Version classiqueVersion mobile

Designing Sustainable Urban Futures

Marius Albiez
Gerhard Banse
Kenyon C. Lindeman
et al.

3. Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Cities


Abundant Potential for Sustainable Housing and Neighbourhood Development

Anja Szypulski

Texte intégral

1 Introduction

1During the last 30 years the number of co-housing projects in various countries has increased in response to major societal trends. The demographic changes include aging populations, decreasing household sizes, and more diverse family structures, which are reflected by a growing demand for new dwelling types. Co-housing projects offer new qualities of life, and therefore, are growing in relevance for urban development and housing.

2Co-housing projects are mainly characterized by a focus on community: “Residents share a vision of community-oriented living” (Id22 2012, p. 17) which is based on community activities, mutual help and a reliable neighbourhood. The residents share common spaces and facilities, making the idea of community visible. Most of the projects are characterized by a cooperative planning and management of the projects, reflecting the growing interest in communication, self-organisation and participation (cf. Mensch 2011; Szypulski 2008).

3Due to family structure and demographic changes, co-housing is increasingly appealing to older as well as younger people, for families as well as singles. Co-housing projects attract people that have consciously chosen a mutually supportive and cooperative lifestyle in various degrees. Often, these projects include a mixture of different types of households, income levels, and cultural backgrounds.

4A wide range of projects have been developed during the last years. They are organised in different forms: projects for homeowners in building communities, rental projects in cooperation with municipal housing companies, and as traditional and new cooperatives and more market-oriented models realised by housing companies. The projects touch different aspects: ecological building, affordability, different user groups, multigenerational housing, women’s projects, intercultural projects, and integrative housing for people with and without disabilities (cf. Id22 2012).

5This article examines the potential of co-housing for sustainable housing and neighbourhood development. It also looks at the development of co-housing projects in Germany, discusses the new qualities of housing these projects provide, and identifies obstacles and barriers in the realisation of co-housing projects. Finally, the article discusses the implications for urban housing policy.

2 Development of Co-housing Projects in Germany

6Motives and objectives of co-housing projects are manifold. The study of Joachim Brech identifies the first co-housing projects in the 1970s as experiments that wanted to change social life and society (cf. Brech 1999). During the 1980s the number of cohousing projects increased and the projects were characterized by an orientation towards special user groups (e.g. single parents, families). Beside the community orientation, many projects also pursued a programmatic objective such as ecological housing. Most of the projects during this period were realised by families as homeowners. For the 1990s Micha Fedrowitz observes an emphasis on projects for the elderly (“not alone and not in a senior home”; cf. Fedrowitz 2010, 2011). Since 2000, many co-housing projects have been following a multigenerational approach.

7How many co-housing projects exist in Germany? It is difficult to find an answer to this question but based on present publications a first approach is possible. The ongoing research of Fedrowitz records a total of 501 realised co-housing projects in Germany and about another 100 projects in different stages of planning (cf. Fedrowitz 2011). More than 50% of these projects were realised between 2000 and 2010. Considering the difficulties of this kind of survey it can be assumed that the number of cohousing projects is considerably higher and has increased especially during the last ten years. Fedrowitz also shows regional differences in the spatial distribution of co-housing projects with a concentration in Hamburg, Berlin, Munich and North Rhine-Westphalia (cf. Fedrowitz 2011).

8Looking at the legal form of co-housing projects, it can be recognized that during recent years a great variety of organisational structures have emerged (e.g. cooperation with municipal housing companies, traditional and new cooperatives, and building of communities). According to the study of Fedrowitz, about one third of the cohousing projects are organized as cooperatives (cf. Fedrowitz 2011). Housing cooperatives are characterized by self-organisation, self-determination and the principle of solidarity. For many co-housing projects the legal form of a cooperative reflects the idea of community betterment.

