The tried and tested model of the housing cooperative is now making sense. It allows for innovation in economic terms, while being part of a sustainability perspective. Comptoir Immobilier develops, pilots and manages several cooperatives in Geneva. The know-how of the Régie is deployed to implement these complex real estate projects, which are largely integrated into the major operations planned by the State.
The housing cooperative is a form of housing intermediate between traditional rental and private ownership. It is a not-for-profit organization, whose purpose is to provide housing for its members on the best possible terms. Individuals do not buy their homes, but are “co-owners” through their shares. The shares – which are much smaller than the equity needed to become an owner in the classical sense of the term – give the co-operators the right to live in and to participate in the management of the property. The shares constitute the equity of the cooperative. The rents cover the operating costs of the cooperative and to repay the financing of the real estate project.
Generally built on land allocated by the state as a building right (DDP), Geneva’s cooperatives reflect the real costs of construction, outside the speculative market. Whether it is public utility housing or free rent, the rents are on average 20% less expensive than on the free market. With their proven long-term rent stability, these structures are therefore economically attractive solutions, particularly for the middle classes. In addition, they contribute to the socio-cultural, generational and economic mix of neighbourhoods, a mix often considered synonymous with quality of life. Cooperatives also aim to optimize the integration of buildings and collective spaces into the existing urban fabric. Finally, most cooperatives include their choices and actions in a sustainable housing approach in the broad sense of the term.
The supreme body of the cooperative is the General Assembly, in which each member has one vote. Cooperatives have a proven track record of participatory processes. This can be valid not only when the inhabitants enter their dwelling, but also upstream, during the design of the building. Some co-operatives are more participatory than others. Cooperatives also allow for public-private partnerships, a decompartmentalization that is beneficial to the common good. The involvement of the various partners (project manager, authorities, agents, residents, etc.) often leads to innovative solutions. This is reflected in the architecture, the typologies and shared premises, the materials used, the communal spaces, the external fittings, etc. If the participatory approach takes time, the quality of the real estate object delivered is improved.
Leaving the conventional housing model opens up new opportunities. Members of cooperatives are led to reexamine all the parameters of their “ecosystem”: organization of space, natural resources, mobility, energy, relationship with others, etc. But cooperatives do not mean that everyone has to live together. Far from it! It is the search for the right balance between the collective and the private. In other words, the transition from public or collective space to the most private space (the “home”) must be carefully thought out. Building entrances and commons, landings, loggias, small squares, passages between buildings are among the key elements that contribute to living well together.
Delivered in 18 months, a new building on Avenue des Communes-Réunies in Lancy illustrates this co-design dynamic. The Fondation pour la promotion du logement bon marché et de l’habitat coopératif (FPLC) decided to entrust the construction of this building to two cooperatives. The Société coopérative de l’habitat social (SCHS) – an offshoot of Comptoir Immobilier – and L’Habrik. The construction project is driven by the merger of these two organizations. Initially, this new legal entity negotiated parcel exchanges at the property limits. It also led a participatory approach through a competition for the mandate of architect, allowing to obtain the confidence of neighbors.
Developed in concert with the commune of Lancy and the Canton, a landscape concept aims to coordinate and better connect the private and public facilities around the building. The nine-storey building is currently under construction. It will house 80 LUP-HLM apartments, business premises and two shopping arcades. The large landings, the square and the community hall will certainly encourage social interaction. The building will also comply with Very High Energy Performance (THPE) standards, thanks in particular to thick insulation, high-performance glazing and district heating.
Sites to check out
State of Geneva – Housing Cooperative: www.ge.ch/cooperative-habitation
Foundation for the promotion of low-cost housing and cooperative housing: www.fplc.ch/fr
Grouping of Geneva housing cooperatives: www.gchg.ch/