The role of collaborative housing initiatives in public value co-creation – a case study of Freiburg, Germany

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  • 1 University of Freiburg, , Germany
  • | 2 Lucerne School of Business, , Switzerland
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This article reviews the role of collaborative housing initiatives in public value co-creation. Collaborative housing initiatives have emerged in response to the growing need for affordable housing and stable neighbourhood networks against the background of shifts in social values, a mobilised society, and austerity measures on the part of the welfare state. This study focuses on investigating citizens’ motives to participate in a collaborative housing initiative and their role in public value co-creation. Qualitative and quantitative data were collected between December 2017 and March 2018 using a mixed-methods approach and analysed. The findings reveal that dimensions related to social sustainability – such as civic engagement, inclusion and integration, and diversity and social mix – enhance people’s attitude towards collaborative housing projects. Practical implications and avenues for future research are discussed.

Abstract

This article reviews the role of collaborative housing initiatives in public value co-creation. Collaborative housing initiatives have emerged in response to the growing need for affordable housing and stable neighbourhood networks against the background of shifts in social values, a mobilised society, and austerity measures on the part of the welfare state. This study focuses on investigating citizens’ motives to participate in a collaborative housing initiative and their role in public value co-creation. Qualitative and quantitative data were collected between December 2017 and March 2018 using a mixed-methods approach and analysed. The findings reveal that dimensions related to social sustainability – such as civic engagement, inclusion and integration, and diversity and social mix – enhance people’s attitude towards collaborative housing projects. Practical implications and avenues for future research are discussed.

Introduction

Recent trends, such as climate and demographic changes, national and international migration, and unequal wealth distribution, have impacted society and the economy. These trends have become visible at the neighbourhood level. Ageing populations require, for example, new ways of organising care, mutual support, appropriate housing and mobility solutions, and innovative action programmes to prevent isolation. Cultural diversity calls for innovative ways of organising community life and housing to avoid the risks of conflict and mutual resentment. Furthermore, climate change raises the question of how to reorganise cities, transport systems and housing to reduce carbon emissions (Mulgan, 2006). Healthy and well-developed neighbourhoods have the potential to mitigate the resulting challenges by developing networks that support the creation of public value among citizens. Collaborative housing initiatives in particular, which have mainly been established by individuals through bottom-up approaches (Ache and Fedrowitz, 2012), play an important role in sustainable neighbourhood transformation.

Recently, many European countries have experienced a (re)emergence of collaborative housing, in the form of co-housing, housing cooperatives and other forms of self-organised collective housing (Lang and Stoeger, 2018). This development can be explained by societal trends towards more individual responsibility and personal initiative, and increasing demand for participation (Tummers, 2016). Self-managed living arrangements have a long tradition, with the first collaborative housing projects appearing in the late 1970s in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. Whereas, in those early years, most projects were single and isolated events, since 2000 a real trend has emerged. The range of types of collaborative housing communities is relatively broad, including projects involving single-family houses, projects for older people and multigenerational housing for older and younger people (Ache and Fedrowitz, 2012). Within these initiatives, people can move beyond their roles as clients or customers to become problem solvers and co-creators who are actively engaged in producing what is valued by and beneficial for the public.

The beneficial effects of collaborative housing initiatives for ageing populations have been identified (Labit, 2015). These include the support of elderly people as a result of collaborative use or consumption (Vestbro, 2012) and the creation of supportive networks that diminish anonymity (Seemann et al, 2019). Collaborative housing initiatives have also been linked to:

Nevertheless, the general population’s attitude towards collaborative or self-managed housing and its antecedents remains mostly unrecorded, making it difficult to draw conclusions on the potential for adoption of collaborative housing projects by the wider population and their consideration by those in search of accommodation (Tummers, 2016). The persistent continuity of and renewed interest in collaborative housing projects as well as the potential benefits they provide for urban environments make it worth investigating which factors foster adoption intentions (Lang et al, 2018).

This study contributes to the research on collaborative housing by analysing the factors that have a positive influence on attitudes towards collaborative housing projects. We conducted a mixed-methods study in the city of Freiburg, Germany. We sought to understand the motivation and reasoning for participating in collaborative housing initiatives using a qualitative study focusing on the participants’ ideas and perceptions. The knowledge gained from the preliminary qualitative study was used to develop a quantitative survey aimed at determining whether the aspects mentioned in the qualitative interviews are also appealing motivators for the broader population. In this context, we seek to identify the characteristics of collaborative housing initiatives that lead to a positive attitude towards such projects in order to derive implications that can be used to make collaborative housing more attractive and thus increase public value co-creation.

This article is structured as follows. The next section elaborates on the theoretical background to the study by providing an overview of public value co-creation and collaborative housing. The article then describes the city of Freiburg as the study area. The subsequent section focuses on the findings of the qualitative study, which constitute the basis for the conceptual model for the quantitative study described in the following section. Based on the mixed-methods study results and limitations, practical implications and avenues for further research are discussed in the concluding section.

