What we learned from La Montagne


Today I met Audrey from La Montagne, and these are my main takeaways.

Context: La Montagne is a small (ten units) co-housing in Schaarbeek, still under construction. Its website is currently down, but some information on the project can be found on CoArchi’s site.

  • Its main goal is intergenerationality. This is to allow for an organic, non-disruptive change of the cohort of inhabitants, as opposed to all of the founders dying at the same time.
  • The core group assembled in the summer of 2018, as many of them were on CoArchi’s mailing list. They received an invitation to visit a site that had potential to become a cohousing. Five families were interested (on the basis of a rough estimation of the final cost of logdings once the project would be finished), so CoArchi started immediately the negotiation with the owner. Meanwhile, the group was completed with new entrants coming from the personal networks of the core group.
  • In June 2019 the group acquired the building from the owner. They did not start any legal vehicle, ASBL or cooperative. Most of the group were buying their first home, so they benefited from a tax rebate (VAT on house construction/renovation in Belgium is 21%, but it goes down to 9% if that’s your first home). Despite this, this was a stressing moment, because it was not clear how much the operation would cost, and some of the costs (for example the first batch of the notary’s fee, 1% of the sale price out of a total fee of 3% of the sale price) were to be fronted, and non-recoverable. But anyway, the purchase went through, and the new owners got the keys. The complex (2 buildings) cost 1.8 M.
  • They then (not CoArchi) obtained from the commune the necessary permissions, and the work started.
  • Later in the year a tension with CoArchi started. The group felt they – and the architects’ studio Twice, which CoArchi was partnered with – were untransparent (example: the construction plan at some point suddenly included linoleum floors, when everyone had opted for wooden ones) and unresponsive. Additionally, the budget was ballooning: initially set at 1 M, it was now estimated at 1.6 M. In March 2020, immediately before lockdown, they had a meeting with CoArchi where they complained. CoArchi reacted by hiring a facilitator to “help them solve their internal conflicts”. Audrey is very positive about this: they did not really have conflicts, but they did need to make important and difficult decisions. For example: would they rebuild the roof? If yes, that would cost even more money. But if no, they would not be able to use a spectacular flat roof, where they had hoped to build a vegetable garden. Thanks to the facilitator, many such decisions were made very fast.
  • After that, the tension between CoArchi and the group ebbed, but not by much. The other progress was a detailed calendar with the works to be done. But even that ended up being ineffective, as the contractor physically taking care of the work turned out to be inadequate: delays, mistakes that cost more delays, work not protected that then gets ruined by the rain, etc. COVID did not help.
  • In all this, Triodos behaved well. They stood by the project and gave decent conditions to the people therein.
  • Advice: try not to stress too much over the management of the common spaces. Better to get started, leaving those activities free to find their way.

La Montagne is still in the same situation. The works are not over, the budget is not stabilized once and for all, there is still a tension with CoArchi.