Czech non-speculative housing network Sdílené domy bought their first house

After several years of preparations, the collective Sdílené domy (Shared Houses) bought its first housing project in Prague, Czech Republic. As the name of the project První vlaštovka (First Swallow) says, they hope it will be the first piece of a broader network of housing projects in the Czech Republic, similar to Mietshäuser Syndikat in Germany or HabiTAT in Austria. Furthermore, they hope to set a working example that could help not just other projects in the Czech Republic but also other countries of Central and South-Eastern Europe through the MOBA Housing network.

Here Sdílené domy report on the last months of their endeavour.

The current state of the house (objects with orange roofs)

Six months of struggle with bureaucracy 

At the beginning of the last year, we overcame our last big obstacle before searching for a concrete house – finding the main source of financing. After more than a year of unsuccessfully convincing one of the local banks to give us a loan to purchase the first house, we managed to negotiate and obtain financing from a German foundation Stiftung Umverteilen. At that point, we understood the Prague property market situation had significantly changed, with many people, due to the Covid-19, investing money with the expectation of a supposedly coming economic crisis. Therefore, in 2021, we only found a few properties in Prague that would suit our needs and the rapidly rising prices. Ultimately, in October, we decided to purchase a former hotel in Prague 6 district, where we could all fit and still have a space left to create an open political space for discussions, lectures, concerts, and other social and political activities.

Purchase contract signed – 22nd December 2021

Then, the process continued for the next several months with signing the purchase contract just before Christmas. Since we had to deal with an international bureaucracy connected with financing a property in the Czech Republic by a foreign financial institution, the final handover of the house could not take place until the 22nd of March 2022.

Signing the final papers before the takeover of the house – 22nd March 2022

Since we have the house…
When we finally got the keys, an even more giant pile of bureaucracy appeared before us with all the energy, insurance, and other contracts to be signed. But there were also more pleasant things to come. When trying to find out more about the house we just bought, we came across old photos but also a piece of surprising information – the former hotel served for a period as a shelter for German anti-fascists fleeing Nazi Germany (more info here). With the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we decided to continue this tradition by offering our house as a shelter to people fleeing the war.

Undated historical photo of the house

After overtaking the house, we slowly started the reconstruction. We used the first few weekends to clear out the garbage and other unusable stuff from the cellars and make more minor repairs to the currently unused rooms and flats.

Clearing out of the cellar – April 2022
Members of První vlaštovka of all ages helped
Minor repairs in the unused flats and rooms

Before we move in
Our next most significant challenge is reconstructing the house to a shape that would suit the needs of current cooperative members. At this point, we understood how important it is to work with architects, like our friends from Second Nature, that understand the logic and the basic mechanisms of the collective housing models. Apart from individual flats housing 15-18 people, we plan to have a semi-public shared “living room” with a guest room, several offices for NGOs and an open political space in the basement. The whole reconstruction will require further funds. Therefore, we are more than happy to get financial support through the MOBA Housing Fund – as the first project within the MOBA network. Furthermore, we are planning campaigns for direct loans and other forms of financial support in the Czech Republic and Germany.

The collective of První vlaštovka – April 2022

Experiences in Supporting Co-operative Housing Development in Central and South-Eastern Europe

By Ana Džokić and Rok Ramšak, following the piloting year of the MOBA-World Habitat Co-operative Housing Development Grant. Ana and Rok are from emerging housing initiatives in Belgrade and Ljubljana – part of MOBA Housing SCE (MOBA) – a network of pioneering co-operative housing projects from Central and South-Eastern Europe. Together, they developed a shared model for affordable, sustainable and non-speculative housing – along with the tools to turn this ambition into a reality.

Originally published at the World Habitat blog.

Due to the widespread lack of affordable and secure housing in the Central and South-Eastern European region, MOBA Housing SCE emerged in 2017 to foster collaboration around strategies for cooperative housing development.

World Habitat has partnered with MOBA from the start as part of their Global Community-led Housing programme, including in the joint development of the MOBA-World Habitat Co-operative Housing Development Grant. This initiative specifically focused on advancing the housing co-operative approach in this region of Europe. In its first pilot, during 2020-2021, the £15000 Grant supported five proposed local projects that used a series of very different approaches to work towards community-led and affordable housing development. Let’s see how that worked out in five different contexts.