Conceptual background

‘Co-production’ and ‘public value co-creation’ are revolutionary concepts in public service, especially in housing provision, since they locate users and communities more centrally in the decision-making process (Bovaird, 2007) and assign an increased role to individuals in the provision of public services and the development of joint solutions to social problems (Voorberg et al, 2015). The creation of public value is considered a linkage mechanism between the individual micro and the collective macro perspectives. For example, supporting social cohesion as a public value is only enacted when people integrate associated attitudes within their mindsets and behaviours (Meynhardt, 2015). In this context, various scholars have focused on the (re)emergence of resident-led housing initiatives, where public value is created through increased community involvement, leading to increased social capital and cohesion, and housing opportunities are generated that do not exist within the mainstream housing supply in terms of affordability, sustainability and lifestyle (van Bortel et al, 2018). People can thus be seen as resources in the creation of public value, which in turn leads to growth for both the individual and society (Hoppe, 2017).

Collaborative housing emerged as part of a wider paradigm shift in public participation. The recent (re)emergence of concepts such as ‘social innovation’, ‘community-led development’ and ‘co-production’ underpins the rise of collaborative housing models (Czischke, 2018). These concepts, in general, are not new and have been investigated by various scholars and policy makers over the past couple of decades to elucidate the changing nature of the state’s and individual citizens’ respective roles in the provision of public services in advanced capitalist societies (Czischke, 2018).

In recent years, the demand for collaborative housing projects has increased, resulting in significant ongoing developments in society and housing markets. The global financial and economic crisis in 2008 worsened an already acute housing crisis in many parts of Europe. The crisis was characterised by a chronic lack of housing supply, rising house prices and rents, and growing pressure on housing (Parker, 2013). Demographic changes, ongoing migration trends from rural to urban areas and the increasing number of single-person households have intensified the housing market situation (Krämer and Kuhn, 2009). For low-income and middle-class families, access to good-quality housing has become very difficult. Accordingly, collaborative housing projects present an affordable alternative, as cost-savings can be realised due to individual contributions, a high level of self-organisation, the division of labour and the sharing of resources (Tummers, 2015).

Collaborative housing is not only seen as an affordable option but is also presented as an alternative to anonymous neighbourhoods where people live in isolation from each other and often suffer from a lack of social ties and networks (Millonig et al, 2010). Collaborative forms of living are said to encourage the creation of social ties between neighbours, a feeling of belonging and a rich social life (Lietaert, 2010; Ruiu, 2016). The exchange of social support – for example, assistance with grocery shopping or babysitting services – is particularly important. Garciano (2011) highlighted the opportunity to help one another in everyday life as one of the central motives for participating in such projects. Other motives include personal characteristics such as concerns for environmental sustainability or the need for social contact (Vestbro and Horelli, 2012). Additionally, societal trends towards more individual responsibility, greater personal initiative and increasing demand for participation encourage the emergence of collaborative housing projects (Tummers, 2016).

Based on these ongoing tendencies, collaborative housing has gained in popularity, reflecting a new demand within urban development. Collaborative housing initiatives can thus be interpreted as a concrete response to the prevailing urban policy objectives of most European cities:

  • social cohesion;

  • local connectedness within globalisation trends;

  • adequate consideration of the ageing population;

  • healthy and child-friendly environments;

  • energy transition;

  • increased participation in urban development (Tummers, 2015).

Supporting collaborative housing initiatives creates new opportunities for urban development policies that rely on self-initiated projects (Krämer and Kuhn, 2009). Municipalities can shift their policy towards supporting self-managed initiatives, such as multigenerational living, to create a more even social balance and provide viable services and community infrastructure (Hamiduddin, 2015). Changing traditional housing and social care on this level creates options for people with particular needs and leads to strengthened social capital within the community (Droste, 2015). The contribution of self-managed initiatives to socially stable and attractive neighbourhoods is widely recognised, and fostering collaborative housing has thus become a priority in the strategic housing policies of various cities (Droste, 2015).

International research on co-production processes and outcomes in the housing context is, however, still limited and inconclusive (van Bortel et al, 2018). Some research results suggest that the involvement of citizens increases the efficiency and effectiveness of public service delivery (Clark et al, 2013), allows for the development of active citizenship, diminishes anonymity and enhances the exchange of skills and services (van Bortel et al, 2018). However, others conclude that little is known about the actual benefits and effects of citizens’ co-production of public value (for example, Voorberg et al, 2015). This study thus seeks to contribute to the research on co-production outcomes by analysing the role of collaborative housing initiatives in public value co-creation.

Study area

The study area is Freiburg, an old university city with about 228,000 residents (Freiburg, 2018) in south-west Germany. Krämer and Kuhn (2009) identified Freiburg as one of the first German cities to incorporate collaborative housing projects, such as joint building ventures, within their urban development strategies, thereby assuming a pioneering role.

The city is one of the most attractive, environmentally friendly cities in Germany and is well known for participatory urban development (Mahzouni, 2018). This has led to a steady increase in its population since the mid-1990s (Freiburg, 2019a). A simultaneous increase in the number of households has resulted in an overstretched housing market. In 2015, Freiburg was already short of nearly 1,500 apartments for sufficient housing (Freiburg, 2015). The relative housing pressure is the highest in the entire region (Prognos, 2017), with construction and purchase prices for owner-occupied as well as rental apartments well above the national average (Empirica, 2014). Nevertheless, Freiburg remains one of the most attractive cities in the region, and with the latest forecast assuming a total urban population increase of 7.6% by 2030 (Freiburg, 2019b), there will be continuing shortages in available living space. Demand for new forms of living and shared housing concepts in Freiburg is thus increasing.

