Cohousing is a type of housing that is very widespread in northern Europe but little known here. It is a model that enables a community of people to live in a property without being owners or tenants, for a lengthy period (50 to 100 years) at a price below the market rate.
Various bodies and associations in Barcelona have been interested in this model for some years now, for example, LaCol, a cooperative of architects, and Sostre Cívic, a cooperative of users and houses. The intention is very clear: to offer alternative ways of gaining access to the housing market which, until recently, boiled down to two options: rent or buy.
LaCol, a collective formed by 14 architects, carries out its projects with two aims in mind: to create in order to bring about a social transformation and to act as a tool for intervening in the surroundings on a local level and from a critical perspective. All that, with a horizontal working philosophy that includes the active participation of ordinary citizens.
In the area of cohousing, LaCol is developing the architectural plans for La Borda, a housing cooperative under the transfer-of-use scheme. The building will be located on the old Can Batlló industrial site, in the Sants-Montjuïc district, on a site leased by Barcelona City Council. Building work will start at the end of this year.
The desire to transform society through architecture is what distinguishes the projects of this cooperative. In terms of housing, LaCol has participated in strategic projects like the development of the Barcelona Right to Housing Plan, amongst other local plans.
New ways of living
Sostre Cívic was set up in 2010 as a cooperative of users and houses. They wanted to create new, more flexible forms of housing adapted to today’s reality, which is where the concept of right to use came from. This is a type of tenure, halfway between renting and buying, where the cooperative is the owner of the building and the cooperative members have the right to use it (but not ownership). It has other advantages too: it can be inherited and the payments are lower than rent would be.
Besides fostering and promoting MCUs (Cooperative Use Models), Sostre Cívic promote types of housing such as Senior Cohousing (older people who live in a community) and Urban Masoveria (transferring the use of a dwelling in exchange for maintaining it or carrying out some improvements, similar to masoveria or tenant farming in the past).
The cooperative currently has 9 projects up and running and another 14 at the negotiation or rehabilitation stage. In Barcelona, Sostre Cívic runs an urban masoveria project at El Pomaret, an old, abandoned house in Sarrià, and a cohousing cooperative in El Born, in a municipally owned building leased by the City Council.
Seven municipal sites for promoting cohousing
Barcelona City Council plans to put seven municipal sites out to tender for cohousing projects. These seven plots of land, in the Sants-Montjuïc, Ciutat Vella, Horta-Guinardó, Nou Barris and Sarrià-Sant Gervasi districts, have the potential for building nearly 115 flats in cooperative housing under a transfer-of-use scheme.
Only cooperatives fostering new forms of access to and relationships with housing will be able to tender. In assessing the projects submitted, special attention will be paid to environmental criteria, such as the use of building systems with a low environmental impact, and social criteria, for example, how well they fit in with the area, or the participation of cooperative members.
These new housing projects will mean an increase in the city’s public housing stock. The proposal, from the Housing Councillor’s Office and the Social and Solidarity Economy Commissioner’s Office, was put forward at the second meeting of the Cooperative Housing Committee.