9In 2011 the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development started a research project on “multigenerational co-housing projects in the legal form of a registered cooperative”. Multigenerational projects are recognized as a sub-category of co-housing projects if at least three generations (children, parents, grandparents who are not necessarily relatives) live together. The research focuses on the relevance of co-housing projects in the form of a cooperative in terms of size, structure and regional distribution. As the legal form of cooperative housing projects varies, three types of cooperatives were defined for the collection and analysis of data: traditional cooperatives, newly established individual cooperatives, and housing projects as part of so-called “roof-cooperatives” (Dachgenossenschaften) (cf. Fedrowitz et al. 2012).

10The survey showed an increase in the number of realised projects. In total 131 cohousing projects were found in the legal form of a cooperative (1988-2011). 106 projects were realised in the period from 2000-2011 (2000-2006: 5 to 8 realised projects a year, 2007-2011: 10 to 13 realised projects a year). This confirms the growing interest in co-housing projects during the last ten years, particularly in the period between 2007 and 2011. The majority of projects consist of 21 to 50 housing units and were realised in new buildings. The survey also shows regional differences in the relevance of cooperative projects: main areas are Hamburg (27) and Berlin (11), Hessen (13) and North Rhine-Westphalia (13) (cf. Fedrowitz et al. 2012).

11The increasing relevance of living in multigenerational housing is reflected in the high frequency these projects have among the total of cooperative projects, as the survey proves. Between 2000 and 2011, a total of 57 out of 106 projects, which amounts to more than 50%, followed a multigenerational approach. During that period the number of multigenerational projects increased considerably: from 12 projects between 2000 and 2005 to 45 projects between 2006 and 2011 (cf. Fedrowitz et al. 2012).

12Considering the current figures and follow-up surveys, a further increase in the number of co-housing projects in all legal forms can be expected in the future, especially those projects with a multigenerational approach. Still, only a small percentage of people are currently living in co-housing projects. The emergence of the co-housing landscape in Germany (and Europe) reflects that co-housing projects are more than a new market segment or a niche, but also an indicator for housing needs that cannot be realised in regular housing types. Regarding urban development, co-housing is currently not of quantitative but of qualitative significance.

3 Enhanced Qualities of Housing are Required – Co-housing Projects Provide Answers to Current Questions

13Co-housing projects can provide answers to current social problems and future questions, and often offer new qualities of life. These are social, ecological and participatory qualities of planning, building processes, and daily life. Most of the projects represent high ecological standards and high quality architecture. Furthermore, co-housing projects have considerably contributed to the development of a new participative planning culture and a new generation of cooperatives as mentioned before (cf. Behrens/Bura 2002; Breckner 1999; Wohnbund 2013). This article focuses on three aspects: providing housing suitable for the elderly, affordable housing, and the potential of co-housing for neighbourhood development.

3.1 Housing Suitable for the Elderly

14Due to changes in family structures and demographics, multigenerational housing is increasingly appealing to older as well as younger people. Multigenerational projects provide benefits, especially on the level of everyday help between residents. The elderly and families with children especially benefit from these. Beside multigenerational projects, many co-housing initiatives for the elderly have developed during the last twenty years.

15One result of our case studies in the formerly mentioned was that any additional care services, particularly for the elderly, are usually not covered by other residents, but provided by professionals. In the multigenerational project, Muehlbachhaus, the residents report positive experiences with mutual everyday support (e. g. shopping) but being in need of care, the residents work with a mobile care service. If the demand for care grows, the project intends to use one of the housing units for a nurse. (cf. Fedrowitz et al. 2012).

16Nevertheless, other investigations show that neighbourly help can postpone a stay in a nursing home. Since multigenerational projects have usually realised barrier-free buildings, they offer good conditions for the elderly, as well as for families with children (cf. Fedrowitz et al. 2012).

  • 1 Cf.