The city is home to various collaborative housing projects, which are at different stages of realisation and range from flat-sharing communities to multigenerational projects (Freiburg, 2019d). Since its citizens are nationally renowned for their environmentally friendly and liberal-minded lifestyle (Freiburg, 2019c), Freiburg represents an excellent research environment for investigating general attitudes towards collaborative housing initiatives.

Study 1

In our qualitative study, we first determined what types of collaborative housing projects exist in Freiburg. As the city of Freiburg does not publish official statistics on collaborative housing, we conducted internet research, which does not claim to be complete. This showed that the following types of collaborative housing projects exist:

  • about 300 joint building ventures – projects in which private individuals jointly establish a residential property;

  • 21 projects of the tenement syndicate – the syndicate of tenement houses offers a sustainable legal framework in the form of a limited liability company opposed to the sale of a residential property;

  • six housing cooperatives – members of a housing cooperative have a lifelong right of residence and the prerequisite for membership is the acquisition of shares, which form the cooperative’s equity capital;

  • five multigenerational housing projects – where people of more than two generations live under the same roof;

  • three housing projects with students pursuing a social purpose – where students live together with, for example, refugees, older people or disabled people;

  • three inclusive housing projects – where people with and without disabilities live together;

  • three trailer parks – communities of diverse people living in caravans and converted lorries and sharing their everyday lives;

  • two self-sufficient housing projects – where people produce their own energy or even produce a large part of their required food themselves;

  • isolated special projects such as religious or women’s housing projects.

After carrying out our internet research, we then contacted people engaged in several projects to interview one expert from each different housing initiative. The intention was to gain a better understanding of the reasons and motivation for participating in a collaborative housing initiative. After six qualitative interviews, data saturation was reached, meaning that no new information could be obtained by interviewing further people, and further coding was no longer feasible (Guest et al, 2006). The six interviewees participate in the following projects:

  • a joint building venture;

  • multigenerational housing;

  • a tenement syndicate;

  • a social project with students and refugees – a housing project in which students live together with refugees and engage in volunteer work in return for a cheap student room;

  • a self-organised independent settlement initiative – founded in 1990 by a group of students, single parents and unemployed people who aimed to prevent the former army barracks in Freiburg-Vauban from being demolished, and to convert them into living space for people on a low income;

  • a trailer park.

The interview guide included questions about participants’ expectations and the achievement of set goals, with a particular focus on economic, ecological and social public value creation. The interviewees should provide an idea of how they, as actual participants, perceive collaborative housing initiatives. Therefore, we asked the interviewees about their motives, expectations, objectives and problems, among other things, and then used a quantitative survey in study 2 to determine whether the same aspects could convince the general public to participate in collaborative housing projects.

Participants were interviewed in December 2017. The interviews, which lasted approximately 30 minutes each, were audio-recorded and transcribed. An inductive approach was applied to a qualitative thematic analysis of the interview transcripts. The coding process outlined by Mayring (2015) was followed. Throughout the analysis, the researchers continually re-read data, checked and compared interpretations across transcripts, and sought to recognise emerging patterns. To attain intercoder reliability, two researchers worked independently and then reviewed each other’s coding (Mayring, 2015).

The information gained through the interviews was classified into six broad categories: civic engagement, collaborative consumption and community networks, economic aspects, ecological aspects, social aspects, and problems and criticism. In the rest of this section we present our results and compared them with the existing literature on collaborative housing, highlighting our findings with meaningful statements. At the end of this section, we draw an interim conclusion on the public value creation of collaborative housing projects.

Civic engagement

Civic engagement refers to the ways in which citizens participate in the life of a community to improve conditions for others or to help shape the community’s future (Garciano, 2011). Definitions range from individual voluntarism to political participation to address issues of public concern. The results of the interviews indicate that members of collaborative housing projects are very attentive to their direct environment and more likely to initiate measures that create public value within their neighbourhood, such as providing childcare or assisting and supporting older people, for example with grocery shopping. In this context, the following statement can be considered: “There is a nursing service; then there is neighbourhood help, volunteers and so on. This is very well organised with a good structure, but we do all the funding and organisation together on our own.”

Collaborative consumption and community networks

A common characteristic of collaborative housing initiatives is the possibility of establishing collaborative consumption patterns, such as sharing common space and facilities or private possessions such as tools and other equipment (Zhang and Lv, 2011). According to Vestbro (2012), sharing resources is one of the key aspects of creating community spirit and supporting networks. Against this background, all interviewed participants highlighted the wish for more solidarity, community and collaborative consumption as the primary drivers for being a part of their respective initiatives. In all considered initiatives, supportive networks, neighbourhood assistance and decentralised self-organisation were in focus. One interviewee stated:

‘There was a bicycle shop, a gardening project, a sports project, soccer, excursions, sometimes food-sharing activities, or communal cooking, but the most important things were the residents’ festivals that they have been doing. As all residents came, were able to participate, brought a little food and got some delicious food in return. They met in the yard to dance and to talk a bit.’

Overall, a strong sense of community and social awareness appear to be very pronounced within these groups. Therefore, collaborative housing initiatives can be considered a countermovement to present trends towards growing anonymity and the increasing number of single households (Ogden and Hall, 2004), reflecting an intrinsic desire and need for social bonding and cohesion.

