The cooperative movement claims to be an international benchmark for guaranteeing the right to housing

The International Social Housing Festival held during the past 7, 8 and 9 of June in Barcelona was a platform to showcase integral cooperative projects  that are more accessible and comprehensive solutions that promote healthier, collaborative, resilient and caring communities, which optimise energy efficiency and the use of resources in the face of social, economic and environmental challenges.

Barcelona, June 26, 2023

> Working Group on Cooperative Housing in REAS Network of Networks

> Sectorial cooperative housing in cession of use of the XES.



From the 7th to the 9th of June, the largest international social housing event took place in Barcelona, an initiative of Housing Europe, the European Federation of Public, Cooperative and Social Housing, in collaboration with the Barcelona City Council. The three-day event brought together more than 2,000 people and 60 speakers. They were privileged witnesses of an emerging right to use cooperative housing movement that proposes integral and integrating solutions to multiple social and environmental challenges, addressing a wide spectrum of deficits of traditional housing models.

The Catalan capital, where the fourth edition of the ISHF was held, has become a benchmark for innovation in housing policies.  It has continued the legacy of Helsinki 2022, Lyon 2019 and Amsterdam 2017. Dublin will be the next ISHF 2025 destination to follow the progress of a sector that brings such a multiplying and hopeful transformation.

The event included visits to emblematic right-to-use cooperative housing projects in the city and its surroundings, such as Princesa 49, La Borda, La Balma, La Xarxaire and Cirerers, as well as debate sessions and conferences on a wide range of topics related to the development of social housing, both public and cooperative initiatives. The event was also an opportunity to celebrate the presentation of the United Nations Silver 2023 World Habitat Award granted to the Catalan housing cooperative, Sostre Cívic, which with more than 500 homes under development and coexistence today brings together the majority of housing in transfer of use in Catalonia.

The Festival also hosted the presentation of the book «Cohousing in Barcelona», by Editorial Actar with Barcelona City Council, available in English and Catalan. It is an interesting compilation of cooperative housing projects in Barcelona, both completed and under construction. It explains how the development of right to use cooperative housing projects are managed in terms of architecture, urban planning, financing, legal framework and tax policies. It also delves into the experience of living in a community nurtured by the cooperative spirit.

Entre los múltiples espacios preparados alrededor del programa del Palacio de Congresos, el jueves por la tarde se celebró la sesión “Red Europea de organizaciones emergentes de vivienda cooperativa lideradas por la comunidad”. Una sesión especial sobre redes en la que participaron personas del Mietshäuser Syndikat y de Sauriassl Syndikat de Alemania, Habicoop France, Cooplink Netherlands, MOBA Housing CSEE, ID22 Institute for Creative Sustainability, Sostre Cívic de Barcelona, IWO and Living in Metropolis SCE y Legacoopabitanti de Italia. 

Among the many side-events organised around the ISHF, the session «European Network of emerging community-led cooperative housing organisations» was held on Thursday afternoon. A special networking session with participants from Mietshäuser Syndikat and Sauriassl Syndikat from Germany, Habicoop France, Cooplink Netherlands, MOBA Housing CSEE, ID22 Institute for Creative Sustainability, Sostre Cívic from Barcelona, IWO and Living in Metropolis SCE and Legacoopabitanti from Italy.

This forum was proposed by the Pan European Cooperation among Cooperatives (CooperativeHousing.eu) as a network of initiatives from countries with different housing cooperative traditions. The aim of this network is to support the creation of affordable cooperative housing, the exchange of knowledge between different stakeholder groups and the securing of funding through the EIB (European Investment Bank) for small-scale housing cooperatives. The focus was on deepening the understanding of how these objectives can be achieved, taking into account that in each country or region the problems are determined by local circumstances.

As a complement to the networking space, the XES Housing Sectorial, the Xarxa d’Economia Solidària de Catalunya, and the international CoHabitat network prepared an international networking dinner in the Nave Bostik. Representatives of Barcelona City Council, international organisations in the field of cooperative housing such as Cooperative Housing International, CoHabitat Network, UrbaMonde and Habitat Participatif France and numerous projects showed their desire to promote the alternative housing models, and reviewed the trajectory experienced by the organisations in the host city as well as the keys to continue growing and providing viable role models to society.

This event brought together more than 200 people in a relaxed atmosphere, where they were able to exchange project experiences and establish links. The exchange of knowledge, mutual support and networking are essential keys to the emerging cooperative housing movement, and events such as this one facilitate the transfer of knowledge between people from different countries, as well as extending the model to new territories.

Finally, on the last day of the event, the European Community Land Trust (CLT) Network was publicly presented. A Community Land Trust (CLT) is a community structure that acquires and conserves land with the aim of providing affordable housing and promoting the common good. There are more than 300 CLTs in the UK, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain. The ESAL agreement in Barcelona (which XES and HABICOOP are part of), is an example of the network as a public-community structure to free up accessible land for social rental foundations and cooperative housing on transfer of use. The European Network will connect and catalyse the movement, increasing the innovative capacity of CLTs to act as a solution for sustainable and affordable housing.