Belgrade, Serbia – Pametnija Zgrada Cooperative

Under Serbian legislation, housing co-operatives cannot lease privately owned land, and public land is currently not available for citizens-led initiatives. Therefore, for Pametnija Zgrada Cooperative, land acquisition became a prerequisite to make a partial equity rental co-operative housing model feasible in the local context. The grant enabled the shortlisting of possible locations that fit the criteria, as well as a financing plan for the land purchase. The land search brought crucial hands-on insights on how to undertake the search and evaluation process, how to establish what constitutes an adequate location, and what’s available and its pricing in the current market. As a result, they have managed to identify several potential plots and have pre-booked one specific site for a pilot project.

Budapest, Hungary – Rákóczi Collective 

Despite Hungary’s lack of legal, institutional, and financial infrastructures for rental housing co-operatives, members of Rákóczi Collective already managed to purchase the first house for this purpose in 2018. In 2021, the grant helped create two legal entities: an umbrella organisation for rental housing co-operatives (which also has a development role for new housing projects) and an association to recruit new members into the co-operative housing movement, with particular focus on the next upcoming co-operative house. Forty new potential members have been recruited, helping refine the financial model of the housing co-operative.

Ljubljana, Slovenia – Zadrugator Cooperative 

With the change in the political landscape in Slovenia, the pilot housing co-operative project had come to a stalemate as the newly appointed government scrapped the new housing law required for housing co-operatives to be viable. Zadrugator Cooperative responded by using the grant to put a significant effort into promoting and advocating co-operative housing on national and local levels through an awareness and advocacy campaign. As a culmination of their activities, they have installed a Monument to the Housing Crisis in co-operation with an artistic collective “m2” in the centre of Ljubljana and managed to include housing co-operatives in an intervention law on public housing provision put forward to the National Assembly.

Monument to the housing crisis – Ljubljana, 2021

Prague, Czechia – První Vlaštovka Cooperative

První Vlaštovka used the grant to engage external experts to help develop a detailed professional business plan to approach private financial institutions to finance the purchase and renovation of the property. The business plan is adaptable and should serve as a basis for other similar groups to use within Czechia, under the umbrella initiative Sdílené Domy. Thanks to securing commitment for co-financing, they went on to successfully purchase the first property that will be transformed into a housing co-operative and a social centre based on the co-operative rental model.

Zagreb, Croatia – Zadruga Otvorena Arhitektura/ZOA

Currently, no laws and financial instruments support the establishment of housing co-operatives in Croatia. To bridge the gap, Zadruga Otvorena Arhitektura/ZOA decided to use the grant to involve legal, real estate and construction experts in creating a step-by-step strategy for local governments to kick-start the development of a co-operative housing model. To get a step closer to proposing the model to the city of Zagreb, ZOA mapped out city-owned plots of land suitable for the construction of co-operative housing and developed three conceptual architectural projects and related financial models.

As well as supporting local projects, the grant has increased the network’s capacity to support its members. In fact, funding was provided from World Habitat to MOBA, who created a collaborative grant-making system for its membership to channel tailored financial support for local projects. This came with a package of support with discussions on how to improve proposed projects, channels for feedback and peer-to-peer exchange on progress and achievements. In the words of Rok Ramšak from Zadrugator: ‘Let me tell you what I love about MOBA’s grant system: the groups don’t compete for funding, they help each other improve and deliver each project’.

Given the success of these first experiences, a second round of the MOBA-World Habitat Co-operative Housing Development Grant was launched in late 2021 with approximately £20000 to advance on aspects such as membership engagement and training, researching technological and sustainable solutions, and policy development. The grant management system will also be improved with the aim to grow and support more pioneering community-led housing initiatives in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe – where sustainable and affordable solutions are greatly needed.

To hear more about how you can connect with or support MOBA Housing SCE, please email: info@moba.coop

Can catalytic capital break the financial deadlock of affordable housing in Central and Southeastern Europe?

MOBA is glad to announce that it is part of a consortium of organisations that looks at the potential of catalytic capital (investment capital that is patient, risk-tolerant, and rather flexible) to kick-start affordable housing.

At focus is the housing sector in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe (ESEE), where for many years, housing has become increasingly unaffordable to a significant part of the population. In parallel, there is an increasing need for investment in sustainable housing solutions to address the climate crisis. Due to a lack of systematic public engagement in ESEE, the development of innovative housing solutions strongly relies on independent housing organisations. These organisations face important difficulties in accessing finance, mainly due to the risk-aversion of existing housing finance institutions in the region.

