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The German Mietshäuser Syndikat: creating self-organised housing projects financed by rents

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The German Mietshäuser Syndikat (literally: rental houses syndicate) is a joint venture creating networks for affordable housing that advises self-organised housing projects, oriented on a union model. The Mietshäuser Syndicat was founded in 1999 and has realised 166 housing projects all over Germany in 22 years.

The Mietshäuser Syndicat joins forces with the renter’s association that set up housing projects to counter speculation. To this goal, a limited liability company is set up by the Mietshäuser Syndikat together with the residents’ association. For each housing project, a separate company is created. This company purchases the building by taking on a loan from a bank. The mortgage then is paid off by the rents of the inhabitants. As loans are costly, the interest and amortisation often make up a big share of the rental income. Hence the renters’ unions usually try to access very low-interest loans, to guarantee socially inclusive and low rents for everyone.

In this way, the housing projects create a new type of ownership in which none of the inhabitants of the buildings is an owner in the classical sense. Every inhabitant, member of the housing association, is a renter and administrator and has a right to housing in the building for a lifetime and the right to affordable rents.

The residents then jointly manage the running of their housing, which can sometimes extend to the creation of food distribution outlets organised as a cooperative or other projects.

The Mietshäuser Syndikat itself is owned by the entirety of the housing associations. It plays an important role in setting up new projects as it promotes solidary transfers from housing projects that are already up and running for years to new ones. The rents paid by the renters are indeed used not only for repaying the loans but over the years increasingly also for financing newly established housing projects elsewhere. Participation in this solidarity-based procedure is a condition for admission to the syndicate.

Furthermore, the Mietshäuser Syndikat supports and advises the housing projects on financing and legal issues.

The Mietshäuser Syndicat is supporting projects of this type all over Germany.

There are houses with single flats and house-sharing communities, small projects with five and apartment buildings with over 280 people, projects without and with commercial use.1 Currently, 15 projects are in the planning phase and still looking to acquire property.

One of these projects is planned in Gundelfingen near Freiburg im Breisgau and the German newspaper “Der Spiegel” just recently reported about the project2 which has 22 apartments with an average of 25 m2 surface each. Furthermore, these buildings will be equipped with common rooms and shared kitchens. The members of the renters’ union want to realise a housing project that is respecting ecological standards, is socially inclusive and gives them the possibility to access sufficient living space and to create a community.

Rents vary but are generally below the average rent on the German housing market. In the housing community “Wurze” in Leipzig, for example, where 20 people live together the rent is at 2,12€/m2, and in the community “Conserve” 35 people live on 1100 m2 paying 4,84/m2 (compared to an average of 8,86 €/m2 in Dresden). In addition to that, every renter pays around 10 – 20 cents/m2 into the solidary fund helping to establish new projects.

Several projects have “solidarity” rents: the renters distribute the costs according to their means. In the housing project, NiKa in Frankfurt for example residents pay rent according to their income.

Grün8, a housing community in Freiburg has provided housing for two former homeless women and their children.

As the normal housing market is very strained in Germany and housing is less and less affordable this model provides a successful tool to access housing and protect tenants from evictions. Several projects have been created by long-term residents to oppose the owner’s plan to sell the house they have been living in to big investors.

There has been growing interest in these projects in several other European countries as well: in the Netherlands, the association VrijCoop is applying the Syndikats-Model to the Dutch situation. In Spain, there are several recent initiatives to do the same, as, for instance, the housing project La Borda in Barcelona is a multi-generation house in an old factory site with living space for 55 people and common rooms.

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