Freiraum Alfter e.V.

Logo source

FreiRaum Alfter e.V. (html ) takes housing out of the market. It is a user community that collectively owns and self-manages houses in an almost rural context but very close to the city of Bonn.

In 2017 ten houses belong to the federation. Eight of them as property of Freiraum Alfter e.V., two more buildings are rented. Have a closer look at two of the houses and the folks living in them: O30 html and Dranbleiben html .

# Aspirational Goals

Freiraum Alfter practices "housing for the common good" (gemeinnütziges Wohnen). Today, the German law doesn't provide the legal tools for such an endeavour anymore. XXX was ammended mid 1980s [SARAH, CAN YOU PROVIDE THE EXACT REFERENCE). Freiraum Alfter e.V. was founded before this legal change. Until today it offers a peer-governed "room for living and working beyond conventional property regimes to its members".

Freiraum Alfter opens a space for experimenting with and developing new, solidary forms of living and working together. It makes housing affordable through "civic financing". The long term goal is to withdraw houses from the market, and to contribute to a "sustainable livestyle" through shared use of buildings and lots.

Furthermore, the members are open to and encourage intergenerational forms of co-living. They wish to enhance the sense of co-responsibility and promote manual and technical skills of its members.


# Legal Status & Location?

gemeinnütziger, eingetragener Verein (the concrete legal form is today inexistent), Alfter and Bornheim, Germany, Europe

# When did it start?

beginning of the 1980s, the first house, Bahnhofstraße 31 in Alfter, was bought in 1982

# How do they work?

Whatever is related to the purchase, credit management, legal aspects of renovation, assurances, infrastructure, public obligations, renting is being coordinated among the participating housing projects. The "Verein', as only legal owner of all buildings is finally accountable.

more "common topics", such as internal organization, renovation of the houses etc are coordinated within each house separately by the respective inhabitants. All inhabitants are members of the 'Verein', FreiRaum Alfter e.V.. They get a (USAGE) contract which establishes the monthly use fee (not rent) as well as the monthly obligations towards the 'Verein' and the shared goal.

Some of the members collaborate in the board, others in the circles which were set up for coordination but they don't necessarily represent "their" house (according to the new governance structure).

# Finances and Partnerships

When the houses are purchased, they are fully financed through different kinds of credits. 80% of them given by a socially and ecologically responsible bank, GLS html . They run for 20 to 25 years.

Around 20% are usually covered via so called "guaranteed credits" of a 5 years term (Bürgschaftskredit). These are credit other individuals guarantee for and/or private loans from personal networks and the wider community.

Recently also direct credits are accepted (SARAH - I am not sure I understand the difference btw the GLS, Bürgschafts- and Direktkredit). See financing modell html

The credits and loans are payed back via the rent members pay for living in the houses they've purchased and renovated together. These rents are composed by: clearance rate + lump sum for renovation + lump sum for additional housing costs (Nebenkosten).

@ SARAH: ONCE the credits are paid back, the rents become lower and lower, right? You basically only pay a usage fee, then. And what happens, of- say - all people leave a house or if there is considerable income. Who will be the heir of the houses?


# Which Dimensions of Commoning are enacted?

There is space to Cultivate Shared Purpose & Values during the meetings, but in fact shared values come about during "building events". The constant need to maintain the houses motivates putting them into practice. Meetings take place in different houses, where hospitality and a sense of togetherness is enacted. The same happens when working in the community garden, where good coordination, communication and relyability are of utmost importance.

To Strengthen the Nested-I is important especially within each of the houses that belong to Freiraum Alfter. At the project level however, it is rather problematic, due to the relatively high degree of fluctuation (university-city) on the one hand and to the lack of consciousness for the fact that the whole idea can only work if the individuals contribute on the other hand.

Our interview partnes felt that peopled don't really Contribute Freely. For instance, the renting-contract clearly states, that everybody is obliged to work one week per year for the common purpose - being it cultural activities, the renovation of the houses (people themselves live in) or others. Even though, some contribute considerably more than others - the ones who are really convinced be the usefulness and transformational power of the project. Within this small federation of housing projects, members Practice Gentle Reciprocity. Those in need (not all) who work for the community substantially get a moderate monthly financial contribution, not a "payment per hour", nor a salary. If complex tasks or such that require a lot of effort need to be done, people can get a payment for it (Einmalzahlung). People care for explicitely acknowledging and honoring specific contributions to the project.

Yes, we also have a free rider problem.

