“And if we face the housing problem together?”. With this question, the La Borda cooperative housing project was born, according to one of its members, Hernan Córdoba. Today, that idea has come to life with the inauguration of the first co-housing building ever constructed in Barcelona, which is located at Carrer de la Constitución, 83-89, in the neighbourhood of La Bordeta (district of Sants-Montjuïc).
The City Council ceded the lot to a neighbourhood cooperative, which has constructed this building of six floors and 28 homes. The members of the housing development made an initial deposit and will pay an affordable monthly amount to continue living there.
The development will help increase the city’s affordable housing with a pioneering model of cooperative housing. “It seemed that mortgages and rent could only be paid outside the neighbourhood, but in the end, we will stay,” says Córdoba.
The members of the cooperative share the same idea of communal living. The future resident of the development explains that all decisions on the build were taken together and, for this reason, “the homes are a reflection of the community itself”.
This will be the first co-housing experience to be launched in the city, along with that of Carrer de la Princesa (in Ciutat Vella), a project that, unlike La Borda, was based on the renovation of disused building ceded by the City Council.
Co-housing, an alternative model
Co-housing is a model that allows a community of people to live in a building without being owners or landlords, for a long period of time – 75 years – and at a lower-than-market price.
It consists of the cession by the City Council of a disused property or building site to a neighbourhood cooperative for their construction. This model views housing as a good to be used and not one for investment: the members pay an initial deposit and a monthly amount for the use of the home, but they will never be the owners as the property belongs to the cooperative.
With this method, used in some northern European countries, a new model of community housing is promoted, which is free of real estate speculation and maintains public ownership of the land.
A municipal decision
The Barcelona City Council is promoting various measures to strengthen the city’s affordable housing offer. The aim of the City Council is to offer viable alternatives to the private rental market, where prices are expelling neighbourhood residents.
The promotion of co-housing is precisely one of these measures. To do it, the City Council acquired various lots and opened a call for neighbourhood cooperatives to present their proposals. The awarding of the lots considered social, architectural and environmental criteria.
There are currently two developments of this kind completed, that of La Borda (in the district of Sants-Montjuïc) and that of Carrer de la Princesa (in Ciutat Vella). There are also four more projects underway in various districts of the city where construction will begin soon.
The inauguration ceremony
Future residents, representatives of the organisations involved in the project, and institutional representatives took part in the opening ceremony. “This is making history. Today has been a very important step to promote a new way of community living,” said the councillor of Housing and Renovation of the City of Barcelona, Josep Maria Montaner.
The head of the General Directorate of Social Economy, Third Sector, Cooperatives and Self-Employment, Josep Vidal, said that co-housing represents “a paradigm shift” that can contribute to “alleviating the serious housing problems” that currently exist.
For their part, members of the La Borda cooperative Joan Gual and Elba Mansilla thanked all the people who participated in the project for helping “the dream of La Borda to come true”.
This project “has been carried out without using one euro from conventional banking,” said Ramón Pascual, the representative of the Coop57 financial cooperative, which contributed to funding the work together with micro-loans from individuals.
“La Borda shows that cooperative housing is already a reality, a real alternative to the commercialisation of housing,” said Lali Daví, representative of the La Dinamo foundation, another organisation that supported the project.
A unique building
The building has six floors and 28 homes between 45 and 75 square meters. The structure is made of wood, a much more sustainable material than concrete or steel that requires less resources to produce and facilitates much faster construction. It should be noted that La Borda is the tallest wooden building in Spain.
It is a construction of very low energy consumption that does require practically any heating or air conditioning. Everything is designed so that the building captures the maximum possible sun in winter and stays cool in summer, as it has a cover on the interior patio that can open or close depending on the time of year. The orientation of the homes was decided by taking into account sustainability criteria.
There is also a set of common spaces designed by the residents in order to enhance communal life: a laundry area, a guest room, multipurpose spaces, a communal dining room and kitchen, a terrace and an interior patio.
Another very innovative feature is that the spaces will be “flexible”: if it is necessary in the future, the flats can be adapted to the needs of their residents. Thus, if one room is too small and another has extra space, some walls can be moved to add or remove rooms.