Economic aspects

Providing affordable living spaces, especially for socially disadvantaged groups, is an element of general public interest, as housing has a significant impact on people’s quality of life. Most respondents acknowledged collaborative housing initiatives as attractive and affordable alternatives compared with more traditional living forms. Cost reductions can be realised through personal contributions as members themselves participate in the planning and construction phase and therefore need less paid help from external parties (Seemann et al, 2019). For example, they take on small works inside or outside their apartments as personal contributions. The need for fewer square metres per person due to shared common rooms also keeps costs lower than in other housing forms. The importance of a high level of self-organisation was a common theme, because a do-it-yourself approach provides opportunities for further cost reductions (Nieder, 2008). Money can be saved by taking advantage of an initiative’s own workforce and the division of labour between residents. Residents undertake home improvements and many other small craft and construction projects as cost-saving and creative-recreational activities.

One of the interviewees said: “Self-administered residential environments and sustainable economic activities – the central concern of this initiative is to be able to offer affordable housing in the long term – also for people who don’t have much money.”

Ecological aspects (environment and energy efficiency)

Recent research on collaborative housing in Europe highlights that most initiatives consider themselves pioneers in energy transition (Tummers, 2017) and attempt to keep detrimental environmental impacts to a minimum (Marckmann et al, 2012; Vestbro, 2012). Collaborative housing is thus referred to as a sustainable model of living, in which residents:

  • typically participate together in recycling, sharing and consuming fewer resources;

  • live in clustered, energy-efficient homes;

  • use public transportation;

  • consume less water and electricity (Zhang and Lv, 2011).

During the development phase, many communities create a low-impact architectural design. Many groups thus select their construction materials based on their environmental impact (Száraz, 2015) and implement technologies with significant pro-environment characteristics that would not be feasible in the design of a single household. One interviewee mentioned: “We provide our own energy concepts and tenant electricity models, which means that we also use self-generated energy.”

In general, environmentally conscious people are overrepresented within collaborative housing communities (Marckmann et al, 2012). The participatory development process enables environmentally conscious members to influence those with lower environmental awareness (Meltzer, 2010).

Social aspects (inclusion and social mix)

Creating public value by the social inclusion of disadvantaged groups constitutes an additional important driver of many collaborative housing projects (Czischke and Huisman, 2018). This attempts to encourage a discourse of diversity and inclusion, rather than one of homogeneity and exclusion (Tummers, 2015). One of the philosophies of collaborative housing initiatives is the inclusion and integration of different kinds of people, such as those with different ethnicities and religions, sexual minorities, people with different class backgrounds and those of different ages, for example in the form of intergenerational living. Inclusion and social mixing are believed to be beneficial because they enable different people with different backgrounds and abilities to help each other in a variety of activities (Coele, 2014). According to Tummers (2016), residents appreciate such projects because of their hybridity, diversity and the openness of approaches.

One respondent stated: “I consider the heterogeneity in age excellent, although it is not always easy, because needs vary sometimes as well. Nevertheless, I think it is incredibly enriching and really positive that you also can be around younger and older people and that you experience all stages of life.”

Problems and criticism

In contrast to the individual and societal benefits outlined so far, this subsection is devoted to the challenges that collaborative housing communities usually face. These challenges may hinder the (faster) diffusion of co-housing projects in Germany since the number of co-housing projects – although growing – is still low (Hacke et al, 2019). In this context, Hacke et al (2019) identify some key issues. The first challenge is to find and foster a group of interested people. Williams (2005) stated that both supply and demand for co-housing are restricted by a lack of awareness among the public, professionals and developers. Therefore, it takes some time until the appropriate people have joined to form a collaborative housing community. But even after the successful composition of the group, internal conflicts may arise. This is underlined by the following quotes from two different interviewees:

‘It’s a lot easier with 10 people, especially as we are people who can find compromises among each other quite well. That has never been the problem. But with 40 people, it happens that people are dealing with conflicts for years. When these conflicts surface again, they try to avoid each other.’

‘There was this one guy, who was living there with his son. This guy got a little out of line at times and was difficult to deal with. He just wasn’t really interested in participating in the project. But eventually, he recognised that and moved out. Well, yes, things like that can happen, and that can be quite difficult of course, as every person counts. In a small community trying to make things better, you cannot just be the only person who doesn’t care at all.’

Second, community members often lack expertise for solving financing issues and, closely related to this, for agreeing on a legal form appropriate to the group’s objectives (for example, to be a cooperative or a homeowners’ association) (Hacke et al, 2019). Moreover, acquiring property is difficult for collaborative housing communities: first, there is a lack of property development expertise; and second, there can be direct competition with better-resourced commercial developers, particularly in desirable urban locations (Scanlon and Arrigoitia, 2015). The lack of expertise, the financing of co-housing projects and the related financial constraints are significant problems. Referring to this challenge, one interviewee said:

‘In Gutleutmatten [development area with joint building ventures] almost everyone had enough investors. Those with problems were the houses that had the requirement to be financed by loans from the federal state bank. These are strange requirements as you have to find investors who have low incomes but have resources, such as inherited money. Only then they get these federal state bank subsidised loan.’

Additionally, Hammond (2018) argues that one of the key challenges within co-housing is the difficulty of the development process. Although there is a lack of comprehensive data sources, it has been suggested that just one in 10 co-housing groups ever progresses to the construction phase. This is especially the case for joint building ventures so that it is not uncommon for particular co-housing developments to take more than 10 years (Crabtree, 2011). The following statements reflect this situation:

‘At first, we applied as a small group for the property, got an architect pretty soon to create a floor plan/layout, and then tried to rent out the apartments. Again and again, people bailed out because the whole project was being delayed for several years.’

