It is the cooperative and collective housing that led me to the social and solidarity economy (SSE), the economy of the Commons, and the Ecological and Social Transition. At the time a student in socio-economics, I lived the beginning of my adult life at La Ciguë, a student housing cooperative that offers affordable housing to some 700 students spread over a dozen buildings in Geneva.
This is where I discovered collective life, interconnected communities and decentralization, since each place is self-organizing, in dialogue with the others. The organization of life and decision-making in this type of housing is done in a federalist way, “Swiss style”: there are organizations at the level of the flatshare, the building, and the cooperative. And all these levels are organizations that want to be managed by the collective and for the collective.
… the aftermath of the adventure
Subsequently, with friends who were my roommates at The Ciguë, we decided to extend the adventure by first creating an association allowing us to continue living together in precarious housing, by organizing events with the rest of the neighborhood: this is the adventure of Ithaca, which is still ongoing!
In a second step, we were able to create an Archipel housing cooperative, with the help of the Township. In Geneva, the law allows only 5% (instead of 20%) of the equity of the total cost of the construction project when it is carried out by a housing cooperative, with in addition a possible loan without interest rate by the Canton for these own funds. It is a huge lever that allows access to shared property with low incomes! It “simply” takes time, energy and imagination to carry out the project, accompanied by architects.
Why cooperative and collective housing?
Thinking from the beginning of an architectural project of a 7-storey building – with a real experience of collective life and a lot of collective intelligence – was the opportunity to put into practice desires and dreams: bio-based materials including a wood structure, reuse of materials such as recycled concrete, etc.
While waiting for the construction of the Archipel building, which will be habitable in 2024/25, a good part of us live at the Codha, Geneva’s largest participatory housing cooperative, with 17 buildings inhabited or under construction. We are about 250 people living in my building, including many children. I live with my 7 roommates in what is called a “cluster”. No, it does not refer to the c****… it is a type of architectural typology that anticipates collective life in design. Thus families or individuals live in a “suite” – one or more rooms with a toilet, a sink. And a number of suites are connected to common areas, namely a large kitchen, a living room and an “office” area.
Thus, we collectively have more space available, and we use less overall if it is reported to the person. This makes more than sense in view of the impact of housing (grey energy, heating, etc.) on the climate crisis. The icing on the cake: a Cooperative housing in Geneva is 17% to 48% lower than the traditional market, regardless of size and rental regime (OCSTAT). One wonders where this difference goes…!
At the scale of my building, we share cars, a laundry room, an object library, a DIY workshop, a common room, gardens, our roof …
At the scale of the district, the building offers a whole series of arcades of social and solidarity economy activities that animate social life: the headquarters of APRÈS (network of the SSE) and its tiers-lieu L’ESPACE, a participatory grocery store, the offices of the local currency Monnaie Léman, a bar with dozens of local craft beers and a concert hall, a seasonal and vegetarian restaurant, etc.
In conclusion, from my experience of socio-economic and inhabitant analysis, cooperative housing makes it possible to combine “living well” and “ecology”: with “less” we have “more”, together. Isn’t life beautiful? In any case, I feel really lucky to experience this, and I hope that these few lines will make other people want to embark on the adventure, or to share their own experiences of cooperative and collective housing, elsewhere in Europe.
Coordination of APRÈS, Geneva network of the SSE (apres-ge.ch)
Co-president of the local currency Monnaie Léman (monnaie-leman.org)
Co-founder of the participatory grocery store Le Nid (lenid.ch)
- Ciguë website (https://cigue.ch/en/)
- Podcast COMMUNS (in French) “More than living: cooperating to change our neighborhoods” – Interview with Eric Rossiaud:
building of the Codha. Credits : Codha
Neighbourghoud Festival r “Plein air à Voltaire” organized at the Ciguë. Credits : Jérémie Lasnier