Collectief Goed, an Antwerp-based cooperative that relies on the cooperation of five local organisations, aims to tackle the acute shortage of affordable housing on the social rental market. Thanks to long-term loans from Triodos Bank, the organisation was able to renovate several old buildings for which social housing companies did not have the necessary funds. To date, a total of more than 30 families have been allocated a modern and safe home. Interview with Dirk Depover, sales manager at Collectief Goed.

What was the challenge that inspired your project?

There is a huge housing shortage in and around Antwerp. The city is a rapidly growing metropolis. More than 5.000 additional residents require housing in Antwerp each year. We see that many (young) families from the lower income categories can’t afford to buy a house. Renting on the private rental market is not an option for these families either: the prices are sky-high and unfortunately there is still discrimination as well.

The social housing sector is again struggling with huge waiting lists. Some families have to wait more than ten years before they are entitled to social housing. As a result, the most vulnerable families are often forced to rent a house that is in a deplorable state. At Collectief Goed, we want to do our part to give everyone a fair chance to find accommodation in a high-quality rental home at an affordable price.

What was the innovative practice used to tackle this problem?

The cooperative Collectief Goed, which was founded in 2015, works together with the social housing company De Ideale Woning, among others. This company brings homes – often old, historic buildings –that they can’t afford to renovate within a manageable budget. Then we look for loans to carry out the necessary renovations. The renovation team at Collectief Goed ensures that the homes meet the modern climate standards after the building work. Then, together with the social rental company, we look for families to move into the houses. This is quite a unique way of working.

But our work doesn’t stop there: as soon as the families have found accommodation, we also build the community. We help families to get rooted in their new environment, encourage them to start projects and in many cases help with schoolwork and Dutch lessons. In this way, we achieve a double goal: we create a quality living environment and ensure faster integration of vulnerable families into our society.

What impact has Triodos Bank had on your or organisation?

The first – and most important – element is that Triodos Bank gets what we are doing, and completely understands our company. As a cooperative, we are not a traditional company. We also work in a very specific sector. There is no other company that does exactly the same as us. That's why we are very happy that Triodos Bank really understands what we’re all about and how we are trying to give dozens of families a better life.

Without the loans we received from Triodos, Collectief Goed would not have been able to successfully complete the renovations. For a high-quality total renovation, the budget runs up from 120.000 to 150.000 euros.

Triodos also believed in our business model from the very beginning. This is not always the case with other banks. They often put the financial aspect far above the social one. By taking out long-term loans, we are able to develop a sustainable business model.

What impact has your company had on the sector in which you work?

We are trying to alleviate the serious housing shortage in Antwerp. There are currently 20.000 social housing units on the market, but almost twice as many people looking for social housing. The waiting times for many families are over ten years.

We are well aware that Collectief Goed – despite all the efforts– cannot completely solve this problem. But our ultimate goal is to profoundly change the social housing sector by planting the seed of the Collectief Goed model into the rest of the province of Antwerp and – who knows – also in the rest of the whole region of Flanders. We have noticed a lot of enthusiasm regarding our way of working from other cities.

In fact, we have already passed an important hurdle: we have clearly shown that our model is replicable and scalable. Throughout Flanders, local cooperatives, in collaboration with social housing and rental companies, could renovate properties and rent them out to the most vulnerable families in our society.

What impact has your company had on the community?

The old workers' houses that De Ideal Woning brings into the cooperative formed close-knit neighbourhoods in the past, where people came together and lived together. The neighbourhoods had a school, a church, a community centre, and so on. Over the years, that neighbourhood dynamic disappeared, and the neighbourhoods began to look run down.

By revitalising the houses – rather than handing them over to the whims of investors – we are restoring and reshaping the neighbourhood. Here’s a small, fun example: we organise competitions in our neighbourhood in Berchem for the most beautifully maintained front garden. This kind of initiative brings the whole area together and makes the neighbourhood look nicer too.

How does Triodos Bank share your vision?

Like us, Triodos Bank has a clear social purpose and attaches great importance to combating poverty. In that sense, it is a perfect fit with Collectief Goed and our collaboration is the perfect match. From the very first conversations, we noticed that Triodos is more accustomed than other banks to setting social goals as well.

In addition, climate issues are as important for Triodos Bank as they are us. Sometimes we are renovating buildings that are a century old and that are barely insulated, if at all. We strip these buildings from top to bottom, often leaving only the outer walls and the roof intact. We then rebuild the inside completely, with environmentally friendly materials, a thick layer of insulation, underfloor heating and a ventilation system. We also install solar panels on the roofs, and in the near future, we would love to share the energy generated among all the houses, including those where solar panels cannot be installed, or where the efficiency is lower. By converting the old homes – energy label F or G – into modern homes of approximately label B, we contribute to achieving the climate targets. In simple ways that are manageable for our residents.

(c) photo: Marco Mertens