Expert article
Edit 02 February 2021
by Nils Scheffler

A look ahead - What does 2021 bring for the 'Yes, we rent!’ project

video conference about housing cooperative
COVID-19 and its effects continue to be a reality in Mataró, but also for the project 'Yes, we rent!'.

What can be expected from 'Yes, we rent!' in 2021? This has been the subject of the interview at the beginning of January 2021 by the UIA expert Nils Scheffler with Laia Carbonell, the project coordinator, Anna Sierra and Lluís Ferrer, founding members of the housing service cooperative BlocCooperatiu and Laura Font Mela, responsible for the training programme of troubled adolescents to improve their chances on the job market; four key people for the progress of the 'Yes, we rent!' project.

 

Yes, we rent in a nutshell

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Laura Font Mela:

For 2021, we would like to be able to continue the training course for the young people as set out in the programme. Especially the practical training in the renovation of the project flats, as this is where the young people put into practice what they have learned, which is a highly motivating moment for them. To end the year with the young people having real experience in the labour market would be ideal, not only for those who are now receiving the training but also for those who participated in the first edition.

Laia Carbonell:

Main goal for 2021 is to set up the cooperative and finish the renovation works of the first flats to be able to start allocating tenants to them, who will be members of the cooperative. Of course we want to attract further flats to the ‘Yes, we rent!’ project. Hopefully, we will reach 100 flats. To be able to reach our objective of 220 flats at the end of the project we have asked UIA for an extension of the project. Hopefully, we will get one more year to reach this objective. Parallel to all that we want to start the capitalisation of the project and explore upscaling opportunities and finding synergies beyond Mataró’s boundaries.

Anna Sierra / Lluís Ferrer:

As Laia said, our focus is to create the cooperative of tenants and owners. To achieve it, we have to involve all relevant stakeholders in the process – that takes time. We have to carefully manage all the necessary steps of the creation process to have a transparent and democratic process. There is 10 of us working hard on the development, but there is a list of over 120 people interested in joining the cooperative once it is launched. Precisely, to assist them in joining us is also part of our plan for 2021, as well as continuously improving the overall project, and finding new empty flats.

Laura Font Mela:

As challenges, right now, we detect two that concern us. The first one is the access to the labour market for the young people we train, as the current situation in this regard is quite devastating. The second one is the needed continuity for the young people beyond the ‘Yes, we rent!’ project: these young people, all of them living in a rather problematic family and social environment, need to be accompanied for a longer period of time, to be able to guide them in their integration and training itinerary, to help them in unforeseen circumstances and in moments of discouragement. How will we be able to do all this when the project ends?

Laia Carbonell:

The main challenge we see is to increase the speed of attracting new flats and to be able to manage all of them with the administrative burden each and every one brings with them. Also, having a cooperative with enough members equal to the number of flats we will have attracted to the project might be a challenge.

Anna Sierra / Lluís Ferrer:

First of all, we are very excited in our quest to transform the housing market in Mataró with the ‘Yes, we rent!’ project. We see as a main challenge to find and mobilize the owners of empty flats that share our vision for Mataró’s housing market. We need to convince them of the transformation power of the project. But we are confident because we strongly believe in its potential. So it should be an easy challenge! However, since this is an innovative project in our region, the biggest challenge has been to develop it with no previous reference in which to mirror ourselves and track our progress. Having a new idea is a seed that needs to grow and become tangible over the time. In this way Ideas are great but when you put it into practice you start to see all the difficulties and unanswered questions. Our goal is to find the answers and bring the idea to reality!

Laura Font Mela:

The day to day restrictions and their changing measures have marked the whole project and the attention to our young people. Training was already affected during the confinement and now, although we are in a better moment, it is clear to us that it will have a particular effect on the search for employment. It has never been easy for people at risk of exclusion to get an opportunity from companies, and now even less so. Together with the young people, we have learnt to internalise guidelines that were unthinkable before: the constant use of masks, the distance between them, work in pairs becoming individual to avoid contact. We have internalised ways of working, teaching and learning that are far removed from our usual practice.  The world of education, the world of training, is designed and devised to establish relationships and is carried out through teamwork and mutual support among participants. COVID forces us to reinvent ourselves and to look beyond what has been "normal" until now, but this does not mean that the capacity and reinvention that we have and have had become "normal".

Laia Carbonell:

The restrictions continue to have an impact regarding the ordinary activity of the project. There are no face-to-face meetings with the people who work to set up the cooperative. This is a big problem, as building up trust and confidence and personal contact is so much needed for such processes. Also our communication is aggravated. Meetings were expected to take place in different neighbourhoods to present the project to potential owners. These meetings are not possible and the profile of people are not Internet users (mainly older people), so there is an increasing difficulty to reach them and the potential target of 220 flats. In general, the pandemic brings a general feeling of uncertainty that makes people more averse to take risks or embark on new, innovative projects like ‘Yes, we rent!’.

Anna Sierra / Lluís Ferrer:

Actually, we wouldn’t know how to operate without restrictions. The group was born at the beginning of the pandemic, so we had to deal with it from the very beginning. Of course, without all the restrictions it would be easier to get the word out about the project and recruit more members, but we can’t wait to have offline meetings and meet new people who are interested to join us!

Laura Font Mela:

As a social entity, I have hope and faith in people, in their ability to face any negative situation in their desire to overcome it, in their energy to help others even when they have little strength. These are aspects that govern our daily lives, that mark the projects we venture and that give us our raison d'être. The success of the project cannot be summed up by our intervention alone, because there are many partners who work on it and who give it its meaning. For our part, success is each of the real experiences of these young people, their continuous improvement of their skills and level of employability; success is seeing them grow in their desire to improve their training day by day as a way for their social inclusion; success is knowing that we want to continue fighting to give a voice to those who do not have one, in this case, fighting to offer them real jobs in real life. But it is even more successful that the project partners have been able to work together; that they have been able to put aside their own interests and work to provide society with real models of existence and a more just and supportive coexistence.

Laia Carbonell:

The conviction that the project is more necessary than ever. Affordable housing is a need, and it’s more urgent than ever. Many people are experiencing difficulties renting at market price with the economic crisis derived from COVID. So we have to work in this direction. Moreover, more owners are thinking about renting their flats due to the fact that it’s increasingly difficult to sell. Hence, we have to take advantage of the situation to mobilise these flats into the scheme to be rented below the market price through the project.

 Anna Sierra / Lluís Ferrer:

As we said, we strongly believe in the transformative potential of the project and the team involved is hardworking and full of energy. So are our partners, the Mataró City Council and Fundació Unió Cooperadors. Therefore we are satisfied with the work done so far and we have a positive mindset for what is to come.

Laura Font Mela:

I would like to see the cooperative of both owners and tenants created; I would like to be able to offer our young people in the project accompaniment beyond the project; and I would like to continue working with this set of public services and social entities to respond to the inequalities that surround us.

Laia Carbonell:

The cooperative to be a reality!

 Anna Sierra / Lluís Ferrer:

Our wish would be to make the flat owners happy with the tenants in their renovated flats, as well as make the tenants happy with their new flats, knowing there’s an organization where they belong to that shares their values and will back them.

Laura, Laia, Anna and Lluís, thank you very much for your answers and all the best wishes for 2021!

For further information about the training programme of the young people renovating vacant flats to improve their chances on the job market, read the 'zoom in’ of UIA expert Nils Scheffler on the UIA website or download it as pdf.

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