This chapter looks at how the temporary settlement can grow roots into the permanent neighborhood through the development of privately commissioned housing.
The organization of
building in the
In The Netherlands,
however, it is quite uncommon, despite governmental stimulation and
guidelines. There is heated debate, not on the question how this strange
situation can exist, but more on the topic if it is desirable to begin with.
Many professionals fear, that more freedom for individuals, will lead to
“situations like in
This chapter briefly explores how this strange and exceptional situation can exist in The Netherlands and why it is so resilient. For despite the fact that there is a large desire to change the situation, not much comes about as yet. Abundant supplies of information, guidelines, case studies and experiments are available, but the concept does not get beyond the status of pilot projects. It has yet to become a normal approach.
People who commission their own house, are looked at as heroes, a bit strange and most presumably rich. It is fairly usual, however, to privately commission works like bathrooms and kitchens. This chapter looks at how this practice can be up-scaled to larger chunks of the building exercise. It will look at how the Local Economy Organization (LEO) of the settlement can play an intermediary role between private and commercial developers.
Objective of this chapter is to see how the development of the temporary settlement into a permanent one could be realized by privately commissioned work. Principle is that like anywhere else in the world, here too, houses will have a better price/quality relation and will fit peoples wishes better, if they are commissioned privately. So the objective is not to investigate private commissioning for its own sake, but only as a means to lead to a better price/quality relation. This chapter describes how to get there by splitting the building process up into different phases such, that only those parts are privately commissioned, that are interesting and feasible.
The day before
municipal election changed the political landscape in 2002, the national and
municipal governments signed a concept- agreement on urbanization. Because of
large shifts in national politics the final contract, signed in 2004, was
less broad. The original agreement included a wide range of measures. The most
shocking of which to the cities was, that from 2005 onwards, one third of the
housing production should be commissioned by individuals. In
The new emphasis was made possible by an interesting coalition of right and left wing political forces. The Secretary of State, who drafted the agreement, was motivated by the freedom of choice objectives of his liberal democratic party. The amendment of the quota of privately commissioned housing was brought in by the social democratic party. For them, the motivation was to bring house ownership within the reach of a larger part of the population. Blessed by such a wide political support, the principle as such has become undisputed, but the large question is how. How can national and municipal government sign an agreement on the behavior of private individuals?
How can this be organized? And if it can be organized –which is seriously doubted by professionals- how to avoid that a complete mess results? The debate has not slowed down yet. A large stream of publications, symposia, experiments and pilot projects has been initiated. Rather than evaluating those, in the following we will explore how this challenge to the administration could be turned into an opportunity for the temporary settlement.
In the first decades of the twentieth century Dutch architecture was world famous. One of the specialties was the skill with which social housing was being optimized. With limited resources and minimal space, optimal and especially for that time remarkably good housing was created. Generations of architects have been trained since to get the most out of the smallest budgets, a skill that is highly appreciated in a country known to be thrifty. For decades housing has been cheaper than in neighboring countries, but it has also resulted in more uniformity. It is not uncommon to find the most exclusive and expensive of apartments with the same ceiling-height as is common in social housing. Minimal measurements of sanitary facilities, staircases, doors, corridors, or storage, have become standard.
It turns out that many people who build their own house are simply motivated by the fact, that this standard does not fit their needs, which are not extravagant in any way. Forced by those personal requirements, they have the choice between paying a disproportionate amount for ‘extra’s’ or going through the effort of arranging for their needs themselves.
Despite the fact that there is clearly a need for more tailor made housing, and despite the conviction that houses should be determined primarily by its inhabitants, not much happens. The people who do help themselves and organize to provide for their housing needs are few. Everybody complains about housing (the prices, the quality, the waiting-lists) but few feel the urge to do something about it. Even fewer are aware that it is actually possible to do something about it (other than squatting) when you are not rich.
There is a deeply rooted conviction that housing is a collective responsibility. So the larger the problems become, the louder everybody complains about the housing corporations who in turn blame the government. In practice not much changes, except for the volume of the complaints and the repetition of the concerns. The situation is somewhat comparable to post-socialist countries, where it took a while before people realized that self-help is an option. The Dutch have lost both awareness and know-how on how to go about building your own house. Very hesitantly the first ‘building buddies’ are offering their services and the first housing catalogues are made, but there is not much experience on the matter yet.