Members think of the annual assembly as a moment where they Ritualize Togetherness. This is also because the assembly takes place in December, a perfect moment for collectively reflecting on the year that is about to go and the next that is about to come. The assembly is not just an assembly but also a moment, when a meal is prepared and enjoyed together. It is important to create a beautiful atmosphere for this kind of meetings, one of the interviewees points out.

Logo for a Running Diner event source

Moreover, there have organized so called "running dinners". A highly fun and successful way to create a space of commonality, share skills, get to know each other (people from the other houses), have a great and diverse menu and get a few things coordinated. A "running dinner" means: Each course of a longer menue is prepared by different people in different houses. The "guests" then have soup in one place with a bunch of people, main course in another place with another bunch of people and dessert yet in another place with again new people. The dinner often ends up with a party.

Deepen Communion with Nature. In general there is a rather high individual awareness of the interdependency on nature, which then translates into organic food (each house project), environmentally friendly construction materials whenever affordable (project level), collective garden - which is a subproject that also contributes to connect some people living in different houses of the project

Community Garden set up by members of Freiraum Alfter source

Trust Situated Knowing. In external relationships, f.i. construction related knowledge or accounting, "situated knowing" deriving from a specific familiarity with the topic, the context and the projects ambition is highly ranked, so that there are no bidding calls. Internally situated knowing has helped moving forward and sustaining the project, but it became also clear, that trusting in people's individual situated knowledge requires to Share Knowledge Often & Widely in order to avoid knowledge and decision making monopolies. Preserve Relationships in Adressing Conflicts. There is a general lack of procedural clarity and of self-reflection on this topic

# How does Provisioning through Commons occur?

Compared to common patterns of living in the region (person/square meter) the density in the FreiRaum Alfter Houses is higher: more people share the same space. [@SARAH, is it mostly YOUNG PEOPLE, STUDENTS WITHOUT CHILDREN?] Nonetheless, people feel that:

"I can do what I wanna do there. If we have 10 people who love dansing we can have a dance floor in our house. This requires on the one hand, that the shared space, the infrastructure allows for the activities that emerge and on the other hand, that the general social process is at least permissive. If both things happen, I feel abundance."

Most of the members of Freiraum Alfter Honor Care & Decommodified Work. In 2016 an organizational restructuring began,

We allow the process to unfold. It is left open ended. Our basic questions are: What do we need? How do we deal with these needs?

Care activities for the collective process and giving it the time it requires, with a clear goal of bringing it to a successful end in due time but not in a distant future, are explicitely honored.

Housing is costly. It costs (renovation & maintenance) time, money, energy and so on. This is how members deal with it: Each group living in a house pays a monthly use fee (@SARAH - HANNES SAGTE; SO HEIßT DAS. NICHT "MIETE" - sonst wäret Ihr ja bei Euch selbst mieter)). This fee is lower than market prices. It can be established by the inhabitants/members themselves. The guiding principle is to collectively deal with external committments (loans). Each house-group decides autonomously how to pool & divide up the financial means needed. This way, also people with very little economic resources can move in in principle, as long as the group brings up the monthly needed sum for the loan/ credit must always be paid.

If a loan for a specific house is entirely paid back, the inhabitants continue paying the use fee for remaining loans for other houses. This is a way to Pool, Cap & Mutualize within the federation. A solidarity, civic co-financing mecanism (solidarische Umverteilung).

But the idea of "self-sustaining financing" at the house-group level is important. Within the houses, some groups contribute to the use fee according through a so called "bidding round", as in many projects of Community Supported Agriculture. Others find other solutions. In some cases there is a general decoupling of giving and taking. In others there isn't. Each house-group is self-goverened.

When it comes to additional costs like electricity, water, sewage, waste management etc there is a "per capita share", because the additional costs (Nebenkosten); are covered collectively without calculating everybodies individual use. A clear example of decoupling of giving and taking.

Be Creatively Adaptive "Right now we adapt to the situation that a key admon person is leaving and a new organizational structure based on circles is emerging.", see Freiraum Alfter Peer Governance

In a similar vein the construction and rennovation processes are based on carefully observing what's there and what's possible, and then finding good and sometimes new solutions for the respective needs.



# Realms of Commoning

# Sources

Interview with Johannes Euler, August 16 2017 Interview with Sarah Mewes, December 5, 2017 Freiraum Alfter, Website html Nora Bauer, Selbst bezahlbaren Wohnraum schaffen, Radiofeature,

Additional info: the moment of making the decision to sell one of the houses (the oldest one in town) because its wooden structure is damaged has led to a complex relationship with the other owners of that same house