"Case 7 from Germany Freie Scholle (Free Land), Bielefeld"
42 Case 7 from Germany: Freie Scholle (Free Land), Bielefeld I. Matters to be highlighted as best practice Holistic approach to co-operative “decent living”. Democratic membership rights. Education, training and information of members, advice for the aged on housing and other matters II. Portrait of the co-operative society Name of Co-operative: Freie Scholle, Bielefeld Type of Co-operative: Housing co-operative society of tenants Year of Formation: 1911 Address: Jöllenbecker Straße 123, D – 33613 Bielefeld Tel.: +49 (0) 521 9888 0 E-mail: email@example.com Person to contact: Thomas Möller, Michael Seibt Number of members: 7,240 Number of dwellings: 5,006 Decision-making bodies: Meeting of delegates elected in 11 voting dis- tricts Board of directors Supervisory committee Extended self-administration: Members’ councils in 11 voting districts, Section meetings, House meetings. Affiliation to federations and other organisations: • Auditing Federation of housing co-operatives, Nordrhein-Westphalen, VdW NRW, • Marketing initiative of German housing co-operatives, • Association “Living in Co-operatives” e.V. 43 III. Description of the case Up until today, restructuring of a city together with its inhabitants is not a nor- mal routine process. The housing co-operative society Freie Scholle in Bielefeld, which manages 5,006 dwellings, has developed a broad range of services around housing, practices consequent member participation in restructuring their living quarters at Albert-Schweitzer road for several years with great success. Background information The origins of the Freie Scholle co-operative society Bielefeld date back to 1911, when a workers’ sports club was refused to use a gym. 23 members of the sportsclub decided to form a co-operative and to build their own gym. One year later, the number of members had reached 400 and the co-operators started to build their first houses next to the gym and in 1914 their first settlement (Nied- ermühlendorf). About 230 of the houses of Freie Scholle were built between 1950 and 1970 in the inner city of Bielefeld. Most of the 3,000 dwellings were 3-room apartments with up to 60 m2 surface. In the end of the 1990s there was an increasing de- mand for barrier-free flats. Furthermore, the equipment of the apartments no longer met the needs of modern dwellings. Therefore, in 1998, the co-operative society launched a comprehensive programme of modernisation. Decent living in Freie Scholle The overriding goal of the business policy of Freie Scholle and at the same time of the restructuring programme of the settlement “Albert Schweitzer Straße” was the concept of “decent living” in the Freie Scholle. It was developed by the co-operative society in the middle of the 1990s. The aim of this concept is to arrange the flats and the surrounding amenities in a sustainable way so that the needs of all age groups can be met and that lasting neighbourhoods can be promoted and enhanced. This is based on the Freie Scholle philosophy. In view of the fact that all members are full collective own- ers of the co-operative society, Freie Scholle is obliged to promote their interests in a co-operative way. At the same time the co-operative society has to keep in mind that its economic viability as an enterprise has to be ensured without reser- vation at all times. Decent housing is characterised by the age structure of the society’s members. 37 percent of its members are up to 45 years old, 17 percent are between 46 and 60 years old and 46 percent are above 60 years. Due to demographic change, the ageing process of the membership of Freie Scholle will advance. Reduced pres- sure on the housing market does not only require to improve the quality of the dwellings continuously but also to build up a comprehensive offer of accompa- nying services. 44 Freie Scholle puts its concept of decent living into practice by adjusting and modernising the apartments, but also by new construction. The co-operative so- ciety optimises its housing stock in such a way that members can remain in “their” settlement even if their living conditions change, e.g. by starting to raise a family or by death of the partner. While the co-operative society uses its old housing stock mainly for adjustment, it practices full renovation of dwellings built in the 1950s to combine small flats with larger ones suitable for families, where this is possible and reasonable. Its new construction supplements this ac- tivity of Freie Scholle. By demolishing buildings which are no longer economi- cally viable and reconstruction, Freie Scholle can meet demand for barrier-free and family suited apartments and at the same time adjust the quality of its dwell- ings to the higher standards prevailing in the housing market. The co-operative society places great emphasis on improving the infrastructure of its settlements. By establishing two neighbourhood centres in the course of new construction as well as modernisation, the security of the elderly among the inhabitants could be improved and the neighbourhood structures could be strengthened. In 2005, Freie Scholle won the first price of “Werkstatt- Wettbewerbs-Quartier” (workshop-living-quarter-competition) of the Bertels- mann-Foundation and “Kurative Altenhilfe” (care for the elderly) for their con- cept of the neighbourhood centre Meinolf-Straße. An important element of decent housing is to offer support services related to housing. In view of the age structure of membership, advice for senior citizens plays a key role among the services offered. The advisers visit the members and identify the individual need for advice, bring the required measures for adjustment of the dwellings on the way, organise helpers and seek solutions for financing such services. These advisory measures are supplemented by a mobile social services team of the neighbourhood assis- tance association. Its helpers can be called upon to cope with meeting day-to- day needs. In addition, the neighbourhood assistance association has a stock of devices and technical aids which can be borrowed temporarily free of charge. It also offers some guest apartments. Furthermore, the association operates meeting places in the settlements of the co-operative society where persons of all generations can meet. The pro- grammes of these meeting places are organised by the inhabitants themselves on an honorary basis. This allows to make sure that the meeting places satisfy the needs of the respective settlement. These measures are important contributions to members’ satisfaction and contribute to form sustainable neighbourhoods in the settlement. As an offer of services to young and old members equally, Freie Scholle has es- tablished a