Experience is not
only lacking on the side of the individuals but also on the side of the
municipalities. Nor do they know how to find the capacity to deal with
increased numbers of building applications. So in order for private
commissioning to be successful, it is desirable that an intermediary
organization exists. This organization can also lump up individual building
plans and thus limit administration. The Nest! project
provides such an organization. The Local Economic Organization (LEO) has a
housing branch where expertise on housing is available (see previous
organizations are common in the only area in the
The debate around privately commissioned housing is mainly about the looks of it. Critics fear rows of houses where each has different colors and details that are not in harmony and thus prevent a holistic urban entity. This is considered undesirable both for esthetic and more ideological reasons and these two logics get mixed up in the debate.
Because norms about esthetics are subjective, an important argument for approving building plans is that it ‘fits in’. This means that proportions, scale and use of materials does not cause disharmony with the environment.
Such a logic works in favor of plans that are standard and minimize individual expression. “Just act normal and you are crazy enough” is a popular saying. The desire that the authorities keep extravagant building of others in bounds, obviously contrasts with the increasing desire to express ones individuality through ones style of living. Individuality has become more important and is increasingly connected to the right to express this individuality, as a sort of ‘3D freedom of expression’.
changing attitude towards more individualism, as far as housing is concerned,
the basic pattern continues to be one of basic trust in collective forces.
This is different in
Even though experience shows that privately commissioned housing looks no different than housing constructed through any other organizational formula, the professional debate remains skeptical. This displays a paternalistic, if not arrogant attitude from the side of the professionals. A diploma is no guarantee for good taste, nor will the lack of it give people preference for ugliness. The debate about looks is slightly beside the point. The political issue of privately commissioned housing is not about matters of taste, but about a wider range of choice and quality for the individual. That, however, poses a direct threat to those who work in sectors related to building. Their work will become more difficult or at any rate different. They will loose part of their status. Matters of taste have always been the specialty of architects and others who are now fiercely debating privately commissioned housing. If the main focus and function of a house is to fit the needs and lifestyle of the owner, looks lose importance. If it is terribly ugly to general professional standards. It can still be acceptable if that ugliness works for the owner in his own social circles.
Although in most parts of the world ‘building your own house’ is associated with poverty, in The Netherlands it is rather seen as something for the rich. Recent examples prove that it is not necessarily something only for millionaires. But even if you do not have to be rich, it does certainly help. For without money, you need a fair amount of either knowledge, time, skills or a good network to get the job done.
Building your own house is ill advised, if lack of money is your sole motivation. The ten percent that is won (as an estimated price for the intervention of the developer) is lost by scale disadvantages. Just as Dutch architects are shrewd at getting the most out of a limited surface, so are Dutch builders good in optimizing building costs. The building process is fairly well optimized and large scaled, both in procurement of materials and the work itself.
Not much can be won
either by putting in your own labor. The experience of Polderdrift,
a project in
In the Nest! we are trying to get away from the dilemma that private commissioning is either a headache, expensive or both. By operating as a group the scale advantages that developers have, can be won back. Even though financial gains of private commissioning might not be enough of a motivation alone to start a complicated process, they are not to be neglected totally either. And even though there is no miracle solution, through which even the poorest can become home-owners, participating in the Nest! still brings home-ownership within reach of a larger group.
In practice the temporary settlement will mean that owning or renting are not as strictly separated categories as usual. Because the pioneers are co-owners of the Housing Co-op, they are already more than just renters. (This is in theory the case in every housing corporation but in practice the link has become very indirect) The Nest! Housing Co-op will be dissolved after the duration of the settlement and its value given to the shareholders, the pioneers. Their rent thus becomes partly a saving for the future, (though this end value will certainly not be enough to buy a house).
There are three ways in which owning a house at the end of the Nest! period can get closer, which we describe in the following scenarios:
Pioneers who choose to pay more than their rent, use the Nest as a savings-account. This can be done by participating in the savings schemes described in the previous chapter. If during the time they live in the temporary settlement they live more modest than normally, but still put aside the same amount for housing as they paid before, they can save towards buying a house. (Scenario 1)
Actively Participating in the Development Project of the Housing Co-op:
By working as a group for the future development of the permanent neighborhood, each of the participants brings their own house closer.