The Catalytic Capital Consortium’s (C3) Grantmaking program – housed at and administered the New Venture Fund (NVF) now has provided the support to take a deeper look into the potential of catalytic investments in this field. In total, C3 has awarded 14 research proposals from universities, nonprofits and collaborations spanning seven countries. The aim of C3 is thus to enable social and environmental progress that would not otherwise be possible.

The research MOBA now participates in looks at both EU and non-EU countries – 8 countries altogether, with 4 selected as core research countries, including Croatia, Hungary, Serbia, and Slovenia. Access to innovative forms of housing finance is quasi nonexistent in all target countries. We firmly believe that if patient or catalytic capital were to systematically endow the housing sector of the region, then this would allow new, innovative housing providers to consolidate their activities, meaning that the sector of permanently affordable housing – ranging from limited equity cooperative housing to more conventional forms of rental housing – can finally come to life and expand in this part of Europe. This, in turn, would mean access to housing for social groups currently excluded from the housing market. In the research we will uncover the characteristics of both the demand-side and the supply-side of this sector and will also identify the bottlenecks that need to be overcome for the two sides to meet.


Consortium members:

Periféria Policy and Research Center
Budapest, Hungary
https://www.periferiacenter.com/

IŠSP – Institute for Studies of Housing and Space (Inštitut za Študije Stanovanj in prostora), 
Ljubljana, Slovenia
http://zadrugator.org/issp/

Who Builds the City (Ko gradi grad), 
Belgrade, Serbia
https://www.kogradigrad.org/

Right to the City (Pravo na grad),
Zagreb, Croatia

https://pravonagrad.org

Nadácia Habitat for Humanity International, Slovakia
office of HFHI Europe, Middle East and Africa
https://www.habitat.org/

ZEF – Cooperative for Ethical finance (Zaduga za etično financiranje), 
Zagreb, Croatia
https://zef.hr/en

MOBA Housing SCE
https://moba.coop/

The 2nd Call for the MOBA World Habitat Grant is out!

With the support of World Habitat, MOBA successfully developed and launched the MWH Grant in 2021. By providing access to non-refundable funding, the Grant supports advancing the novel housing cooperative approach in Central and South-Eastern Europe.

The 2022 Call provides 20.000 EUR to support a maximum of five projects by MOBA full members. Each organisation may apply for funding within the scope of 2.000 to 4.000 EUR. Exceptionally, applicants may apply for a higher funding volume (up to 8.000 EUR) if they can clearly show a direct and significant impact on the project outputs.

The MWH Grant aims to support and empower pioneering cooperative housing initiatives by improving access to:

1. Knowledge

  • Providing education and know-how around cooperative housing to project leaders, future residents or other relevant stakeholders (funders, local partners, etc.) to ensure the advancement of a cooperative housing project
  • Developing tools that enable the establishment or furthering of cooperative housing   
  • Strengthening international cooperation and solidarity to build up the knowledge for country projects 

2. Land

  • Securing and or purchasing a piece of land (or working towards this)
  • Securing a partnership that can enable access to land or funding

3. Finance

  • Developing and implementing financial strategies
  • Securing a partnership that can enable access to real estate or financing 

4. Policy and Legal matters

  • Developing policy or legal processes relating to cooperative housing 
  • Advocating and securing the adoption of policy or legal processes relating to cooperative housing

5. Technical and Environmental matters

  • Advancing on design and technical features for housing development
  • Developing sustainable low-carbon housing development solutions

More information is available in the MOBA-World Habitat Cooperative Housing Development Grant – 2022 Call for Projects.

Proposals are due by February 15, 2022.

MOBA Housing Development Fund – Launch

The first Call for Loan Requests of the MOBA Housing Development Fund

MOBA Housing SCE is calling its full member organisations to submit proposals for projects to be financed with the support of its MOBA Housing Development Fund.

The link to the Call for Loan Requests form can be found here. Proposals will be received until June 20, 2021, and reviewed by the Fund Committee. Decisions about the attribution of funds will be taken by June 30 and loans will be issued in July. A further Call for Loan Requests may be issued later in the year.

What is the MOBA Housing Development Fund?

