The COVID-19 pandemic has not spared Brussels. Belgium took lockdown measures in mid-March and at the time of writing, they are expected to last until the beginning of May. Due to this, some of CALICO’s ongoing work has been put on hold: the construction works have been halted partially or completely on different occasions, and the future inhabitants have stopped meeting altogether in order to stay safe in their homes as long as necessary for the situation to improve. It does not mean however that the project has been stopped and a lot of work is being done where possible given the circumstances.
The pandemic has a special resonance for the CALICO partnership. CALICO provides affordable housing, and many people have to stay locked in inacceptable housing conditions, sometimes damp or overcrowded, with most landlords still expecting rent despite the economic outlook. Even worse, some people do not even have a place to stay locked in. CALICO is an intergenerational housing project with a sizable proportion of elderly people, and they represent a population highly affected by the situation, not only in terms of health but also in terms of social isolation. CALICO is a feminist project; women are already more affected than men are by precariousness and housing shortages and the lockdown has brought with it a scandalous rise in domestic violence. Finally, CALICO wants to allow people to live in an environment of mutual care, where people can enter and leave life in a safe, healthy and welcoming space; obviously, a lot of those who suffer from COVID-19 do not benefit from such an environment.
All CALICO project managers are teleworking hard to make progress where it can be made, staying on track to provide a new kind of housing and creating a better perspective for society. The legal solution for the sale of the apartments is being fine-tuned, in partnership with legal experts. The partners are in contact with the property developer to make adjustments to the plans where needed. Interviews with prospective future homeowners have been conducted in time before the lockdown was declared, and the selection of the people who will complete our current inhabitants’ group is still ongoing. The mutual care group is hard at work putting together a system, which will allow care professionals, volunteers and inhabitants to work together towards a new form of community-based care to take place within the housing project. We are also working on establishing public procurement for a website intended to showcase CALICO’s accomplishments. Finally, we are regularly keeping in touch with the CALICO team thanks to regular videoconferences, including our latest steering committee, when we seized the opportunity to take a group photo!
As much as possible, we also try to keep in touch with our future inhabitants. Marie-Ange, from the CLTB housing cluster, shared her impression of the lockdown and how it relates to CALICO: “With the current situation, we are deep in CALICO territory: death is near us but can only be accompanied from a distance; children are born without their fathers’ presence; and people are in dire need of the kind of informal care that sustains life…”
Given the situation, we expect the building site to reach completion later than expected, and this will impact moving-in dates. However, none of this is putting any of the project truly at risk, as we will in any case have enough time to bring it together and offer a new permanently affordable housing cluster to Brussels, carrying with it innovative perspectives on care, gender, and birth and end-of-life.