Today we had a productive meeting with Charles Spapens, échevin of the Commune de Forest. His competences include
Développement Economique – Emploi - Economie sociale – Commerce - Revitalisation urbaine (contrat de quartier, CRU, FEDER, politique de la ville) - Planification urbaine (compétence partagée)
Charles has a very concrete understanding of “green building” (example: people mismanage passively heated buildings, because they do not really understand how to run them), and we were able to connect on the practicalities. Unfortunately, I made a mistake in not presenting the project from zero: from Charles’s email, I got the idea that he remembered what we had talked about when he visited us a year ago, which of course was foolish. Here is what we learned:
- Like elsewhere in Europe, in Belgium it is the municipality (commune) who can magick an industrial building into a residential one. Their decision depends on physical characteristics of the building, but also on municipality-wide parameters: as the number of residents increase, communes must provide additional parking spots, green areas, places in schools and daycare centers etc. This makes them an essential point of check-in, because a building might be refused conversion into residential if it is in an area that struggles to provide services to existing residents. In general, the main way to conversion is to find a building you like, and then go talk to Charles or his opposite numbers in the other 18 communes. They will put you in touch with the owners, and will have an idea of whether the area is eligible for more residents.
- An alternative is to respond to public tenders that are already looking for similar stuff. Forest has nothing planned in the immediate future; at the Brussels regional level, the person to talk to is the minister for housing, M.me Ben Hamou. However, I took a closer look at the government, and would argue that our natural ministers are M. Maron (chargé de la Transition climatique, de l’Environnement, de l’Energie et de la Démocratie participative), or even M. Smet, (chargé de l’Urbanisme et du Patrimoine, des Relations européennes et internationales).
- His advice is not to go talk to the minister until we are a bit further into execution, with a technical plan and in incorporated organization. We discussed this a bit after the meeting: the need seems to be to “make it real” with architect renderings and numbers. We are not ready with that yet, but it seems that it makes sense to invest in both new knowledge (Matt’s technical document, my spreadsheets) and communication. We cannot have renderings, but would it make sense to have an artist’s impression of life at The Reef?
- We should have a clearer story about why Edgeryders is involved in all this. And the story that makes sense is: “We are a community of people and one company involved in a small co-living space. It is working well, and we would like to scale it and open source it”.
We also learned (but from Chantal) that Brussels Environment has an exemplary building (bâtiments éxemplaires) unit. These I would like to know more about: is it just a certification they give? Or are they influencing policy?
What next for possible partners
I asked to @chantal_vanoeteren to make appointments with:
- Whoever is in charge of the exemplary buildings program at Brussels Environment.
- The most forward-looking of real estate developer we have identified, ReVive. But: what is their business model? Acquire + build + sell or rent?
- The Gent cooperative doing “rent to buy” that @noemi and I have talked about. Chantal has met someone from a cooperative called Woon Coop, which naybe is the same one, and he has volunteered to come and talk to us.
Please Chantal and @manuelpueyo, make whatever comments and corrections you deem necessary.