The MOBA Housing Development Fund is being set up as part of the MOBA Housing SCE and thanks to a seed capital of 21,600 EUR provided by the cooperative ABZ in Zurich. Currently, in its pilot stage, it is intended to grow into the financial vehicle of MOBA, supporting the development of cooperative housing projects federated under MOBA.

Who is the Fund Committee?

The Fund Committee is composed of 1 representative of each MOBA (full) member – plus 1 representative of an associate member nominated to the Fund Committee as a facilitator (with no right to vote). The member(s) who submit an application cannot vote on their own proposal.

The Fund Committee is being constituted in parallel to the present Call for Loan Requests and approved by MOBA Housing SCE’s General Assembly (in mid-June 2021).

The Fund Committee is responsible for issuing the Call for Loan Requests (except for this first Call which is issued by the working group) and responsible for taking decisions on loan allocation and repayment conditions.

How does it work?

The present Call for Projects is a “test run” for the MOBA Housing Development Fund. In 2021, the MOBA Housing Development Fund will issue at least one loan to MOBA members with the aim of attributing the total amount of 18,000 EUR to its members in the course of 2021.

Types of loans, among others:

  • Kick-start loan/door-opener for other financiers
  • Bridge loan
  • Renovation costs
  • Land or house acquisition
    The loan cannot be used to pay consultants, studies or human resources.

Eligibility criteria:

  • To request a loan, one must be a full member of MOBA Housing SCE.
  • The repayment capacity/financial solidity/risk will be assessed on the basis of the financial plan of the project.
  • Priority will be given to projects with urgent financial needs and that have a high impact on the project lifecycle.
    The definite criteria will be discussed and established by the Fund Committee.

Terms:

  • The loans should have a duration of a maximum of 18 months
  • The maximum amount you can request in this round is 18,000 euros. The Fund Committee may suggest reviewing the loan duration and amount.
  • The loan is issued in euros; transfer costs and the currency exchange risk will be covered by the Fund’s reserve. To cover for the risk, the MOBA Housing Development Fund will keep a reserve of an additional 20% (3,600 EUR).
  • The suggested repayment schedule is every 6 months via bank transfer, but members can propose a repayment schedule that better fits their project.
  • The yearly (nominal) interest rate is 2.5% (interest on a 1,000 EUR loan = 25 euros per year).

A loan contract will be signed between MOBA Housing SCE and the MOBA member (applicant), in line with Croatian legislation.

Webinar: MOBA – building finance for cooperative housing in Central and South-Eastern Europe

To watch the recording go to: https://fb.watch/4p_haelE82/

One of the main obstacles facing community-led cooperative housing in Hungary, and more broadly in Central and Southeastern Europe (CSEE), is the difficulty to access affordable housing finance. In search of quick and high returns, investment in the CSEE region flows almost uniquely into market-based models of housing. These models promote home-ownership and are not accessible to many households without significant capital to buy an apartment or equity to acquire a mortgage.

In 2017 pioneering housing cooperatives from CSEE joined forces and founded the MOBA Housing Network (since 2020 European Cooperative Society, SCE). One of the main aims of MOBA is to build an infrastructure for accessing large-scale investment for the cooperative housing sector. Such investments could kick-start community-led housing projects, and lead to more affordable housing.

This webinar held on 10 March 2021, presented the work of the MOBA Housing SCE and the cooperative housing projects of MOBA members from Belgrade, Budapest, Ljubljana, Prague and Zagreb. 

It addressed the following questions: What is the state of cooperative housing in each of the member countries? What are the main obstacles to financing cooperative housing in CSEE? What kind of bottom-up financial solutions is MOBA developing to address the situation?

Particpants: Zsuzsi Pósfai (Rákóczi Collective, Budapest), Ana Džokić and Marc Neelen (Ko gradi grad/Pametnija Zgrada, Belgrade), Rok Ramšak (Zadrugator, Ljubljana), Darovan Tušek (Zadruga Otvorena Arhitektura, Zagreb), Adéla Zicháčková (Sdílené domy, Prague). Moderator: Natasa Szabó (Solidarity Economy Center, Budapest).

The webinar has been organised by the Solidarity Economy Center and Fordulat Magazine, Budapest. Funded by the European Cultural Fund’s Culture of Solidarity program.

For summary of the webinar in Hungarian see the article Felválthatja a profitelvet a kölcsönös segítség a lakhatásban? Lakásszövetkezetek Kelet-Európában. 