Even those who do not manage to invest enough to buy a house, can participate and earn Local Currency and experience. (Scenario 2)
When the Developing Group does not only develop new housing for its own members but also for people who do not live in the settlement, it earns a profit. That will come to the benefit of all participants, because it raises the value of the Local Economy Organization :LEO.(Scenario 3)
Case Example: Joining the Building Society 
Participation in the development project of the Nest Housing Co-op (option 2) does not necessarily mean that one owns a house in the end. This depends on the amount of capital one can bring together. Part of this capital, however, can be different from Euro. As described in the previous chapter, the Local Economy of the temporary settlement offers a possibility to transfer ones personal resources like skills, knowledge, time and savings, into Local Currency. This Local Currency is backed by real estate (temporary houses) and therefore as good as money. Maintenance work in the temporary settlement is paid for directly in the form of Local Currency, which is linked to the value of the temporary settlement, as is described in the previous chapter.
The real estate and development work described in this chapter is a bit different. The housing and urban plans that this part of the Housing Co-op develops for the permanent neighborhood, are not there yet. So the value of the Local Currency that participants of the development project earn by working for it, is not backed until those houses are there. The amount of Local Currency that is earned through this work, can therefore not be calculated and paid yet. Instead it is put on a time savings account that can only be transferred to Local Currency, if and when this backing does exist, when the permanent housing has been developed and sold.
For those who participate, this will mean that when the houses have been sold, their time input is transferable to Local Currency and thus to Euro. This option is most interesting for those who have a direct interest in the houses that will be built, the people who want to live there. By participating in the group commissioning the houses, they make their future house the way they want it, and they earn Local Currency at the same time to make it more affordable, which they can only access, but also only need to access, when they are actually buying their house.
The houses that come out of this process are not necessarily cheaper than other houses on the market. It is just that the pioneers buying it, will be able to pay part of it in Local Currency, depending on the input they were able to give in terms of work. The more you do yourself, the cheaper the house will be. This can be described as a sort of “leasing a house” scheme. By participating in the development project of the Housing Co-op people work towards constructing their own house, while they continue to rent. Through renting cheaply they also save for the ownership of the house they are building.
Some pioneers participating in the development project might drop out in the process, and no longer want to acquire the house they developed. Or the group decides to build more houses than they need for themselves. These houses can be sold to outsiders. This is option 3. Developing houses for people that are not members comes with a profit. That profit will benefit all pioneers, because the end value of the Local Economy Organization will be higher. How much they profit depends on how much time and savings they have invested in the Local Economy Organization.
Contributing money and capital to the Local Economy Organization can be an interesting investment opportunity also for people who are not living in the temporary settlement, even though the interest will be paid in Local Currency. People who want to commission a house, but who do not want to live in the temporary settlement or get actively involved in the work to realize it, could choose for this option. Rather then just buying the house when it is all done, they could get involved from the beginning, by investing their money and participating in planning meetings for which they have time to attend.
This can be designed as a kind of shareholders scheme and creates win-win situations for both sides. The Nest! needs less (more expensive) bank loans and private investors can get a better deal for their money as well, while supporting a meaningful, promising and innovative project.
Case Example of an Investment Possibility
Even in The Netherlands people find it perfectly normal to commission small construction works like bathrooms and kitchens. They get it done by a small local firm, who assists with the design and paperwork as well. Full buildings are just a step too large for such firms. It requires a specific skill to organize a building process, a skill in which project developers specialize. Over time building processes have grown in scale and thus the gap between the local handyman and the large developers or corporations has grown too.
There are commercial enterprises who fill this gap. These firms called building buddies provide the knowledge needed to navigate the building jungle. The Housing Co-op does the same on a non-commercial basis.
Starting up the temporary settlement will be a rather complicated task because in The Netherlands there is not much experience in the type of work involved. The Housing Co-op is designed to fulfill this task. The experience gained in setting up the temporary settlement can be used to assist the pioneers in consolidating their existence after the duration of the Nest!. The time that the settlement is there, say five to ten years, is long enough to develop a good housing project. The longer time span that participative projects tend to have, does not constitute that much of a problem. All participants have the possibility to live already in the area where they will develop their new house. Regardless if they are still in the temporary settlement or the new house has already been delivered, they can start their social life in the neighborhood.
