Co-ops Solve Urban Community Problems in West Germany

    This document has been made available in electronic format
         by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA 
                         July, 1996

          (Source: ICA News, Issue No.2/1996, p.6)

     Co-ops Solve Urban Community Problems in West Germany

Urban unrest characterized the cities of West Germany in the
1980s. Urban planners had disregarded an integral approach to
cities, separating business areas and economic and social
centres. The housing market could no longer offer affordable
housing at a time when unemployment was rising. The squatter
movement grew as housing units which had remained empty due to
speculation were occupied. Suburban areas too were facing
increasing problems including the rise of juvenile

The 1980s was characterized by increasing awareness of
ecological problems, intensive resistance to nuclear power
stations, and the struggle for democratization. In fact, basic
democracy became the focus of the social movements of that
time. Existing housing co-operatives were able to consolidate
and continue their operations for existing members. However,
faced with financial limitations reflecting the overall
difficulties of the country, they found themselves unable to
meet the increasing need for housing.

However, new co-operatives began to emerge in response to new
challenges. One group looked at `alternative' housing - common
property rights and living space, governance of apartment
houses with a communal living perspective, i.e. a community
based on a wider interpretation of the traditional 2-adults/2-
children family. The members of this group also focused
attention on how to overcome the separation of paid work,
child-education and leisure time. Environmental concerns were
given  a high priority in forming their housing organizations.

A second group was made up of low-income individuals who
formed co-operatives in response to rent-increases,
speculative demolition, and the transformation of living
areas. They aimed at providing quality, affordable housing,
but also had concern for their community. A major focus was
contributing to solving social problems.

An example of this type of new co-operative is `Drachenbau eG'
(in English: dragons' burrow) which was founded in Hamburg in
the early 1980s. The aims of its members were to live together
as good neighbours, to overcome human isolation and to provide
housing for a variety of households - single people as well as
families. Members put the needs of children and developing
solidarity and environmental awareness high on their priority

Thanks to movement-to-movement technical assistance and
partnership with local government, the co-operative was able
to transform an old factory into an apartment building.

Members participated in the work and were able to contract
services through a grant and non-interest loan from the
Hamburg government and the support of `Stattbau', an agency
supported by the local government of Hamburg, which supports
self-help organizations. This dramatically reduced the cost of
rebuilding. The co-operative now operates 24 flats for 85
members in four different buildings.

Basic democracy is the operating rule. Co-operative members
take decisions by consensus and each one takes on the role of
administrator in turn rather than hiring an outside manager.
Business surpluses are not used for new buildings but rather
collected in a solidarity fund to assist similar projects.

Drachaenbau eG members point out that their benefits are not
only economic, but also social. Children have the possibility
of playing in a safe environment. The feeling of community is
strong so, for example, if parents are unable to be home when
their children return from school, they know they can count on
their neighbours. Similarly, members can count on their
neighbours to water plants, care for pets, etc. when they
travel. Members have also started a food co-operative. Self-
administration is an important learning experience for members
of the co-operative, particularly for female members who find
this experience empowering. Member participation in
reconstruction planning has made it possible to ensure high
environmental standards on the micro-level. For example, low
levels of toxic construction materials are chosen, rain water
basins with water recycling engines have replaced costly
municipal water, etc.

This is but one example of how co-operatives in partnership
with municipalities have been able to respond to the housing
needs of people in urban centres.

Anselm Meyer-Antz
Department of Co-operative Studies
University of Cologne, Germany.