Cooperative housing in Barcelona, an international benchmark

One of the main conclusions of the ISHF in Barcelona is that cooperative housing is one of the great allies of the  rapidly increasing  administrations in the stock of social housing. During various activities at the event, speakers highlighted the harsh local context: the percentage of social rental housing in Barcelona stands at 1.9%, and in Spain as a whole at 2%, well below the European average of 9%.

In this context, the ISHF 2023 has raised the question of what from the emerging housing models such as the Barcelona one, a benchmark for innovation in housing of interest to the whole world, can be learned. Beyond the solutions which, above all, involve public administrations and which should be a priority, such as the construction of new housing or the mobilisation of the private stock towards affordable rentals, public collaboration with cooperatives and non-profit organisations has been highlighted.

The ESAL agreement has been a great instrument for this. With a scope of 1,000 dwellings, 40% of which are cooperative housing in cession of use, in a few years, considerably increasing Barcelona’s social housing stock. Of the 4,500 social housing units planned in recent years, 500 are cooperative housing units.

Co-operative housing has a long international history, with consolidated models in countries such as the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Uruguay and Canada, where ownership is kept and managed cooperatively over time. In recent years of systemic crisis, a new impetus has been lead to collaborative housing proposals as a response to the problems of the current social configuration. The challenges we face as a civilisation are the consequence of decades of prioritising economic profit, consumerism and unlimited growth.

These housing modalities offer a great diversity of configurations, with a vision aimed at overcoming competitiveness, individualism, consumerism and dependence on the market. A shift is proposed to focus on restoring collaboration, re-weaving resilient communities of mutual support and prioritising the wellbeing of all people and the care of life. They coincide in being groups of empowered people, open to learning and self-improvement, who define their living spaces and enable human development with greater respect for the natural environment.

Developing this type of projects is an exercise of collective responsibility, a social enterprise, to recover the management of the basic necessities of life. A response from the organised civil society to the multiple problems arising from the climate crisis, care or the shortage of rented or owned housing.

The current situation is the result of the limited capacity of public policies, subject to short-sighted, changing or partisan visions. Faced with this reality, which is a social emergency for more people every day, especially for the most vulnerable economies and the youngest people, more sustainable options with a high impact in the medium and long term are being considered, which undoubtedly require a change of mentality. This is the biggest challenge we face as individuals and as a collective.

A renewed culture that puts the focus on the use value of housing over the market value. Questioning the purpose and necessity of housing. Reclaiming housing as a key element for the articulation of life and the development of people’s potential for the community and the general interest. It implies overcoming stigmas about relationships and conflict, to take the opportunity to learn and overcome, and to live with difference, embracing diversity. Diversity is a basic strategy for survival and the evolution of life.

If we improve access to housing and work to generate mutually supportive communities, we will be facilitating the resolution of the many problems that seem to keep arising and growing. We have done this since the dawn of time, until we are forgetting our essence as a human species. We can regain the power and ability to generate our living spaces, taking care of people, life and the environment. It is a big challenge and we are looking forward  to taking the next steps to do it collaboratively.


The International Social Housing Festival is the most important international congress of the sector in Europe. It is an international housing event that aims to encourage the debate around public housing policies and address the multiple challenges that the public, social and cooperative housing sector must face to ensure the right to housing for everyone.

The ISHF is an initiative of Housing Europe and its allies, present in 25 countries and covering 25 million homes, 11% of the EU housing stock. Among its members it the Spanish AVS, Asociación de Gestores Públicos de Vivienda y Suelo, which also includes the Association of Social Policy Managers of Catalonia (GHS) and the Municipal Institute of the ‘Housing and Rehabilitation of Barcelona (IMHAB).

This year’s edition is promoted by Housing Europe and Barcelona City Council, through the Municipal Institute of Housing and Rehabilitation (IMHAB), together with the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona, the Generalitat de Catalunya , the Generalitat Valenciana, the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda and other partner entities from all over the world (200 in total).






The State-level Working Group on Cooperative Housing in REAS was set up in 2020 after the first state meeting on Collaborative Housing in October 2019 in Madrid. It works to promote the model and projects in three areas: structuring the networked ecosystem and creating spaces for collaboration between initiatives, advocacy and development of harmonised regulations, as well as the dissemination and communication.  It is made up of 40 people from project members and staff from entities all over Spain. The network’s working group is growing and supports the creation of new territorial groups.


The Network of Networks of Alternative and Solidarity Economy (REAS RdR) has been promoting a more social, sustainable and solidarity-based economic model for more than 25 years. In its confederal structure at national level, around twenty territorial and sectoral networks are grouped together, comprising more than 1000 companies and more than 250,000 people. The lines of work are based on the principles and values of the Charter of the Solidarity Economy to act with respect and care for the environment, to promote a model of solidarity and collaboration, and to place people and their needs before profit or profitability.





Grupo de Trabajo de Vivienda Cooperativa en cesión de uso
en REAS Red de Redes

Rubén Méndez, Secretaría Técnica Grupo Vivienda en REAS Red de Redes



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