent, which are not always affordable for low-income groups (OECD, 2020, 2020). As a result, many communities are coming together to create secure and affordable housing solutions (Jarvis, 2015). However, the motivations behind these initiatives can vary among the involved groups and may reflect economic, ideological, social or ecological ideals (Caldenby et al., 2020). Some of these motivations include creating affordable homes, exploring more sustainable living practices, and fostering a sense of community and social cohesion. In contrast to other forms of collective housing, community-led housing schemes do not merely emphasize resource or living space sharing: they empower the community to play a proactive role in shaping their built and living environment. According to the Co-operative Councils Innovative Network (2018), community-led housing are developments that meet the following criteria: There is meaningful community engagement throughout the process, even if they did not initiate or build the scheme. The community has a long-term formal role in the ownership or management of the homes. The benefits of the scheme to the local area and/or specified community group are clearly defined and legally protected in perpetuity. Community-led housing can take diverse forms, contingent upon the extent of involvement from the participating communities and the specific type of development. These manifestations range from grassroots groups independently initiating projects to meet their housing needs, to community organizations spearheading housing initiatives. Additionally, developers, such as local authorities or housing associations, can initiate partnerships to provide housing solutions with a community-led component (Lang et al., 2020). Furthermore, concerning the development model, community-led housing can encompass constructing new homes, repurposing vacant homes and managing existing housing units. Each of these approaches has the potential to significantly influence the broader neighbourhood context (Fromm, 2012). The forms of community-led housing include: Housing cooperatives: These are groups of people who provide and collectively manage, homes for themselves as tenants or shared owners, based on democratic membership principles. Cohousing: These consist of like-minded people who come together to provide self-contained private homes for themselves while collectively managing their scheme and often sharing activities, including communal spaces. Cohousing can be developer-led, so it is important to examine whether cases meet the broad definition given above, rather than simply use the term cohousing as a marketing device. Community Land Trusts (CLTs): These are not-for-profit corporations that hold land as a community asset and serve as long-term providers of rental housing or shared ownership. Self-help housing: Small, community-based organisations bringing empty properties back into use, often without mainstream funding and with a strong emphasis on construction skills training and support. Tenant-Managed Organisations: They provide social housing tenants with collective responsibility for managing and maintaining the homes through an agreement with their council or housing association.   These models are adaptable and not mutually exclusive; for example, a co-housing group could choose to establish either a cooperative or a Community Land Trust (CLT). It is important to note that there are variations in how these models are applied in different contexts and countries. For local authorities, community-led housing offers several advantages. It improves the housing supply and the availability of affordable homes, diversifying the housing market while ensuring the long-term affordability of housing units. Additionally, community-led housing supports urban regeneration efforts and repurposes vacant homes. It has the potential to empower communities so that they become more self-sufficient. By involving residents in addressing their housing needs, these initiatives provide opportunities for vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, mono-parental families, etc., to live in supportive communities. Such housing schemes can be developed in various contexts, offering solutions for different housing challenges, including informal settlements, former refugee camps, and the heavily owner-occupied housing markets of South and Eastern Europe.

Created on 05-10-2023

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)



Icon cooperative-housing-in-barcelona

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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