House-Service-Company. The main task of this company is to pro- vide winter and cleaning services in the settlements. It also offers a range of other services related to dwelling. From 2009 a House-Media-Company will 45 provide cable TV in the flats, other technological aids and the development of multi-media services. On the spot, teams of staff of Freie Scholle contribute greatly to member/tenant satisfaction. In each settlement there is a consierge for minor repairs, an adviser on housing matters and a social worker specialised on advice to the elderly, who can be addressed by the members. This allows to solve problems or conflicts at short notice and in mutual understanding in order to find lasting solutions. From modernisation to reconstruction in Albert-Schweitzer-Straße The concept of decent living offers the salient points for restructuring the hous- ing project Albert-Schweitzer-Straße. At the beginning, measures were restricted to modernisation of flats. In addition to insulation, energy-saving devices and improvement of equipment, the co-operative society restructured small flats in the basement and turned them into larger units suited for families. Three-room apartments in the upper stories were converted into two-room apartments with barrier free bathrooms suited for handicapped persons. In addition, elevators were installed at the outside of the buildings. Yet, the original design and con- struction of the buildings made it impossible to convert apartments into barrier- free housing. In 2000 it came out that the City Government of Bielefeld was interested to re- vive old plans of expanding the Albert-Schweitzer-Straße into a dual carriage highway. These plans met with massive citizens’ resistance and the co-operative society suspended its modernisation programme. At the same time, the co- operative society organised a campaign protesting against plans to make the Al- bert-Schweitzer-Straße a major road with a traffic volume of approx. 12,500 cars per day. When the citizens’ protests stopped the road extension project and the City of Bielefeld changed its plans, the members of the co-operative society decided not to go ahead with their modernisation programme but rather demol- ish the remaining houses and to replace them by barrier-free new construction. This decision was preceded by extensive discussions of the alternatives “con- tinue modernisation” or “demolition and new construction” in tenants’ meetings of the houses concerned as well as in the tenants’ council of the settlement being the highest decision-making body in the self-administration system. The deci- sive argument against modernisation and in favour of reconstruction was that the latter made it possible to turn all apartments into barrier-free space. In addition, Freie Scholle gave all future tenants the right to have a say in the planning of their apartments. A project team conducted a survey and asked members to ex- press their wishes in individual interviews. The results of the survey were care- fully analysed and members’ needs were taken into consideration. This allowed to offer an apartment to the respective member which was tailor-made for the individual housing needs. In this way, a total of 50 co-operative apartments were built. Due to member participation in planning, the dwellings corresponded to members’ requirements 46 but met at the same time the standards of the Bielefeld housing market, so that their long-term use was ascertained. In 2006 Freie Scholle expanded the restructuring programme of the settlement to “City Restructuring Association”. At present 11 new dwellings are planned to- gether with the members and future occupants to supplement the existing houses. From 2008, more supplementary new construction of a total of 74 barrier-free apartments will follow. Restructuring of the site will be completed by erecting an additional neighbourhood centre. In this centre, flats with home care will be contained as well as service points for persons suffering from dementia and other facilities for the neighbourhood. Freie Scholle co-operative society plans to acquire the site of Albert-Schweitzer-Straße from the City of Bielefeld in or- der to be able to improve the quality of life in this settlement even further to- gether with inhabitants. To sum up: It can be stated that members’ satisfaction with their housing condi- tions as well as their identification with their settlement has increased signifi- cantly over the past years. Without doubt, these positive effects have been sup- ported by the joint campaign of inhabitants and the co-operative administration for preserving the settlement in its present form and against expansion of a road through the living quarters. In addition, planning of new construction together with the inhabitants has had the effect that members felt that their capacity of joint owners of their co- operative society was taken into serious consideration. They started to perceive living in a co-operative apartment as their personal matter. In this way, Freie Scholle co-operative society has come a good step closer to reaching its goals of decent living and of maintaining sustainable neighbourhood structures. Special features of Freie Scholle co-operative society – a diversified offer of services to members Continuous growth of the unit for social management 1988 Formation of a branch for advising elderly members 1989 Formation of a savings institution as part of Freie Scholle Services 1990 Formation of Freie Scholle Neighbourhood Help 1996 Introduction of extended self-administration 1999 Formation of Freie Scholle Foundation 2002 Formation of House Service Ltd. 2007 Formation of House Media Ltd. 47 IV. Best Practice regarding the application of co-operative principles Promotion of members’ economic, social and cultural interests Freie Scholle co-operative society applies a holistic approach to member promo- tion. It provides a wide range of services covering members’ needs with regard to housing and beyond, offering all members a chance for “decent living”. The aim is that members feel to be in effect promoted, identify themselves with their co-operative society and are ready to participate actively in its programmes. Education, training and information of members, office-bearers, employees and the general public Freie Scholle co-operative society is a pioneer in offering advice to elderly members regarding their housing problems, enabling old and handicapped members to remain in their apartments as long as possible with the assistance of professional support services. Elected office-bearers and tenants’ representatives in each of the settlements are offered seminars for further training. Communication among members is en- hanced by organising meeting points in each settlement.