The tasks of the temporary settlement in organizing the process of consolidating a permanent housing project include the following:
Tasks to be done by the Housing Co-op:
▪ Provide the legal entity for those who are interested in building their own house to join as a member
▪ Represent those members in any formal situation (meetings, but also PR)
▪ Coordinate the planning and design process
▪ Provide knowledge on building, planning and legal issues
▪ Negotiate with municipality, landowners, contractors etc. on behalf of the members to obtain all that is necessary (building permits, land, etc)
▪ Commission the works that have to be out-sourced
▪ Coordinate the work that can be done by pioneers
▪ Provide housing during the process
Tasks to be done by the Savings and Loans Division
▪ Attract investors for the plans
▪ Coordinate the building society
▪ Administer the savings that have been made by the savings groups
Tasks to be done by the Neighborhood Academy
▪ Organize the interested individuals into a group
▪ Coordinate the learning and planning process
▪ Provide outside knowledge input for the process
As mentioned before housing design and production in The Netherlands is fairly well optimized. The houses that are being built, work the best for the way the building industry is set up. The other way around this means that anything different means complications for the builder and higher prices for the consumers. It is not unreasonable that developers ask relatively high prices for the extra’s they provide with standard models.
For them it means deviating from the highly mechanized and optimized building process. It means putting in more expensive labor.
This is exactly the point in which the Nest! is different. Putting in work means saving Euro, means supporting the Local Currency. And, since the building process the pioneers specialize in is small scale, labor intensive dealings of little design details here and another kind of material there, do not take extra effort, but are the normal process. By its nature, the development process in the Nest! is more fit for building tailor made solutions than the general practice. This tailoring advantage plays out, however, mainly in the design and planning phase and the final stages of the building process itself. That is why it is suggested that the Nest! works together with developers, who have their comparative advantages the other way around. In this way the Nest! can concentrate on the most labor- and participation intensive parts of the process, while traditional developers can contribute the more standardized and mechanized parts.
The Nest Housing Co-op will do an inventory amongst its members to see what competencies there are, that could be useful in this process. This involves several levels:
It is important that all participants reflect and gain insight on their own wishes. This is not a kind of knowledge that can be capitalized or saves on the building costs, but it is important to improve the quality of the end product in the eyes of the owners.
Then there is the technical; knowledge of those who have experience in planning, design and organizational processes. These kinds of skills save the group from having to hire outside expertise. That has the double advantage of saving expenses and a larger involvement of participants. Involvement in the process assures a larger flexibility in changing plans. For example: if during the process certain elements turn out to be complicated or expensive, the group can decide to either leave it out or do an extra round of money gathering. Such an outcome is only acceptable to people who have gone through the process and understand the reason behind the final decision. This kind of involvement usually does not exist in a normal process where the end users are anonymous clients.
Next to the expertise in the design and development process, members can also contribute to the building process itself. This constitutes the most interesting option in the venture of adapting the building process to its organization. Certain expertise, like plumbing, electricity, or carpentry is always needed, but for the rest the plans can be adapted to the skills available in the temporary settlement. If there are good masons it is logical to work a lot with masonry. If there are no particular skills available, just a lot of enthusiastic people, the expertise of a labor-intensive building method could be hired from the outside. If for example the group has an interest in environmentally friendly building experiments they could use constructions with mud and stray. For this, an experienced foreman could be hired from outside, who has the task of instructing and guiding the pioneers working with him.
The skills do not need to be available amongst the people who want a house, nor does everybody who participates in the construction need to move there once the houses are finished. Construction work is simply one of the services that the Housing Co-op engages in and hires labor for. The only difference is in the payment of the work. Outside expertise is paid in Euro and should therefore be limited as much as possible. Construction or planning and design work that is done by pioneers who do not want to obtain a permanent house after the settlement, are paid in Local Currency. In order to pay them, this amount of currency needs to be backed by real value, by the Euro that those who want a house, will have to save. The work they put in themselves is paid for in Local Currency on a savings account. They will not know exactly what the value of that savings is until the houses are finished.
A problem of new neighborhoods is often the chaos inhabitants need to endure, when moving into an area that is still a building site. This problem seems to worsen if the work is not being done by a few large firms but by a large number of individuals. Whether they are cooperating in the same temporary building corporation or not, they might all have a different speed in getting their act together. This does not need to pose a problem if there is a split between the rough construction to be done by the large developers and the finishing. Once the rough phase is finished in a large scale mechanized process, the finishing of the urban space can be done at any given speed. The work that follows is no different from renovations and can be done without heavy equipment that ruins the sidewalks. In such an environment it does not really matter if some are quicker in finishing their house than others. The neighborhood simply becomes more like a living organism, growing into adulthood. Some may live in a half finished house for years until they have enough money to put in their dream kitchen. This does not cause any disturbance to their neighbors.