17The multigenerational project Amaryllis eG and the “sister project” Villa Emma eG in Bonn are excellent examples of the benefits of co-housing for the elderly and for people in need of assistance. Both projects are realised as new cooperatives. After the realisation of Amaryllis; a group of residents decided to work on another project in the same neighbourhood for people in need of assistance. Consequently, Villa Emma eG was founded in 2011. This co-housing project offers eleven barrier-free housing units suitable for wheelchairs, common rooms, and a guest room. 13 residents (22 to 90 years), some of them in need of assistance, live in the project. A 24-hour care service, located in Villa Emma eG,1 is used by the residents and is also available to the neighbourhood (cf. Fedrowitz et al 2012).

  • 2 Cf. too.

18The founders of Villa Emma understand their project as a civil initiative of the neighbourhood. The engagement of the residents of the neighbourhood is an important element of daily life in the project. This initiative can also be seen as a support for the elderly in the Amaryllis project in case they are in need of special care. Another important aspect was to develop a care service point in the neighbourhood (cf. Fedrowitz et al. 20122).

3.2 Provision of Affordable Housing

19In view of social polarisation, gentrification processes, and rising rents in the cities, many initiatives are placing value on the provision of affordable housing in the form of rental projects or cooperatives. Furthermore, the combination of private ownership and rental units owned by investors, housing companies, and cooperatives enable social mixes within a co-housing project. But to provide affordable housing, many projects are dependent on funding. Cooperative ownership structures offer a non-profit compromise between renting and owning. In newly-built cooperatives the realization of co-housing projects requires a sustainable amount of equity of each member. Therefore, problems of financing are often mentioned as obstacles for the foundation of a cooperative (cf. Wohnbund 2013).

20In some of the co-housing projects, the idea of community leads to an internal solidarity concerning the financial aspects. In the case studies we found elements of solidarity-based financing in two projects: Amaryllis (Bonn) and Muehlbachhaus (Schorndorf). Both projects established a fund to help the residents who could not afford the compulsory contribution of capital for the cooperative. The cooperative signed a non-interest loan agreement with the residents concerned (cf. Fedrowitz et al. 2012).

21Additionally, some of the projects find new solutions to enable social mixes. In Schorndorf, individual homeownership is combined with cooperative rental units. The greater financial resources of the homeowners were partly used to enhance the ecological standard of the project and were an indispensable prerequisite for the realisation of this project (cf. Fedrowitz et al. 2012).

3.3 Development of Neighbourhoods

22In recent years, the positive effects of co-housing have also been discussed in the context of social urban development. Active political efforts are subjects of these discussions, as well as the more implicit social and cultural contributions of co-housing to urban development. Co-housing projects not only affect the living and housing situations of the residents, but also influence the surrounding neighbourhoods (cf. Behrens/Bura 2002; Id22 2012).

23Many co-housing projects interact with surrounding neighbourhoods and demonstrate the potential for sustainable neighbourhoods instead of social exclusion (cf. Szypulski 2008, p. 56). They provide infrastructure, and share common facilities with the residents of the neighbourhood. Co-housing projects can be seen as reliable partners in urban development processes, and as an important element of a forward-looking strategy for neighbourhood development. Moreover, due to the engagement of the residents of the projects, self-organisation and self-help for neighbourhood development can often be assumed (cf. Id22 2012; Wohnbund 2013).

4 Barriers and Their Implications for Housing Policies

24During the last years, a variety of support structures for co-housing projects have been developed, often by housing policy actors (e.g. Wohnbund e.V., Forum Gemeinschaftliches Wohnen) and municipalities. These initiatives are focused on information and networking. Moreover, a professional network of engaged experts has emerged and a couple of cities have established strategies and instruments to support co-housing (e.g. Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt) (cf. Schuetter 2010). Positioning for further projects has thus been improved, especially in the field of information and the establishment of contacts though barriers still exist.

4.1 Support by Local Authorities

25The activities of municipalities in the field of co-housing take various forms. Some are developing first approaches; other municipalities establish advice centres for cohousing projects (e.g. Dortmund, Frankfurt am Main). These can be seen as basic conditions to promote co-housing. Project initiatives and developers as well as investors are provided with information, and a network between groups, other relevant stakeholders and competent authorities is initiated.

