Dan and Katherine are members of E16 CLT, and just returned from a group study trip to Zurich where they learnt about the important role housing co-operatives play in providing secure, affordable community led housing. We asked them what key lessons could be learnt from Zurich.
1. Scaled up community-led housing is possible when the support is there
Out of 220,000 Zurich homes, 39,000 belong to housing co-operatives, which means 17.7% of all housing is community-led and owned by co-op members. How is this possible? Well, a big factor is that the city of Zurich is very supportive of housing co-ops and so are the Zurich Canton (the regional government). The city works with housing co-ops, by identifying land that could be developed and inviting co-ops to submit ideas. They don’t ask for huge upfront payments on the land, instead the co-op pays an annual sum (linked to the value of the land and what they built) for the lease which usually lasts 70 years.
The city makes sure the housing is good quality by requiring architectural competitions are held and ensuring strict environmental regulations that are kept to. Working together like this means that co-ops can charge a ‘cost-rent’, so tenants pay the exact cost necessary and no profit is made.
In addition to this, finance is easier to raise. Due to co-ops prevalence and success, banks do not see them as a high risk and will lend to co-ops with as little as 7% of the capital. Investment is also available from public pension funds and sometimes co-ops invest in each other. This level of support means the sector is thriving.
2. You can combine lots of different types of housing successfully
We toured two housing co-ops in Zurich – Mehr As Wohnen and Kalkebreite. Both co-ops have a mix of housing that reflects the different needs of people within the community. For example, they mixed family housing, flat shares aimed at younger people and ‘cluster flats’ aimed towards older people who don’t want to live alone. In these cluster flats, residents have one or two private rooms and bathroom, and share a large living area and kitchen. These were also easily adapted for the benefit of disabled residents who wanted to live with others. In total, over 100 people are living like this in Mehr As Wohnen co-op. In Kalkebreite co-op, they also have what they call ‘Joker Rooms’ in the block which tenants can rent for anything between 6 months and 4 years. These rooms prevent overcrowding when a family member come stay, or can help adult children live semi-independently in the same building.
Co-ops do not make a surplus and provide most of their housing at an affordable ‘cost-rent’. Social housing is subsidised by the state and the co-op work with organisations to provide specialist, accessible housing. All of this within one development.
3. Co-ops provide much more than just housing
The two co-ops we visited offered more than housing, with non-residential space dedicated to work and social uses. They have offices (Greenpeace have an office in Kalkebreite), cafes, a bakery, shops and meeting spaces for local people and residents to use. Kalkebreite also had four ‘Box Rooms’, simple rooms in the corridor of a block where residents get to choose what they were used for. They include a kids room as well as space for fitness, yoga and sewing. Kalkebreite co-op has around 250 residents and another 250 people working there. They also have a large square open for the public to enjoy alongside residents and workers. Each co-op also had an array of shared facilities, like laundry rooms, a library, sauna or bike park and were able to provide energy to the co-op by installing solar panels on the roofs.
E16 CLT was established in 2018 by the People’s Empowerment Alliance for Custom House (PEACH), a resident-led response to the proposed regeneration of Custom House.
Read more about their organisation here