Ljubljana: our determination… to make community-led housing a reality

Text by Anja Lazar & Rok Ramšak, originally posted by World Habitat

Anja Lazar and Rok Ramšak are members of Zadrugator, a housing co-operative in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Zadrugator is one of the pioneering co-operatives working together with others across Central and South-Eastern Europe as part of MOBA Housing SCE.

In most European cities, housing is becoming an increasingly big issue. The situation is especially alarming when it comes to affordable housing.

In Slovenia it is no different. With housing provision being almost exclusively in the domain of the free market, Slovenia has one of the highest proportions of housing that is not suitable for living – one-in-three (33%).  And almost a third (30%) of families live in housing poverty. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for young people to gain independence with almost two in every three (64%) young adults between 18 and 34 still living with their parents – nearly double the European average!

This comes as no surprise due to the fact that Slovenia spends 10 times less on housing than an average European state, and a whopping 100 times less on housing construction. In fact, the state’s contribution to the construction of public housing has remained at a very stable zero for the last 10 years.

But how does this impact people’s everyday lives?

In the past years we have been discussing the housing crisis with students, people looking for their first apartment, young families and elderly people, who are struggling to find adequate housing in Ljubljana. We are summarising their stories using a fictional person who we have named Tina.

Tina is 34 years old and works in Ljubljana. She grew up in a smaller town but moved to study and has stayed there because it is one of the few places where it is possible to get a job. She applied for a student dorm, but even though her family is well below the median income, she was told that she’d need to wait at least half a year to move in because there are simply not enough. And because of poor public transport, the only option was a private apartment rented with three friends. Despite sharing a room, she worked around 20 hours per week and had to use her entire scholarship to cover the rent and living expenses.

In the last 10 years, she has moved at least six times. The owners would increase the rent or decide to start renting out through AirBnB. But she was quite lucky – she always found good flatmates and for the past five years, since working full-time, she has even been able to afford her own room.

Tina is earning the average Slovenian wage and is among the 30% of highest earners. But she is still spending over a third (nearly 35%) of her income on a small room in an apartment she shares with three other people. Lately, she finally started exploring other options.

After several months, she was not able to find an affordable apartment to rent on her own. The cost of an average sized single room apartment would be somewhere between €500 and €600 – this would be well over half (around 60%) of her income spent on housing costs.

Buying a home would be impossible. With only new luxury projects being built, the prices are so high that even if she could find a good deal for the apartment and a low interest rate for the loan, she would have to spend close to 70% of her income. And even if she dreams of a big promotion and a higher wage, she would simply not be able to save up enough to put down a deposit of at least €25,000.

She considered non-profit rental apartments, provided by national and municipal housing funds. But realised that for each apartment, there are dozens of families in need. Such a discrepancy in fact, that some funds started organising lotteries for applicants.

So, what is the alternative?

Unfortunately, there are no other existing alternatives in Slovenia, resulting in a lot of young people moving abroad or forced to live in apartments, and even more often, in single rooms that do not allow them a decent quality of life.

That is why, four years ago, we established Zadrugator, a housing co-operative. We want to address the lack and inaccessibility of decent housing and have always advocated for not-for-profit public housing provision. But as this requires, above all, significant political will, we have started looking for other, more community-based, grassroots alternatives.

Going through countless examples of housing mechanisms from around the world, we came to realise that not-for-profit rental housing co-operatives are our best bet.

Zadrugator based its model on successful co-operatives in Switzerland – namely More than Housing in Zurich, which we visited on a World Habitat peer exchange in 2017. They inspired us because of their accessibility to different social groups, high standards of living, and a high-level of resident and local community participation.

The Zadrugator model is truly a co-operative model, based on a joint investment by the members, the provision of the land by the municipality, a loan from the national housing fund and resources from external lenders or investors.

The future residents are members of the co-operative, owning shares and having full voting rights – but they won’t own their apartments. Instead, they will rent the apartments from the co-operative for a not-for-profit rent. Because of the very poorly developed housing sector in Slovenia, we estimate that the rent will be at least 20-30% lower than the market rent – and as market rents will surely rise in the future, the co-operative rent will stay the same.

We have made significant progress in developing the first pilot project. We are collaborating with Ljubljana’s local authorities, who are willing to host the co-operative housing development on public land, and advanced on finding funding possibilities. With the support of World Habitat, we have also developed the architectural design for the pilot project.