26Cities like Freiburg and Tuebingen have adopted co-housing as a main principle of their land allocation and as an essential element of urban development strategies (cf. Kraemer/Kuhn 2009). But apart from these exceptions, systematic municipal support of co-housing projects is only weakly developed. A lack of support during project conceptualization is often reported from co-housing projects (cf. Fedrowitz et al. 2012).

27The willingness of institutions, especially banks and local authorities, to support co-housing projects often emerges only after a successful realisation (cf. Fedrowitz et al. 2012). Many projects therefore have to develop complex financial concepts including funding and elements of solidarity-based financing. Apart from a few exceptions, the housing sector has not been very engaged in co-housing until now.

4.2 Funding

28In the initial phase of project development, the financial risks for the initiators are particularly high. Small amounts of financial support at this stage are highly efficient in encouraging the group. Assistance during the early phases of the project with small funding can enable the formation of stable groups. In Germany, there are few funding opportunities that include the promotion of project development. Some federal states also support the establishment of common spaces as part of social housing programs (e.g. Hamburg, North-Rhine Westphalia) (cf. Berghaeuser 2008; Fedrowitz et al. 2012).

29Referring cooperative co-housing projects, promotion of social housing should be available for cooperatives in all federal states. The promotion of newly established cooperatives can contribute to a social mixture and an inter-generational focus on cohousing and neighbourhoods. Furthermore, loans from banks ought to be available for newly established cooperatives and be secured by state guarantees, if necessary (cf. Fedrowitz et al. 2012).

4.3 Access to Land

30Research on co-housing shows that availability of land is the main barrier when developing a new co-housing project. Due to the specific development process and timing, it is usually not possible for co-housing initiatives to acquire land within the usual tender period. The allocation of plots normally depends on the price. This procedure neglects the social, ecological, and democratic qualities of co-housing projects. Support by local authorities in identifying plots of land or existing buildings is therefore considered to be particularly important. The reservation of plots for co-housing projects during the phase of conceptualization or subsidized supply of land would be of great help. As mentioned before, some cities have adopted co-housing as a main principle of their land allocation – but what about implementation in a background of market-oriented competition where investors possess much more financial (and political) resources?

5 Conclusion

31While the experiences of co-housing projects have already been well documented in different publications (cf. Ginski et al. 2012; Id22 2012; McCamant/Durrett 1989; Vestbro 2010; Wohnbund 2013), there is a lack of research in this field. co-housing is a transdisciplinary field of study that addresses complex issues of sustainable urban development, housing policy, and questions of civil society and engagement.

32The last decade has shown the great diversity of co-housing initiatives and how they address important issues. Despite existing studies of co-housing we still know very little about the motives and expectations of the residents; how they change over the years; how to organize the management of a project after realisation; and how cohousing projects contribute to their surroundings. Though studies have been published on local strategies, there is no systematic overview of local strategies and instruments that have been implemented to tackle this issue. It would also be beneficial to learn from other European countries and establish systematic networks to link fragmented national knowledge and experiences.

33Contemporary debates show a rising awareness that some cities in Germany have to deal with privatisation and gentrification processes, as well as rising rents, leading to the challenge of providing affordable housing. As we have seen, co-housing initiatives make substantial contributions to innovative housing with regard to attractive architecture, ecological and social qualities, and affordability. But, “co-housing groups are often overpowered by market forces and housing policies” (Id22 2012, p. 31). To foster innovative approaches, a commitment to residents, and social responsibility in the provision of affordable housing, we need to (re) establish a non-profit housing sector.



