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The inhabitants cooperatives in Europe: a third way to popular housing

Friday 30 May 2008

This international conference addresses local administrators, practitioners, researchers, academics, inhabitants association and students who are seeking to understand the developments and challenges involved in the public problem of “popular housing”, as well as the answers that local European and American organisations are coming up with.

Cooperation corresponds to a new form of association that aims to produce and use savings, to eradicate a number of intermediaries and to take steps, first collectively then individually, to appropriate the jointly owned profits.” Ernest Brelay, Nouveau dictionnaire d’économie politique. 1893 .

As the DALO law (enforceable housing right) becomes operational, the French state’s specialised departments, as well as the regions, local authorities and “organising authorities” in general, faced as they are with a widening gap between supply and demand for accessible housing at different local levels, should not overlook a solution of this kind, likely to provide a credible alternative to the on-going shortage of affordable housing. (The Lyons region provides one example, with a waiting list of 44.000 people requesting social housing without success.) This international conference addresses local administrators, practitioners, researchers, academics, inhabitants association and students who are seeking to understand the developments and challenges involved in the public problem of “popular housing”, as well as the answers that local European and American organisations are coming up with.

Context and issues

In 1998, the Latium region voted unanimously across the political spectrum to adopt a regional law that legalises all occupations of public buildings abandoned by their owners (municipalities, housing organizations, etc.). The practice of residential reappropriation of public buildings left vacant and in poor initial condition by their owners thus became legal. The cooperative members renovate the housing area, whilst the owner (often the municipality) uses a sustainable development approach (installation of solar heating, systems for collecting rainwater, use of biodegradable paint, etc.) to renovate the collective areas. Families and single people with very low incomes, often victims of eviction, thus have access to decent housing, mostly located in city centres (in Rome, for example). This residential reappropriation approach, based on a modest financial investment (from –30% to –50% of free market prices) as well as a substantial investment of “human capital”, also serves to turn a building that is unfit for habitation into eco-housing. To give an example, around 200 calls for bids to residential reappropriation cooperatives are currently being processed in Rome with the support of a special municipal technical department ( Riqualificazione urbana). This shows that the approach has great potential in Rome, a city with the equivalent of 60,000 public uninhabited lodgings.

Alongside this residential reappropriation approach, a new movement developed in the early 2000s: autoconstruction cooperatives (in Perugia, Milan, Naples, Rome, Bologna, Ravenne, etc.). A multi-cultural project is used to offer middle class people with little or no access to credit as well as immigrant communities a highly innovative form of social access to property . Autoconstruction cooperatives provide access to atypical financial and banking institutions, such as GEPAFIN (SEM in the Umbrian region) and the Banca etica (ethic bank), whose role is not limited to simply granting mortgage loans, but extends to providing support throughout the property projects set up by cooperatives.

Local Italian organisations are thus the European precursors of a renewed form of cooperation (in Latium, Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna). However, similar cooperatives are now appearing in a great many European cities (Brussels, Rotterdam, London, Madrid, Berlin, Copenhagen, etc.). They are at different stages of development depending on the city. It is also interesting to take a look at what’s happening in the North American continent, with the major cooperative movement that was born in Quebec during the 1970s, and the highly innovative and more recent community landship in the USA. We should also not forget that inhabitants cooperatives sprang from the urban protest movements initiated in South American cities. One example is the very dynamic mutual aid cooperative in Buenos Aires, El Ceibo .

International Conference Programme

Friday 30 May 2008, PRUNIER Amphitheatre (ENTPE)


8.45- 9.15- ENTPE welcome.

9.15- Welcome by Philippe Sardin. ENTPE Director

9.30- 10.00 - Presentation of the issues: Yann Maury. Political Science PhD. ENTPE.

10.00/11.00 - First round table
Local organisations and inhabitants cooperatives in Italy
  • Ottavio Tozzo. President of the NGO ALISEI. Milan.
  • Arch. Marina Vecchiarelli. Reappropriation department. City of Rome.
  • Renato Rizzo. Vivere 2000 cooperative. Rome.
  • Damiano Stufara. Umbrian region. Coordinator of Italian regions for housing policies.
  • Massimo Pasquini. Unione inquilini.

Speakers: Maurizio Crocco. Archabout & University of Sapienza, Rome & Yann Maury (ENTPE). Simultaneous interpretation (FR/ITA)

11.00- 12.00 – Second round table

Mutual aid cooperatives in Argentina

  • Cristina Lescano. El Ceibo TB cooperative (Buenos Aires).
  • Cristina Reynals. Professor. Instituto de la Vivienda de la provincia in Buenos Aires

Speakers: Yves Cabannes. Professor. University College London. DPU. (AGFE-ONU) & Cesare Ottolini (IAI). Simultaneous interpretation (FR/SP)

12.00-12.45 Contribution by Laurent Arnaud. “Alternative and sustainable materials: an overview”

ENTPE (LGM) & Director of Grands ateliers de l’Isle d’Abeau .

12.45-13.45- Break


13.45 - 14.30- Third round table

Self-building in London and residential occupation in Rotterdam

  • John Gillespie. Development Director. Community self-building agency. London.
  • Peter Blakeney & Christine Schoffler. Poortgebouw cooperative. Rotterdam.