However, we are also facing many challenges in our hopes to start a strong and viable co-operative movement here in Slovenia. Our main issue is that housing co-operatives are not yet included in Slovenian housing law, which prevents us from working with public partners in a meaningful way and significantly inhibits our possibilities of providing affordable rent. But that is not denting our determination or our commitment to advocate for this to change, and to make community-led housing a reality. This will make good homes more affordable for ‘Tina’ and the countless others like her.

Image: Bryce Edwards (Creative Commons)

Webinar: Cooperative Housing Development – Thinking Outside the Box!

Co-operative Housing International and urbaMonde, two partners in the CoHabitat Network organised the webinar “Cooperative Housing Development – Thinking Outside the Box!”, involving Zsuzsi Pósfai – MOBA (Hungary), Bea Varnai – urbaMonde (France), Lea Oswald – urbaMonde (Switzerland), Hans Rupp – ABZ (Switzerland) and Gauthier Guerin – Radical Routes (UK). Take a look!

“Different groups around the world are using innovative financing tools to raise capital for their cooperative housing initiatives. However, they didn’t come by these ideas alone. By forming regional networks, collaborating, and networking they were able to pool their thoughts together to come up with innovative ideas, allowing them to move forward. This webinar is a conversation with cooperators and project managers developing cooperative and community-led housing in Europe and beyond. They will share their experiences and knowledge related to innovative financing models, the benefits of creating a regional network, and the challenges of developing a housing cooperative based on collective ownership in Central and Eastern Europe.”

MOBA HOUSING SCE – established

With the Founding Assembly held in Zagreb, on the 29 February 2020, MOBA becomes a European Cooperative Society MOBA HOUSING (SCE), and the first SCE registered in Croatia!

For over two years, the MOBA pioneers have set out to address structural limitations that block the development of collective affordable housing solutions by building a common platform in Central, South-Eastern and Eastern Europe (CSEE). Our aim is to attract, channel and manage affordable and fair financing for – construction, purchase and repurposing of buildings – of a new generation of rental, non-speculative housing cooperatives.

To take up this role, MOBA now becomes a European Cooperative Society (SCE), with the capacity to act as an intermediary between larger financial actors interested in social investment and cooperatives on the ground – thus empowering the upscaling of housing cooperatives in CSEE. To set up the framework for such an institution, as well as provide a part of the obligatory seed capital necessary to establish it as a legal entity, MOBA received the FundAction Renew grant. FundAction is a participatory fund that supports social movements in Europe, working towards a transition to a just and equitable world.

The MOBA SCE aims to become a partner for established housing cooperative networks from other parts of Europe, enabling international peer-to-peer solidarity in the domain of housing. The first step in this is through collaboration with ABZ (Allgemeine Baugenossenschaft Zürich), Switzerland’s biggest housing cooperative with 7,785 members.

What is an SCE?

The European Cooperative Society (SCE) provides a legal form for a transnational cooperative, existing in the European Union since 2003 its potential has not been much explored so far. SCE’s aim to facilitate cross-border activities amongst their members. An SCE needs to be registered in an EU country – but can include members from non-EU countries. The minimum capital requirement to set up an SCE is 30,000 Euro. 

The decision for MOBA to register as an SCE was taken with the aim to formalise the loose network that existed since 2017 and to provide a legal entity through which its members can pool their resources, share their expertise and access the services and financial resources necessary for the development of housing models on a regional basis. MOBA Housing SCE is registered in Pula, Croatia. The decision to register in Croatia has been based on the possibility for an SCE to formally be recognised as a non-profit organisation. In the case of MOBA, its surplus has to get reinvested in MOBA’s activities.  

Our four founding members (Cooperants, according to the Statutes) – Pametnija Zgrada from Belgrade, Zadrugator for Ljubljana, Prvni vlaštovka from Prague and Otvorena Arhitektura from Zagreb – with support of donations from FundAction and the Swiss Housing Cooperative ABZ, have provided the required initial capital. Apart from full membership (Cooperants), MOBA will include associate members (in the Statutes formally referred to as Investors). 

MOBA Housing SCE’s Statutes can be found at the following link.