Behrens, T.; Bura, J. (2002): Neue Wohnungsbaugenossenschaften in Hamburg. In: Stattbau Hamburg (ed.): Wohnprojekte, Baugemeinschaften, Soziale Stadtentwicklung. Das Stattbaubuch. Hamburg, pp. 20–24 (in German)

Berghaeuser, M. (2008): Wie Bayern, Berlin, Hamburg und Co. gemeinschaftliches Wohnen fördern. In: Schader-Stiftung; Stiftung Trias (eds.): Raus aus der Nische – rein in den Markt! Herten, pp. 95–108 (in German)

Brech, J. (1999): Ein Wandel im Wohnen in der Zeit des Umbruchs. Eine Studie zu Neuen Wohnformen. In: Wüstenrot-Stiftung (ed.): Neue Wohnformen im internationalen Vergleich. Stuttgart a. o., pp. 81–160 (in German)

Breckner, I. (1999): Wohnprojekte. Luxus für wenige oder gesellschaftlicher Bedarf? In: Info für gemeinschaftliches und selbstbestimmtes Wohnen, Vol. 4, pp. 1–2 (in German)

Fedrowitz, M. (2010): Gemeinschaft in der Stadt. Das Modell des Mehrgenerationenwohnens. In: Informationskreis für Raumplanung e.V. (2010). RaumPlanung, Heft 149. Dortmund, pp. 75–80 (in German)

Fedrowitz, M. (2011): Gemeinschaftliches Wohnen in Deutschland. In: Nationalatlas aktuell 9 (09/2011). Leipzig (IfL – Leibniz-Institut für Länderkunde). – URL: (in German)

Fedrowitz, M.; Kiehle, W.; Szypulski, A. (2012): Mehrgenerationen-Wohnprojekte in der Rechtsform der eingetragenen Genossenschaft eG. BBSR Forschungsvorhaben. Unveröffentlichter Abschlussbericht. Bochum. Short Version. – URL: false (in German)

Ginski, S.; Koller, B.; Schmitt, G. (2012): IBA Berlin 2020. Besondere Wohnformen. Auftraggeber: Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung und Umwelt Berlin. Aachen.–URL: (in German)

Kraemer, S.; Kuhn, G. (2009): Städte und Baugemeinschaften. Stuttgart a.o. (in German)

Id22 – Institute for Creative Sustainability: Experimentcity (2012): CO Housing Cultures. Handbook for Self-organized, Community-oriented and Sustainable Housing. Berlin

McCamant, K.; Durrett, C. (1989): Cohousing. A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves. Berkeley

Mensch, K. (2011): Gemeinschaftliches Wohnen – der Versuch einer Definition. In: Wohnbund e.V. (ed.): Perspektiven für Wohnprojekte. München, pp 8–11 (wohnbund-informationen, 01/2011) (in German)

Schader-Stiftung; Stiftung Trias (eds.) (2008): Raus aus der Nische – rein in den Markt! Herten (in German)

Schuetter, J. B. (2010): Handlungsmöglichkeiten und –notwendigkeiten von Kommunen im Umgang mit Wohnprojekten. Diplomarbeit. Dortmund (Technische Universität Dortmund) (in German)

Stattbau Hamburg (2002) (ed.): Wohnprojekte Baugemeinschaften Soziale Stadtentwicklung. Das Stattbau-Buch. Hamburg (in German)

Szypulski, A. (2008): Gemeinsam bauen – gemeinsam wohnen. Wohneigentumsbildung durch Selbsthilfe. Wiesbaden (in German)

Vestbro, D. U. (2010): Living Together – Cohousing Ideas and Realities around the World. Stockholm

Wohnbund e.V. (ed.) (2013): Wir wohnen anders! Neue Wohnungsgenossenschaften gestalten Lebensräume und finden dabei Antworten auf gesellschaftliche Zukunftsfragen. Hannover (in German)


1 Cf.

2 Cf. too.

Table des illustrations

Fichier image/jpeg, 285k


Dr.; Dortmund University of Technology, Department of Urban-and Regional Sociology, Dortmund, Germany;


Open access

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search