International conference on housing cooperatives and community land trusts

An international conference Together for housing took place in Ljubljana on March 17 2022. The topic of the conference was alternative housing solutions such ad housing cooperatives and community land trusts which have yet been established in Slovenia.  Guests and participants agreed that housing cooperatives cannot be established without the changes in the system and legislation we have been waiting for for many years. It is time for all the relevant actors to take their share of responsibility and invest their work and financial resources into the necessary changes that need to be made for housing cooperatives and other alternative and affordable housing solutions to develop in Slovenia.

In the first part of the conference, two good foreign practices were presented. Katharina Urbanek from Studio Urbane presented the Kohlenrutsche housing association in Vienna, which is a good example of a newer, architecturally thought-out, inclusive, and generationally diverse housing cooperative. Thibault Leroy introduced us to the Community Land Fund Brussels (CLTB), which start started as a movement back in 2008. With public support, the trust now provides quality housing solutions for 100 households, and an additional 100 apartments are already under construction. Both community housing practices were chosen because they are based on non-profit principles, return housing to its primary function of houses as homes and clearly illustrate how appropriate regulation and public support can provide affordable and quality housing by activating private initiatives and capital.

After the presentations we continued our discussions where two representatives of public actors in the field of affordable housing Tom Lejuste from the City of Brussels (Brussel Huisvestin) and Christian Schantl from the City of Vienna (Wiener Wohnen) joined us online. We have heard that public incentives in the form of more favourable access to land and funding sources are key to the development of affordable community housing. In addition to the public interest in providing affordable housing, the broader social role of housing cooperatives was highlighted – they provide a stimulating environment for the coexistence of different generations, enable new ways of organizing everyday life and care obligations and integration of various marginalized groups. This is otherwise much more difficult to measure and evaluate well. Housing cooperatives are often at the forefront of innovations in housing, both in the search for new spatial and architectural approaches and solutions and in the organization of housing. Good cooperative practices are then often transferred to other public and commercial housing projects.

In the second part of the conference, we discussed the obstacles in establishing housing cooperatives in Slovenia and ways to overcome them as soon as possible. We were joined at the round table by Anita Hočevar Frantar, from the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning, Alenka Kern, from the Housing Fund of the Republic of Slovenia, Aleš Tomažin, from the Public housing fund of the City of Ljubljana, Marko Funkl, from the City of Hrastnik, Urška Breznik, from the housing cooperative StanKoop and Rok Ramšak, from the housing cooperative Zadrugator. The round table was moderated by Maša Hawlina, from the Institute for Studies of Housing and Space.

What all Slovenianinitiatives for housing cooperatives have in common is that they face a lack of an appropriate legal ground that would encourage the establishment of cooperatives and regulate their operation, the facts we have been persistently pointing out for years. Even though all the speakers at the table agreed that housing cooperatives could significantly complement the efforts of public housing funds and that housing cooperatives should be encouraged, there is no systemic regulation of the area yet.

Due to the growing interest in housing cooperatives, growing housing shortages and the feeling that things are not moving anywhere, the Institute for Studies of Housing and Space (NGO) has prepared a proposal for legal solutions that provide certain incentives for cooperatives – for example, more favourable access to the use of public land (possibility of gratuitous building rights) and possibilities of financing (guarantees on private credit, repayable public funds). At the same time, the document proposes the regulations for the operation of cooperatives and prevents speculation about cooperative rental housing and protects the public interest. A campaign to collect support for the systemic regulation of the area is also underway.

To start housing cooperative projects, the legal ground will require the fastest possible implementation of a pilot project, from which we will be able to learn and will be an example to all further initiatives in Slovenia. Similarly to the development, introduction and implementation of all other innovative practices, all relevant institutions in the field of housing policies will have to take their share of responsibility for the development of housing cooperatives. In addition to the support in principle and the inclusion of housing cooperatives in strategic documents, they will also have to invest staff, time, and financial resources in the development of housing cooperatives.

The conference was accompanied by the exhibition Together to Housing, it presents the concept of modern housing cooperatives and offers an insight into life in housing cooperatives abroad and in order to inspire and encourage the further development of this, for our space new, practices of quality housing.

The event was organized by IPoP – Institute for Spatial Policies, IŠSP – Institute for Studies of Housing and Space, AVANTA LARGO, Institute for Social Communication and Cultural Educational Association PiNa, as part of the project For housing cooperatives, supported by funds Active Citizens Fund in Slovenia 2014–2021 (through EEA and Norway financial mechanisms).

Photo: Goran Jakovac

 

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