‘Elapsed time was the main reason why one of our members bailed out two-and-a-half years ago. At some point, it was clear that we wouldn’t be starting to build in the next three to six months. Due to the construction period, the completion just got set back too far in the timetable.’

Although some challenges coinciding with existing literature were mentioned in the interviews, the dominant topics for the interviewees in terms of the disadvantages of collaborative housing initiatives were difficulties with the municipality in terms of lack of support, cooperation or critical self-reflection, and the requirements to be met.

Community co-production is important but is rarely noticed, discussed or systematically managed by municipalities. However, according to Bovaird and Loeffler (2012), municipalities have little experience of focusing on citizens’ co-production activities for public value creation. The interviewees confirmed this, arguing that problems with the effective application of the discussed models are not a lack of willingness and ideas on the part of individuals or a low demand rate. Instead, there are missing prerequisites, particularly lack of familiarity with collaborative housing initiatives and their advantages among the broader population and within the municipality, as well as missing political framework conditions. There is a clear appeal to reduce the requirements and to offer more support for collaborative housing initiatives, for example by reserving building sites for such projects. The respondents claimed that city administration should perform the essential task of providing appropriate living space instead of passing the responsibility on to traditional developers or citizens. One interviewee declared the following: “In this respect, I am really pessimistic about Freiburg’s future and about a possible conceptual rethinking or greater openness. Other opinions should be allowed, and there should especially be flexibility in administration.”

Interim conclusion

Several aspects of potential co-created public value were found consistently across individual housing projects. The most dominant topic among the interviewees in terms of the advantages and potential public value creation of collaborative housing projects and the motivation to participate was their social contribution to neighbourly cohesion and supportive relationships within the community. According to Müller (2015), one of the characteristics of collaborative housing is the opportunity for residents to get to know each other and to establish close ties and community bonding, resulting in a situation of mutual support. Project participants create public value by focusing collaboratively on important activities (for example, neighbourhood assistance) that directly or indirectly benefit members of their community (Mendel and Brudney, 2014). By integrating community members into the productive process and adapting to their needs and preferences, co-production improves allocative efficiency (Needham, 2008). As Moore and Braga (2004) noted, members decide together, in intense social exchange, what they value as a collective.

Study 2

Despite their positive characteristics, diffusion rates of collaborative housing initiatives are still low compared with more traditional housing options. To gain a better understanding of citizens’ perceptions regarding collaborative housing initiatives, the second part of this study adopts a quantitative approach, based on a survey among the general population in Freiburg. Qualtrics, an online research company, provided access to a representative online panel. Data were collected in March 2018 from a sample of 524 participants, 45.6% of whom were female. The gender and age distribution of the sample compared with the overall gender and age distribution in Freiburg is shown in Appendix A.

This second part of the study builds on the important characteristics derived from the qualitative interviews in the first part of the study. Participants were asked to assess the opportunity to realise collaborative consumption, civic engagement, inclusion and integration, social mix and diversity, as well as energy efficiency and other environmental measures within their nearby residential environment, all of which were independent variables. The general attitude towards collaborative housing initiatives constituted the dependent variable. All items were measured on a five-point Likert scale. The exact wording of the question items is included in Appendix B. We considered different scale anchors to diminish the effect of common method bias. The data were analysed using IBM SPSS Statistics 25 software. Appendix C provides scale reliability and validity statistics. The results show that all items exceed the required thresholds. Based on the interview results, a positive assessment of the included characteristics should have a positive effect on people’s general attitude towards collaborative housing initiatives. An overview is depicted in Figure 1. During the qualitative interviews, various measures such as the joint organisation of events in the neighbourhood or the shared use of commodities were mentioned. We classified these measures into the categories depicted in Figure 1. We also asked the participants to assess the attractiveness of these measures.

Figure 1:
Figure 1:

Conceptual model for people’s attitude towards collaborative housing initiatives

Citation: Voluntary Sector Review 12, 1; 10.1332/204080520X15822993230122

A regression analysis was conducted to investigate the relationship depicted in Figure 1. The results are shown in Table 1. The R2 value of 0.393 reveals a good model fit. We also controlled for several covariates, including gender, age, highest level of education completed, profession, marital status, household size, car ownership and predominant means of transport, none of which had a significant impact.

Table 1:

Regression analysis

Unstandardised coefficientsStandardised coefficients
BStandard errorBetatSig
(Constant)1.433.2685.339.000
Collaborative consumption.039.047.037.823.411
Civic engagement.192.052.1803.655.000
Energy efficiency−.028.052−.028−.543.587
Environmental measures.046.057.045.804.422
Inclusion and integration.123.050.1252.484.013
Social mix and diversity.325.043.3587.545.000

The results of the regression analysis reveal that if citizens assess the opportunity to be engaged in, for example, local political organisations or the planning of neighbourhood events as positive, they demonstrate a more pronounced positive attitude towards collaborative housing projects. Furthermore, the results indicate a positive effect of the opportunity to experience inclusion and social variety within the nearby living environment. As highlighted in the results of the qualitative interviews and in line with, for example, Garciano (2011), Coele (2014) and Twardoch (2017), facilitating civic engagement, integration and diversity are core elements of collaborative housing initiatives. The results of the quantitative survey suggest that this correlation also holds true for citizens without prior experience of collaborative housing projects. Collaborative housing initiatives are widely acknowledged to open up opportunities to support and integrate people with particular needs (for example, disabled people, people from a migrant background, older people or people in large families). People who attach great importance to these topics and are aware of the positive contribution of civic housing initiatives reflect this in their overall attitude towards such projects. Respective specific measures such as the collective organisation of events in the neighbourhood (M = 1.978; SD = 0.919) or the establishment of housing groups for people with and without disabilities (M = 2.03; SD = 1.021) were assessed as attractive.

