How a co-living was organised in only a few months

These are unedited notes from a conversation with @Sabine_B_Frank @Malcolm @alberto @manuelpueyo, Robert from ECOLISE and myself. We use them to think and plan forward. All mistakes in the transcription are my own.

Robert always had a double role working with the government and ecovillages - he was a founder and used to live in one, in Sweden. He moved to Brussels earlier this year with the intention of setting up a coliving here.

The group of Wallons and then more Flemish people met in covid times end of May, beginning of June. Robert interviewed all the people. He advertised it in early May - 4 facebook sites and 2 big community sites: Sammenhausen and Habitat de participation groupé in FR, EN, NL. In the end in the mix of people expats were a minority. 10-12 people out of 30 started actively looking for places… They went to many visits, then started making the dossiers and giving them to the owners. Many places did not accept to rent to ‘colocataires’ (French for co-habitants).

Now: they found a 100 year old house in the Churchill area, in Brussels. It had 8 bedrooms and 9 people very committed, so they had to kick someone out. This problem was solved using protective foam padding to split the big master bedroom into 2. It cost 1000 eur in materials. They did it very carefully, and showed it to the landlord only after doing it, without asking for permission. Because the solution worked, the landlord then approved.

They had also seen Chateaux (Fr for castels) with more bedrooms, but they were looking for diplomats, families, stable group. Mainly the real estate agents act as gatekeepers and don’t even introduce them to the owners - very conservative owners and agents.
Now 9 rooms rented out - people switching rooms back and forth.

Some of the 30people have been living here, even though they were not part of the 9, so in practice they are about 12. A mixture of Wallons, Flemish and internationals… 50% Belgians, 50% foreign. Mixed languages, but mostly English.

We were very clear, it’s not a colocation, but a community.
We have cleaning schedule, common food purchasing - food is bought from a local coop/farmers so everything is ecological, local. We have weekly community meetings, common meals once a day, rotating who’s cooking. Mostly vegan and gluten free. - Robert says.

The 30 people want to stick together, difft people found different solutions, and the house is at the center. Now they are planning an event where they invited a presentation from one community member who went to Sweden to the ‘mother community’ and spent a month there with her partner.

How did the interviewing process go:
They had a google form in 3 languages with clear information also available in the ads.
Even after they closed, some people still applied - but at some point they had to close.
Many people wanted separate apartment, not house rental. - not realistic, to find a house with mini apartments.
Some people backed out when they saw the group is larger than what they had in mind. ‘I wouldn’t be interested in living with more than 4 people’; others had to live in specific parts of Brussels. The families in particular couldn’t work with the solution - in the end, no children.

Others in the community who were fluent in NL, FR had to deal with the contracts etc… so it’s really a flat organisation.

Did the Liking factor matter? How much you like and trust someone? It was more of a self-selection, some people wanted to move at different times etc. Robert was in a big hurry - so in the end it came to be with the people who were aligned and had the energy of moving quickly.
Now many stayed in the group of 30.

In the end, the people who were ready to move the quickest and were most flexible are quite young, don’t have children and attachments etc.

Coloc contract - with 7 signatories, and all the costs are divided by 9.
Luckily, the rooms have very similar quality. 290eur - 350eur per room.

It’s an interim solution, a 3year contract which could last for 20 years.

ECOLISE has a dream of setting up very Reef-ish in Brussels, a more modelled community, an urban large center which could house Ecolise HQ but also a lot of community organisation (ideally residential), and a farm at the edge of Brussels which could demonstrate ecological solutions.

We got together often and got to know each other well before we moved in - camping, cooking together etc. A lot of collective work in the house visiting and bidding.

Now we are locked in a house that’s not very ecological.

Most people are 26-30, Robert is the oldest one.
2 students, 1 intern, 1 psychologist/NGO worker, 1 engineer inspecting plastic recycling, someone working with The Democratic School (also ngo), teacher, 1 unemployed.
In the 30 group - many health workers, predominantly females.
2 of the women have arranged to live in tiny houses in Anderlecht.

A closed facebook group where their community organises and shared information.
The fb group is animated by Robert and there’s a need for people to stay together.

Next steps for the Reef group: people who are interested can request to join the facebook group and find others with similar plans. We are still thinking about the need to make a move but also to think long term - to have capacity to adapt the space, make modifications, and also to have a solid agreement financially that allows for god stewardship.