Freiraum Alfter Peer Governance

FreiRaum Alfter e.V. is a user community of self-managad houses in an almost rural context but very close to the city of Bonn. Here we describe the Peer Governance of Freiraum Alfter, especially their way to relationalize property.

To Keep Commons & Commerce Distinct and to implement this distinction comes close to the core purpose of Freiraum Alfter: to take housing and shelter out of the market and put it in the hand of communities. The most important tool to do so is to "dissipate individual property".

"In fact," says one of the interviewees, "Relationalize Property is exactly what we do". This is how it works.

- The "Verein" (association) as such legally owns the houses. For that purpose a "for the common good" association (gemeinnütziger Verein) has been established in the early 1980s. (This legal form doesn't exist anymore in German law!) - Individuals become member of the association and as such co-owner of the houses. That is: individuals co-own the houses AS and only as members. - Each person signs a membership-contract, but not a ownership-title. This contract entitles the members, which are usually inhabitants as well, to their use rights. If the membership ends, the co-ownership status ends as well. In other words: A member is co-owner not only of the house s/he lives in, but of all houses (SARAH- CORRECT?) as long as there is at least one active relationship (membership). However, usually members also live in the houses, even though they don't need to. Thus, co-ownership is related to actively acknowledging membership and actively using the house. Living in it. Ownership is enacted through both relationships - to the others and to the house itself, and in that sense relational.

In short: who acknowledges a concrete relationship with the others (association-membership) and with the house (living in it) become co-owners. If these "living relationship" end, co-ownership phases out.

The individual housing projects that belong to Freiraum Alfter, are pretty autonomous in their decision-making. They enjoy less freedoms than the projects associated to Mietshäusersyndikat to the extend that there is only ONE Verein (association). The housing projects don't have their own legal form. People are individual members of Freiraum Alfter e.V. Everything needs to be coordinated with Freiraum Alfter e.V.

Using informal spaces for coordination. source

Declare Shared Purpose & Values. Purpose and values are laid down in the statutes ('Satzung' in German) as well as in general project descriptions. Even though, some of the rooms are rented to newcomers "as if they were normal rooms for rent. Some people move in without even realizing, that they became part of something special. What is missing, some members confirm, is that "these things are really brougth to everybodies awarness." During the re-structuration process (2016/2017) members used twice the World-Café method html to discuss their shared ideas and values. Putting them on the table and reflecting them in the open, turned out to be surprising even for older member. They were surprised by the sheer multidimensionality and richness of the whole. For the future, FreiRaum Alfter e.V. want to communicate shared purpose and values during the first conversations, when people apply to move in and rent a room. (Bewerbungsgespräch)

The need to Rely on Heterarchy, Not Hierarchy became self-evident to the FreiRaum Alfter community, because for several years there was an informal process of hierarchisation going on. A single person took a lot of responsibility (guaranteeing the association's survival!). In so doing a lot of decisions have been taken without duely informing the members. This lead to an incredible accumulation not only of work, but also of technical and insider knowledge. The old - more hierarchical - structures (association -> board) have been complemented with circles: the circle of coordination, the circle of construction, the circle of culture. There is still a board (mandatory by law for this kind of associations), but the workload and flow of information is getting distributed.

This re-structuring has been key to Assure Commoners' Consent in Decisionmaking. Both, the board and the circles meet regularly. The rule is, that board and circle (SARAH?) meetings are open in general to all members. At the level of each house, it is easier to assure commoner's consent in decisionmaking, seems to work well in each of the housing projects.

An interesting dimension according to the interviewees is to Set Semi-Permeable Boundaries. On the one hand, the inhabitants are members. They are in. Those who don't live in the houses and aren't members are out. So, there is a clear border. On the other hand, given the management autonomy of each housing project, "social limits" can be overcome. For instance, people who don't have the financial means are not necessarily exluded. Also, the houses often turn into open meeting spaces. They are open to many visitors, to the neighborhood, to parties, flee-markets and so on. A member puts it that way:

sometimes rooms, that in principle are for individual use, are opened up to others, even for a pretty long time. This doesn't happen on a regular basis, but if needed and if people ask for.

In general, the designs allow for a certain degree of openess to others (non-members) and for different kinds of activities.

Not everything, nor all information is open and accessible to anybody. "It is just so complex, that it wouldn't work anyway." To Honor Transparency in a Sphere of Trust, the project uses Next-Cloud to Pool & Share information.

A general folder contains everything related to organizational matters and folders for the three circles store the more specific information. (ACCESS RIGHTS TO THESE FOLDERS UNCLEAR, SARAH said; "I guess they are not accessible to all.) Additionally, there are folders for the individual houses with access rights only for the members of each project. In these folders, also very individual data (who paid his/her rent and who didn't) is contained and accessible to those affected (but not to everybody - that is: it is transparent "in a sphere of trust". The board has access to all folders. For the others, in general, getting the information one needs is easy. Asking for is usually enough.

Finance Commons Provisioning - works through taking individual and collective responsibility for credits and cooperative co-financing, which turns out to be way cheaper than on the real-estate market.

Self-Monitor & Apply Graduated Sanctions. The interviewees don't remember conflicts that would habe to do with lack of trust or transparency, but frustration with the concentration of power and information lead to a restructuring of the process and to the introduction of a new accounting tool Once per month the person who oversees the numbers, sents an update to all members so that problems can be detected in time. Interview partners don't recall having applied sanctions.