Surprisingly, the opportunity to realise collaborative consumption patterns had no significant impact on people’s general attitude towards collaborative housing initiatives. In addition, specific measures such as food sharing (M = 2.52; SD = 1.260) or joint use of commodities (M = 2.32; SD = 1.147) were perceived as less attractive. A possible explanation for this is that many people are unfamiliar with housing with a high level of collaborative consumption in terms of common facilities and other shared resources (Vestbro, 2012). Moreover, only people with the ability to coordinate and compromise on the handling of common resources assess sharing as positive in general and appropriate in collaborative housing projects in particular (Száraz, 2015). Furthermore, the results show that despite a positive assessment of specific measures – for example, heating and cooling (M = 1.90; SD = 0.909), optimisation of lighting (M = 1.97; SD = 0.997) and use of renewable energy sources in the home (M = 1.92; SD = 1.002) – there is no significant effect of energy efficiency and other environmental measures on people’s attitude towards collaborative housing projects. In line with Tummers (2017), we suggest that most people are unaware that collaborative housing can contribute to preserving the environment and do not know how this can be accomplished.

Conclusion

The main objective of this study was to learn about individual motives and reasons for supporting collaborative housing initiatives and understanding their role in public value co-creation. Based on the analysis of six qualitative interviews with people who are engaged in collaborative housing initiatives, various driving forces for participation in these initiatives were identified and classified into the following broad categories: collaborative consumption; civic engagement; energy efficiency; other environmental measures; inclusion and integration; and social mix and diversity. These categories formed the basis for a quantitative survey among the population of the city of Freiburg, aimed at learning about the attitudes of the general public (that is, people who are not necessarily part of a collaborative housing project) towards collaborative housing initiatives.

Initial interviews indicated that the main advantage of collaborative housing initiatives is the establishment of strong neighbourly relationships and supportive networks. Therefore, collaborative housing initiatives are considered to have the potential to contribute significantly to the creation of public value in terms of fostering social cohesion, fighting isolation and allowing space for alternative values and cultures (Krokfors, 2012). In line with the academic literature (for example, Tummers, 2011; Droste, 2015; Seemann et al, 2019), the results of the interviews imply that there is potential for such projects to act as an accelerator for the transition towards sustainable and supportive communities, which should not be neglected. The results of the quantitative study reveal that only the dimensions related to social sustainability (civic engagement, inclusion and integration, social mix and diversity) significantly influence people’s attitude towards collaborative housing projects. Surprisingly, assessment of the opportunity to adopt collaborative consumption approaches or various sustainable environmental measures revealed that they have no impact on people’s general attitude towards collaborative housing projects.

In general, the results of our mixed-methods study are in line with previous research on co-housing. Recent post-occupancy studies of collaborative housing communities suggest that this form of living can reduce energy use and improve housing performance by introducing new social practices, technical processes and collective learning. As the inhabitants share many common household appliances (for example by pooling equipment), they report a more affordable cost of living in terms of food, utilities, goods and services (Chatterton, 2013; Tummers 2016). We agree that co-housing residents create and share otherwise unaffordable or inaccessible services, such as care for very young or older people, gardens, playgrounds and child-friendly environments, and cars/equipment (Tummers, 2016). Collaborative housing can increase the social and physical wellbeing of the residents as well as that of their family members and wider communities through the provision of shared facilities in addition to individual homes (McCamant and Durrett, 2011; Krokfors, 2012). Self-initiated collaborative housing is thus seen as a way to realise new forms of community (Krokfors, 2012). The results, in line with the academic literature (for example, Tummers, 2011; Droste, 2015; Seemann et al, 2019), support the valuable potential of such projects to act as an accelerator for the transition towards sustainable and supportive communities.

In summary, it can be stated that co-housing has many positive aspects that are highlighted by its supporters. Nevertheless, there are also long-term challenges to collaborative housing communities that are worth mentioning. First, typically, there is social, ethnic and ideological homogeneity among co-housing residents. Co-housing communities tend to consist of white and well-educated middle-class individuals (Chiodelli and Baglione, 2014). Second, a lack of integration of co-housing communities into their surrounding neighbourhoods can be detected. Residential communities run the risk of separating themselves from their surrounding environment due to their functional and relational self-sufficiency (Williams, 2008). As a result, co-housing is criticised for leading to segregation and social exclusion as there are some co-housing collective facilities that are conceived primarily for members and are only used by them (Chiodelli and Baglione, 2014). Politicians, therefore, tend to be sceptical as to the impact of collaborative housing projects and perceive this form of housing as a solution for just a small minority of homeowners (Tummers, 2011).

