In Amsterdam there are at least 20 co-housing projects. Most of these projects are established by older people. But what is co-housing and how do you start and maintain a co-housing project?
A purposeful community
From the outset any co-housing project involves a community of people. These people deliberately choose to invest in each other. Moreover, most co-housing projects contribute to the local community, education, and the environment. To live up to these ideals they organize all sorts of activities, for those that live in the project as well as for outsiders.
Trabensol, the first senior co-housing project in Spain
The first senior co-housing project in Spain, Trabensol, is a fine example of a community with a broad set of principles. ‘Sostenibilidad’ – sustainability – is one of their guiding principles. Trabensol is situated in a small village north of the city of Madrid. This cooperative originated in 2001. The main purpose of the participants is to give elderly people, with a need for an active and social live, the opportunity to live together.
Co-housing, a close social community
However, who want to start a co-housing project and why and when? Frequently co-housing involves people who are in their fifties and sixties. They ponder about retirement and want to live in social communities with closer ties. In Amsterdam and here in Spain people want to revive the ideal of the small villages where they were born and raised. The first project of this type in Amsterdam is called City-Village-South. An initiative that originated through the study of the Village-to-Village Network in the USA and the Seniorengenossenschaften in Germany.
Co-housing requires an early start
Essentially, the principles of Trabensol in Spain and City-Village-South in Amsterdam are very much alike. The big difference is that the Trabensol initiative includes the construction of a brand new apartment complex. In the city of Amsterdam there’s hardly any affordable space for new buildings. Nevertheless, from the original idea to the legal foundation it took both cooperatives over 5 years. That is why it’s so important to finalize the legal foundation of the cooperative as soon as possible.
The Legal Foundation of co-housing
The legal foundation of the cooperative must at least include:
- The guiding principles (co-housing, sustainability, generation friendly, socially anchored in the neighborhood etc.);
- Who are allowed to participate (age, must endorse the guiding principles etc.);
- The procedures to enter into the cooperative;
- The duties and rights of the participants;
- The organization of the decision making;
- The settlement of conflicts between participants;
- The organizational components of the cooperative and their competences;
- The financing of the cooperative and the design of the financial organization (handling of gains and losses, the financial reserves, accountancy etc.);
- The practical rules and procedures to deal with participants who do not abide by the legal foundations.
Essential: charismatic initiators with endurance
Furthermore, a legal foundation is hardly enough to call a co-housing project a community. The participants have to organize practical (social) activities. To reach the actual operational status is far more difficult if it includes the construction of a brand new apartment building. That is why, the more complex and vast a co-housing project is, the more it requires charismatic initiators with an awful lot of endurance.
Different motives, different effort
Extensively, frequently and intensively I interviewed, from 2010 to 2012, the participants of the Amsterdam cooperative City-Village-South. All participants were strongly committed to their initiative. Although they shared a variety of motives, the most frequently mentioned are: to strengthen social ties, reciprocity (to help someone in return for help when needed) and access to practical information and support. Those who want to strengthen social ties also want to invest their time and energy in the operational activities of the cooperative.
Co-housing requires a Sense-of-Community-Care
I define the ‘state of mind’ of these ‘social’ participants as a specific ‘sense-of-care’, a Sense of Community Care. These participants manage the cooperative. At the same time they render all kind of practical services to their co-participants. These ‘social’ participants are very aware of their Sense of Community Care. That is why this is the most essential quality of participants of a cooperative. The more participants with a Sense-of Community-Care, the more successful the cooperative.