Started in 1989 and now made up of 107 apartment buildings in Germany, a network of housing projects called Mietshäuser Syndikat, have locked themselves into a structure that allows almost complete autonomy for each housing project, with a couple of exceptions: the building can not be sold or condo-ized without the permission of a central organization.
This form of “some rights reserved” housing provides more security for the tenants from market-based rent fluctuations and evictions. It also provides a structure and advice network for those wanting to build tenant housing associations that will own and control their buildings over a long term.
In the United States, I have seen people drawn to the urban land trust structure for some of these advantages. This German model has the advantage of a fixed, and low, fee structure (2.5 cents per square foot per month) and a transparent and very limited set of rights reserved for the central entity. In this way, the central entity is deliberately limited to a small function to keep autonomy in the housing projects themselves.
I have been interested in restricting new debt being put a member building, but that is a step further than this model does. In the case of Foundation Housing, the benefits are allocated to non-profit use, either by accumulating assets or lower-than-market usage fees. So this German system is a step in these directions, and given their rapid uptake, a successful step.
I hope this ideas spreads!
Thank you to Ben Woosley for pointing this out to me.
Another interesting project is this coop from Milan, whose name means “to give home”: http://www.darcasa.org/chi-siamo/about-us/
With 8 million € in assets (half funding from members, half from banks) and 9 employees, they manage to provide around 300 apartments at advantageous conditions. Where public housing fails, they manage to renovate houses and to reinforce the social fabric of their streets, with prices which make the enterprise sustainable.
They own about half of the apartments, but nowadays they mostly expand by being assigned entire buildings by municipalities. In Italy there are millions of empty apartments, which don’t manage to meet the demand, as well as plenty of abandoned public buildings.
Thank you for pointing out this successful project as well. It seems these apartments are managed more centrally– is there any built-in way to try to keep the overhead down? (in this case, maybe it is the number of employees to asset ratio or something).