Based on the findings, some practical implications can be outlined. If the co-housing movement gains momentum, the public sector must become more involved and take responsibility for the support of low-income individuals and families. This was true of the Netherlands and Sweden in the 1980s. However, private actors such as professionals, developers and financiers should also be taken into account and provided with the necessary information so that they engage in efficient partnerships with local authorities. They could also provide investment, knowledge and expertise in housing construction. Efficient partnerships between private actors and local authorities exist today in some cities in the United States; the idea is that 20% of households in the housing community are built for people at the margins of society, such as long-term unemployed people or older people who can no longer take care of themselves (Lietaert, 2010).

At this point, we would like to refer to the Californian experience and propose it as a model for Freiburg. Partnership and developer-led approaches have increased the marketability of co-housing in California, which in turn has aroused the interest of developers and professionals. Thus, appropriate expertise and funding (by professionals and developers) seem to be the key to the progress of co-housing. This suggests that the progression of co-housing in Germany and especially in Freiburg could be promoted by supporting less costly, risky and time-consuming development approaches, such as partnership and developer-led approaches (Williams, 2005). In this regard, resources must be provided to train and encourage professionals to play a more facilitative role. Residents’ associations could be used to manage local communities, and residents could recruit other people to take part in their projects. These measures should be financially supported by the developer (for new construction projects) or by the local authority (for retrofit projects) (Williams, 2005). In addition, the involvement of land or property agents could increase public awareness of co-housing and open it up to a broader market. This could mitigate the challenge for communities to find interested parties and to form residents’ groups. Land and property agents could also help to find suitable locations for communities (Williams, 2005). In addition, it is pertinent to think about broader partnerships across sectors and to encourage developers and practitioners to join a network to foster development. Otherwise, there is a risk that the co-housing movement will remain primarily an elite phenomenon and will not realise its full potential in society (Lietaert, 2010).

However, there are also examples of policy support in Europe, which could provide a benchmark for public policy mechanisms in Freiburg. In a study by the TU Dortmund University, 26 municipalities in Germany were found that support co-housing projects. The support ranges from simple offers, such as a website with information about local housing companies, to more complex assistance with the provision of special funding or building plots (Fedrowitz, 2011). A good German role model on how to support co-housing projects comes from the city of Hamburg. Since 2003, the city has been running the Hamburg Agency for Housing Communities, which is a specific municipal authority to support self-build groups with advice and the allocation of city-owned land. The agency advises interested groups from the starting idea to the final stage of a project and provides information regarding financial support and suitable building plots. In doing so, the municipality reserves 20% of the publicly controlled land for co-housing projects. In addition, a large network of partners from architectural practices, project development, construction companies and cooperatives are available to interested co-housing groups (Ache and Fedrowitz, 2012). The results of our preceding analysis substantiate the emphasis on social mixing in contemporary urban planning (Lees et al, 2008). Therefore, the Hamburg Agency underlines the integration of housing with commercial enterprises and, more importantly, of groups with varying income levels in their programme (Scheller and Thörn, 2018). In Sweden, the municipality of Gothenburg is trying to facilitate ownership forms other than self-ownership in order to encourage the participation of low-income individuals in self-build co-housing projects. Special conditions are applied to the sale of land such as a price reduction in order to ensure affordable housing. In addition, the municipality has implemented measures to introduce co-housing in the context of housing stock owned by the municipal housing companies. In 2015, the municipality appealed to municipal housing companies to consider handing over blocks of flats to co-housing cooperatives and reducing rents in exchange for assigning maintenance responsibilities for these through a model of self-government (Scheller and Thörn, 2018).

Advertising campaigns and demonstration projects could be used to sharpen the profile of co-housing further and expand the existing market in Freiburg. As demonstration projects for new construction and reconstruction may require financial resources, local authorities should offer support in this regard (Williams, 2005). Municipalities could further organise information events to increase awareness of both the existence of such initiatives and the associated positive outcomes. This would promote and support the establishment of collaborative housing initiatives and public value co-creation. As the culture of civic participation is currently not well developed, it needs to be promoted through education (for example, through undertaking educational programmes in schools), training programmes and innovative financing mechanisms (Williams, 2005). By implementing communication measures such as providing information about collaborative housing initiatives at town hall meetings and distributing appropriate informational material, municipalities could raise awareness of the positive characteristics of collaborative housing projects as well as their potential for creating public value. For example, a municipality could highlight several collaborative housing projects and their central philosophies, such as generating diversity through multigenerational housing initiatives or the basic idea of integrating people with particular needs within inclusive housing projects. By drawing attention to the opportunities to realise civic engagement, inclusion and diversity within such projects, the attitudes of the general public towards collaborative housing could be improved. Moreover, municipalities could support alternative forms of housing (for example, in terms of tax relief or streamlining the construction process), providing an opportunity to counteract current urban challenges such as a lack of affordable housing and to promote healthy neighbourhood development.

Any interpretation of the results of this study must consider its limitations. For almost 50 years, Freiburg has been known as a Green City; it was the birthplace of Germany’s environmental and alternative movement. The city is one of the most attractive environmentally friendly cities in Germany and is well known for participatory urban development (Mahzouni, 2018). Freiburg’s inhabitants show a great interest in sustainable and alternative forms of living. Thus, the study results may not have external validity. Second, instead of focusing on actual behaviour, attitudes towards collaborative housing projects were considered. According to Sheeran (2002), an individual’s attitude towards a behaviour does not translate perfectly into actual behaviour. Third, the individual interviews were conducted only with people who actually participate in collaborative housing initiatives and thus have a positive perception of these projects. The study can thus be criticised for neglecting negative points of view. Extending the study by conducting interviews with people who have left such a project would be helpful for an overall impression of this subject. Although we have derived practical implications demanding public support, we would like to note that immediately implementing our policy recommendations without exploring the positive and negative effects of co-housing in one’s own city would seem hasty. Even if some cases of co-housing are clearly characterised by civic engagement, inclusion and integration, and social mix and diversity, co-housing per se does not seem to be necessarily characterised by these features. On the contrary, it might even be the case that adverse effects such as social, ethnic and ideological homogeneity of co-housing residents, or the lack of physical and relational integration with surrounding neighbourhoods, could be aspects of the realisation of co-housing projects (Chiodelli and Baglione, 2014).