Plans become richer
when they reflect a multitude of perspectives, because they give space to a
multitude of lifestyles. The
Participating in the development process has different motivations. For some it is a way to earn wages. Others want to realize their dream house. Either way the participants have a strong motive getting involved in the participative planning process organized in the Academy: they personally benefit from it. This is rather different from the people who show up at sessions in which building plans are presented that are made the usual way. Most often they fear that they will loose by the plans, that are forced on them. Their time is not compensated, which puts them into a different position from the paid professionals presenting the plans. By way of the Local Currency all time invested in the development process is compensated.
Building a house is something you probably do only once in a lifetime. It is a pity if the carefully scraped together knowledge is lost afterwards. In the Academy the knowledge will be applied, documented and passed on to others.
In the foregoing five different ways of looking at privately commissioning a house has been described. You can build a house as a political statement or simply as a beautiful piece of architecture to live in. It is a way to invest your money or requires at any rate a fair amount of it. You can look at it from an organizational perspective or as a learning process. Of course it is all of the above. In the Nest! private commissioning is first and foremost about community building. The whole project is about community building and private commissioning is an important element and instrument to assure that the experience of the temporary settlement consolidates into the permanent neighborhood.
Those who build their house in the permanent settlement are the vital link between the experience of the temporary settlement and the neighborhood that will come afterwards. The majority of the pioneers will not settle in the permanent development once the temporary settlement is dismantled, but for most of them it is not the reason to participate in the first place.
Depending on their budget wishes and possibilities, the families who do buy a permanent house made by the Nest Housing Co-op participate in the settlement in different ways:
The most passive participants are those who in the end, when the houses have been developed, show up and buy one, just like any other house on the market. They will not notice any more of the community building process that took place in the settlement than what they see in the place where they will live and in the books and video that were made of the process.
Other people have heard beforehand about the possibility of privately commissioning your house in the Nest! and have inscribed.
may have a busy life that does not permit them to take part in any of the
meetings. Instead they contribute financially. Pioneers of the design team
visit them at their house on several occasions to interview all family
members on their needs and wishes. The resulting requirements for this family
are further developed and represented in the meetings by these members of the
design team. They are quite glad to do this, because they earn Local Currency
that helps them finance their own house. On top of that it is a good
opportunity to clear their own process and they get to know a future
neighbor. Although this family does not take part in the development process
Most of the people who commission a house participate more actively. Even if they do not live in the temporary settlement they will want to get their vision in as much as possible. Being able to influence their future living environment inspires them to go to meetings and give input. Where they can they also put in their skills and get paid for it.
The most active are obviously the families that move to the temporary settlement preceding their move to a privately commissioned house in the newly developed neighborhood. They are familiar with their new neighborhood long before they move into their house and most probably become focal points and play key roles in the developing neighborhood networks in the newly built settlement.
Also pioneers, who at the start do not foresee that they will ever be able to buy their own house, might take part in the transition to the permanent neighborhood. They can join one of the collective saving schemes and save the down-payment needed or they might get contacts that give them a possibility to rent from one of the people building a house.
Whatever the motives are for participating in the process, it assures that more people get involved in urban development. At present it usually is only a physical project, put down by contractors from outside. Involving residents by allowing space to realize personal goals and dreams, by giving them influence and inviting their investments in form of time, work and money allows for a positive and larger social involvement to enter urban planning.
The overall process benefits tremendously from resident participation. Such a process exposes the physical forces to a social dynamic that can improve their quality greatly. The construction business has the reputation of “only being interested in selling huts”. Not really a motivation you desire as the driving force for those who are responsible for creating something as important as your home. Involvement in the process keeps the development business close to their social responsibility and gives them an economic opening to enter into a social process that is normally outside of their perspective. For example, they can participate by building the core frames, that are the starting point for the privately commissioned housing or they can provide work to pioneers.
The part of the new neighborhood developed by the pioneers will show a diverse image and will take a while to materialize. But in coming alive it really comes alive. It inherits the spirit of the temporary settlement. In the process a large number of people who normally do not participate in building jobs have gained valuable working experience. But most important of all, the people that have a house there, have realized it themselves, exactly to their wishes, with the optimal result possible within their budget. They have worked on that dream together with the people who live in the same neighborhood. They have gone through conflicts and successes with them, they have gotten to know each other. There is social cohesion in such a neighborhood, because in the process of working on it together people have bonded.