The Syndikat in operation
The Mietshäuser Syndikat Association
As a matter of principle, in order for the Syndikat to acquire an interest in a house LLC, a resolution has to be adopted at a general meeting of the Mietshäuser Syndikat Association. This is where a new initiative can present its concept for a project. Prerequisites for such a resolution are self-organization, concession to the Syndikat of the right to veto any future resale of the house and/or property, participation in the solidarity transfer through payment of the solidary contribution, and the dissemination of know-how. The eviction of existing tenants and/or the linking of financial conditions to the granting of a tenancy agreement, however, are reasons for disqualification. The strength of the Syndikat network lies in its diversity of projects with their various life and living concepts. However, this does not mean that there are no limits. Decisions concerning participation are made on an individual basis. Completely out of the question would be cases such as a “self-organized” project of a commercial real estate developer, an anti-emancipatory project of a “psycho-sect,” or, even more blatant, that of a neo-Nazi group.
The general meeting takes place in different places on an average of three to four times a year, as required. It is always scheduled on a weekend, leaving room for exchange of information, counseling, workshops, mutual help, and the opportunity to meet people from other projects.
Mietshäuser Syndikat LLC
The general meeting also functions as the sole decision-making and controlling body of the Mietshäuser Syndikat LLC, issuing instructions to its management board. For legal reasons, the Mietshäuser Syndikat LLC serves as the economic entity and enterprise of the ideal association, of which it is a wholly owned subsidiary. The Mietshäuser Syndikat LLC formally holds the interests in the house LLCs and maintains the Syndikat’s offices in Freiburg as a coordinating center.
It is a basic principle that the counseling and supervision of a house initiative be provided free of charge by committed volunteers. A typical example: the residents of a house want to relieve their landlord of the burden of ownership and therefore contact the Syndikat. In joint meetings with the tenants, the feasibility and financing options are clarified, the concept of the project and construction plans discussed, details of the organization model explained, questions concerning the day-to-day management of the house and finances answered, and assistance provided in establishing the LLC and drawing up the purchase contract. Intensive counseling, the transfer of know-how, and the presentation and discussion of the project’s concept at a general meeting: all of this is designed to avoid failure from the outset. However, the initiative is relieved of neither the actual work, nor the responsibility and decisions. The Syndikat cannot assist in the formation of groups, or in the procurement of living space or real estate.
The start-up period is often a year-long process that is not immune to failure: having lost control of the construction costs, the group involved in the Eilhardshof in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse was compelled to apply for bankruptcy in 2010 (see A project failed). But besides financial shortages, personal disagreements can also become a great burden for a project group. In many projects, the group structure is molded during the construction phase, and often consolidated under the primacy of practical constraints and seemingly distant principles.
Consequently, emerging conflicts are perceived as threats rather than as something normal that has to be dealt with in a constructive manner. The development of solidary, open-minded, non-hierarchical, and respectful behavior can be a painstaking learning process. This is where projects can mutually support each other already in the start-up phase. And of course, the Syndikat itself is not immune against undesirable developments; that which applies to individual projects, applies also to the entire network. In fact, counseling is the most extensive part of the Syndikat’s work. The amount of counseling required varies greatly from project to project, depending on the respective situation and personnel resources of both the initiative group as well as of the Syndikat. Meanwhile, active participants and advisors come together before each general meeting to exchange information and deal with recent developments.
Regional counseling and coordination groups
Along with a growing regionalization, counseling work and other tasks are increasingly assumed by people in local projects and the regional coordination groups, which also serve as contact points for those interested in the Syndikat. Inquiries from regions without regional coordination groups should be forwarded to a project in the vicinity.
Besides counseling or participating in a regional coordination group, there are other possibilities to actively take part in the Syndikat, e.g., in one of the many working groups. Working groups on topics such as international contacts, conflicts and social issues, and the structure of the Syndikat have existed already for a number of years. There are newly founded groups such as those on the situation of refugees and on gender issues, and also those that are of administrative nature, concerning, for example, balances or solidary contributions. The structures of working groups in the Syndikat are dynamic and change frequently: for this reason, it is quite possible that the next version of this text might contain an entirely different list of groups.
Although one project initiative actually bought an empty house on the basis of a classified ad in the newspaper, this remains the rare exception. On the contrary, protracted negotiations with private owners are the rule. They either have exorbitant price expectations for their row-house palace or find it difficult to bear the idea of “their house” falling into the hands of a collective enterprise founded by the tenants. Yet, it is equally difficult to come to terms with a municipal housing association trying to bridge budget gaps by building and selling condominiums instead of low-cost public housing. Last but not least, having to shoot down a proposed zoning ordinance in order to preserve a house is a particularly challenging task.
In cases of political controversy and other difficult situations, the Syndikat gladly offers active support so that projects have a better chance: making a conflict public, searching for allies, planning campaigns, etc. Moreover, Syndikat activists from other projects can contribute their know-how in contriving suitable strategies for complex negotiations with owners or public authorities. Meanwhile, public relations help to spread the project’s concept and the Syndikat’s ideas, also promoting support for already existent and other new self-organized apartment-house projects: by means of flyers, public relations, events and workshops, publications such as the Synapse, and, last but not least, the Internet.
The joint efforts of a project group and the Syndikat are not always successful. Time and again, the one or the other fight against profit interests and political blockade has been lost, as was the case with the initiative “Rathaussterne” for a former police station in Berlin-Lichtenberg.
Many people in the Syndikat network are additionally involved in other areas of urban politics. In connection with concrete projects or conflicts in the Freiburg housing policy, the initiative “Wem gehört die Stadt” (“To whom does the city belong?”; formerly “Aktion Sperrminorität”) is working out alternatives to the all too common economics of expulsion. In new building areas, they are doing their best to establish Syndikat projects, such as the recent 3HäuserProjekt, against the opposition of private developers.
Last but not least, the participation in events, workshops, and congresses, for example, on issues of solidary economics or urban development, are also welcomed activities under the banner of the Mietshäuser Syndikat