This study provides several opportunities for future research. First, on the basis of our mixed-methods study, we identified potential sources of co-created public value. However, the identification of factual public value effects of collaborative housing projects requires a more substantial quantitative and/or qualitative analysis. Second, future research should investigate differences in the effectiveness of different collaborative housing projects against the overstretched housing market, rising rental prices and increasing social or spatial segregation. Third, future research should consider longitudinal studies or examine repeated-measure designs and analyse attitude changes over time. In general, research efforts to determine the long-term outcomes and effectiveness of collaborative housing projects should be strengthened. Fourth, alternative types of living are sometimes criticised as representing a new type of segregation, as members and inhabitants are chosen by the initiators and thus form a homogeneous social group (Ache and Fedrowitz, 2012). Obviously, some alternative living arrangements have a strong inclusive intention in their overall concept, such as bringing together people with different income levels by integrating social housing and owner-occupied flats or providing apartments for disabled people. However, these homogenous social groups might have an ambiguous impact on the existing societal composition in the local area, therefore constituting another type of gentrification (Ache and Fedrowitz, 2012). This critical point of view should be examined in more detail.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

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Appendix A: Gender and age distribution

Table A1:

Distribution in Freiburg

Freiburg18–25 years26–35 years36–45 years46–55 years56–65 years66–75 yearsTotal
Male7%10%9%8%6%4%48%
Female9%10%8%8%6%6%52%
Total16%20%17%16%12%10%100%
Table A2:

Sample characteristics (N = 524)

Sample18–25 years26–35 years36–45 years46–55 years56–65 years66–75 yearsTotal
Male13%15%12%8%4%2%54%
Female14%14%7%6%4%2%46%
Total27%29%19%14%8%4%100%

Appendix B: Question items

ConstructItem
For me, living in an alternative housing project initiated by citizens is…
AttitudeQ74_1very good (1) – very bad (5)
Q74_2very interesting (1) – very uninteresting (5)
Q74_3very worthy of support (1) – not worthy of support at all (5)
Q74_4very desirable (1) – very undesirable (5)
Q74_5pleasing (1) – not pleasing (5)
Q74_6very positive (1) – very negative (5)
I think the opportunity to realise different forms of … in my near living environment is …
Collaborative consumptionQ49_1very good (1) – very bad (5)
Q49_2very positive (1) – very negative (5)
Q49_3very worthy of support (1) – not worthy of support at all (5)
Civic engagementQ56_1very good (1) - very bad (5)
Q56_2very positive (1) - very negative (5)
Q56_3very worthy of support (1) - not worthy of support at all (5)
Energy efficiencyQ61_1very good (1) - very bad (5)
Q61_2very positive (1) - very negative (5)
Q61_3very worthy of support (1) - not worthy of support at all (5)
Environmental measuresQ58_1very good (1) - very bad (5)
Q58_2very positive (1) - very negative (5)
Q58_3very worthy of support (1) - not worthy of support at all (5)
Inclusion and integrationQ66_1very good (1) - very bad (5)
Q66_2very positive (1) - very negative (5)
Q66_3very worthy of support (1) - not worthy of support at all (5)
Social mix and diversityQ69_1very good (1) - very bad (5)
Q69_2very positive (1) - very negative (5)
Q69_3very worthy of support (1) - not worthy of support at all (5)

Appendix C: Scale reliability and validity

Descriptive statisticsReliability and convergent validityDiscriminant validity: Fornell and Larcker criterion
MeanSDCronbach’s alphaComposite reliabilityAVEATTCCCESMDEEEMII
ATT2.380.9010.9040.9260.6760.822
CC2.150.8700.8460.9060.7630.3680.874
CE2.150.8480.8280.8970.7430.4530.5580.862
SMD2.240.9910.9020.9390.8370.5600.4440.5040.915
EE2.030.8730.8520.9100.7710.3520.5120.5800.4520.878
EM1.960.8790.8520.9100.7710.4400.5460.5960.5800.6800.878
II2.030.9160.8660.9180.7880.4870.4420.5450.6260.5470.6280.888

Notes: ATT = attitude, CC = collaborative consumption, CE = civic engagement, SMD = social mix and diversity, EE = energy efficiency, EM = environmental measures, II = inclusion and integration.

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    Conceptual model for people’s attitude towards collaborative housing initiatives

  • Ache, P. and Fedrowitz, M. (2012) The development of co-housing initiatives in Germany, Built Environment, 38: 395412. doi: 10.2148/benv.38.3.395

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bovaird, T. (2007) Beyond engagement and participation: user and community coproduction of public services, Public Administration Review, 67(5): 84660. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6210.2007.00773.x

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  • 1 University of Freiburg, , Germany
  • | 2 Lucerne School of Business, , Switzerland

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