Belgrade: a new era for housing co-operatives

Text by Ana Džokić, originally posted by World Habitat

Ana Džokić is a member of the association Ko Gradi Grad (Who Builds the City) in Belgrade, who are the initiators of Pametnija Zgrada (Smarter Building) – a new kind of collectively owned housing co-operative in Serbia. 

For those who walk the streets of Belgrade, construction frenzy is a usual sight – from smaller-scale developments at sites of former modest free-standing houses, to demolished privatised industrial complexes, to vast swaths of public land along the waterfront where high-rises claim prime view of the city. Following the financial crisis, the last few years have also brought a sizeable annual increase in real estate prices – 18% in 2016, 5% in 2017 and 12% in 2018. You might think that things are going well, but the question is – for whom?

Although statistics may sound ‘nerdy’, they help us understand the growing divide. According to recent Eurostat data, Serbia scores the second-lowest in housing affordability in Europe, with only 1.9% of households free from financial burden due to housing costs. At the same time, the average citizen of Belgrade needs 20.4 years of entire income for 60m2 of a newly built apartment. While more than one-in-three (34.6%) homes are overcrowded, over 100,000 apartments in Belgrade stand empty. In addition, only a select one-in-20 (5%) of the population buys real estate and yet, more than four-in-every five (82%) apartments sold in Belgrade are bought in cash! It’s clear that the ongoing construction boom provides no widespread solution. It only boosts speculation and eats up valuable urban land, much needed for other housing options.

In 2012 when Ko Gradi Grad (Who Builds the City) started to figure out how, in Belgrade, housing can be made possible for those who cannot acquire it under the current market conditionslittle did we know about the path we would take. We started with an open call that read:

“Are you interested in building a decent apartment somewhere in Belgrade at 300-400-500 euro/m2? Impossible? For the majority of people getting an apartment at these prices is the only reasonable option – without getting yourself into debt and unpayable loans, living in impossible conditions or waiting for your relatives to move to the countryside or Heaven. Who, why and how can this impossible be made possible?”

Pametnija Zgrada’s beginnings, 2014

Over the next two years, a number of open discussions resulted in us starting the process to form a housing co-operative. In a society where private ownership (98.3% since the early 1990s) is practically the only way to resolve housing needs, and social housing is sporadic (under 1%), picking the housing challenge apart becomes the first task.

Step by step, the group questioned the seemingly inescapable norms of how “housing works”. We dissected its cost, questioned individual ownership and profit-making, explored forms of collective finance and shared aspects of living, and imagined new possibilities that might introduce the notion of equality into a society largely based on inequality – a collective stance has now taken shape.

Even so, we were isolated, and in an environment where collective action has disappeared as a viable horizon for change. We understood it’s essential to start building alliances. From bringing together various housing activists and groups, commenting on the new housing law, awareness campaigns, and involvement in forming an anti-eviction and right to housing collective – in Belgrade, today, housing issues have the public’s attention.

At the start of 2019, we finally established the first housing co-operative in nearly 20 years in Belgrade – Pametnija Zgrada (Smarter Building). We are now preparing a pilot project for about 50 people, with about 20 housing units and collective space. What makes it the first of its kind in Serbia are the principles of mutual homeownership and taking housing off the market, while being affordable (at about 60% of current market rent) and even remarkably energy efficient – to keep living costs low in the long term. The pilot project naturally serves as a stepping-stone for other projects to come.

Without proper governmental embedding, the challenges ahead remain significant. Affordability is challenged by unfavourable taxation for collective ownership, and unsustainably low energy prices undercut low energy measures. Nevertheless, the most significant endeavour ahead is how to get affordable finance or institutions that would provide capital to housing co-operatives. Consequently, in 2017, we were excited to meet several other pioneering groups from cities in the region facing very similar issues. Soon we would form MOBA Housing Network. This exciting path we took together allowed us to acquire the skills to enter into negotiations with lenders and gain expertise in figuring out finance – we even developed an open-source calculation tool called OpenFRM.

Now, two years later, we are together forming a legal entity – a financial instrument of sorts – that will include a collective investment fund to kick-start co-operatively owned housing projects. Throughout history, such funds have been crucial for the co-operative movement. With MOBA we are looking forward to collaborating with long-existing, successful co-operatives from other parts of Europe. In the still unwelcoming contexts in Central and South-Eastern Europe, and certainly in Belgrade, such funds might bring a breakthrough for non-speculative mutual homeownership.