Speakers: Nicolas Bernard. Professor. Brussels law faculty & Hans Tor Andersen. University of Copenhagen. Department of urban geography. Simultaneous interpretation (FR/EN)

14.30-15.15- Fourth round table

Inhabitants cooperatives in Quebec and Community Land Trust in the USA: an anti-subprime

model for North America?

  • Marie Bouchard. UQUAM. Professor. Research chair for Canada in social economy
  • Yves Cabannes. Professor. University College London. DPU.

Speakers: Jean Louis Laville CNAM. IRESCO & François Ménard. PUCA

15h15-15.30- Break

15.30-16.30- Fifth round table

France: what lies in the future for inhabitants cooperatives?

  • A representative of the Fondation de France
  • Stéphane Gruet. Social and participative inhabitants cooperatives. Toulouse.
  • Bertile Darragon (Habicoop Lyon)
  • Marie Odile Novelli. Vice-president of the Rhône Alpes region.
  • A representative of CNFPT
  • A representative of CGPC (MEDAD)
  • Michelle Arnaudies. (DIIESES)
  • Laurent Arnaud. ENTPE.GAIA.

Speakers: Nicolas Bernard (Belgium) & Renato Rizzo (Italy) & Marie Bouchard (Quebec)

16.30- Conference scientific conclusion

  • Jean Louis Laville. Professor at CNAM & CNRS. Iresco. Paris

Practical information:

Address: ENTPE, rue Maurice Audin, 69518 Vaulx -en –Velin, France

Getting there: from the Part Dieu station, direct access on line C3, hôtel de ville de Vaulx-en-Velin stop (30mn);

from Lyon–St Exupéry airport, take the shuttle to Part-Dieu then line C3


  • Participation in the conference is free of charge subject to availability
  • Pre-registration is required: give your last name, first name, job title, address, email address, telephone number to:

Lunch: lunch is provided onsite, subject to availably. Tickets are on sale at reception.

  • Jacques Theys DRAST-CPVST
  • Yann Maury. Political Science PhD. ENTPE.MEDAD.
  • Jean Louis Laville. CNRS. IRESCO.CNAM.
  • Yves Cabannes. Chair. Development Planning Unit. University College London.
  • Cesare Ottolini. International Alliance of Inhabitants
  • Nicolas Bernard. Professor. Brussels law faculty
  • Maurizio Crocco. Arch. prof. University of Sapienza, Rome.
  • Hans Tor Andersen. Univ of Copenhagen. Dep. of urban geography
  • Marie Bouchard. UQAM. Quebec. Chair of social and solidarity economy
  • Patrice Cieutat. Fondation de France.
  • Bertile Darragon. Habicoop.
  • François Ménard. PUCA. MEDAD.
  • Nadia Bensaïd & Patricia Vornich. Rhône Alpes region. (dir. of urban policies)
  • Emilie Touchard. ANAH. Paris.
  • M.M Beaufils & Billiotte CNFPT. Grenoble & Pôle National Habitat
  • Michèle Arnaudies . DIIESES.
  • Laurent Arnaud. Grands ateliers de l’Isle d’Abeau.
  • Laurence Lemouzy. Local Authorities.

The international meeting focus :

The questions of research and the lectures could be divided around four main axes.

Definition and classification of the different kind of “cooperatives of inhabitants”. How the public and private actors (advocacy coalitions) grant their respective interests ? How settles the question of the access to the bank credit for low incomes people ? Credit access to ethic bank changes the rules and allows not reliable populations to be included in the trade exchanges. The real-estate crisis of August, 2007 in the USA, consecutive to the uncontrolled use of mortgage loans at variable rates ( the "Subprime mortgage", category of real-estate loans reserved for the poor workers) can be usefully here put in prospect.

Cooperatives bring actual answers to the treatment of the unhealthy environment. Notably in the former and historical centres of cities. The question here is more about the final cost of the social housing. What is the best way to create affordable housing for populations which are excluded from the housing market? The cooperatives bring significant elements of answer and they deserve to be analysed in a fine way. The direct intervention of the co-workers in the restoration or the construction of housing transforms the relation and the nature of the realized technical work, its cost, but also the multiple assessments. It is necessary to clarify that in a step of sustainable development, a particular care is brought to the requalification of the built : solar well energy, devices of recovery rainwater, resort to the biodegradable materials. In the end in a context of shortage, can we there consider cooperatives, as tools of the abundance become ?

This workshop deals with the inhabitants concerned by the cooperatives. Is it possible to mix different populations ( local and foreigner people) in such a project? … A rested glance must be concerned the public and the populations aimed by these innovative and alternate devices of housing, which involve autochthonous and immigrant populations. The tensions updated between communities are regulated here within a collective project of environment, having vocation to become a common shared good. Besides, the question of the relation Owner / tenant is transformed. The co-workers, inhabitants' community, become a collective actor, in front of a public or private owner.

What is the place cooperatives can take within the European Welfare states, besides in full alteration ? Besides, they have a role to be played in an economic dimension and towards the employment in particular. What are the necessary and sufficient conditions allowing to make the cooperatives of inhabitants, a status of simple window pass of opportunity, even illegal object (squats) in that of the object justifiable of the public housing policies? Besides, cooperatives have a role to be played in an economic dimension and towards the employment in particular. For illustration, the Italian and Argentine cooperatives of inhabitants demonstrate from this point of view a capacity to spread out and to endow their members of technical and professional skills marketable in the direction of more classic reliable customers. Notably in the field of the technical performances connected to the eco-housing.

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