High prices lay foundations for Prague shared housing start-ups

Illustrative photo: Kristýna Maková

The prices of apartments in Prague have skyrocketed in recent years, making it almost impossible for many people to find affordable housing in the capital. A group of people united in a project called Sdílené domy or Shared Houses decided to buy a house in Prague, and administer it themselves: not as a traditional tenants’ association, but as a community. In the future, they would also like to create a co-housing network across the country.

Adéla Zicháčková,  photo: Barbora Linková
I met with Adéla Zicháčková from the Shared Houses project and I first asked where they got the idea to live in co-housing:

“It is a kind of necessity for us, because the costs of living in Prague are rising. Both rents and prices of properties are going up. For instance the rent goes up by 20 percent each year.

“When I first came to Prague some six years ago, I paid around 4,000 crowns for a room a month. Now, the price for the same room has doubled or it’s even more expensive.

“For most young people or students, shared living and shared housing is a reality. We want to turn this provisional situation into something more stable and durable.

“We also got inspiration abroad. In Germany there is a huge network of cohousing or solidarity housing, which is called Mietshäuser Syndikat, and it contains about 120 houses all over Germany. It was established in the 1980s and it worked really well. So that’s how we got the idea.”

How can co-housing be less expensive than other forms of living, such as renting or owning an apartment? You still have to acquire a house of your own, which is very expensive.

“I would compare it to buying food or toilet paper in bulks. It’s always cheaper than buying things individually. And the same goes for housing.

“If you rent or buy larger space, it will always be less expensive than buying an individual flat. If you buy a house with 1,000 square metres, the square metre will always be cheaper than a single flat with 50 square metres.”

What are the biggest advantages of co-housing?

Illustrative photo: Kristýna Maková
“There are many advantages of course. I have already mentioned sharing the costs. It’s also for instance buying a washing machine. If I buy it on my own, it is quite costly. But if ten people buy it, it’s nothing.

“And of course it’s about the moment of sharing. We can share our resources and skills. We can learn from each other. We can share our joyful moments and support each other in difficult times and just enjoy being together.

“When I speak about sharing our skills and helping each other, I mean for example babysitting or helping each other with repairing things. It’s really useful, having more people around.”

You are now in the process of looking for a house in Prague. How difficult is it to find it? Where will you get the finances?

“On one hand, there are so many vacant houses and the owners often use them for speculation or as investments. The municipality also owns many vacant houses, but on the other hand, there are quite a lot of people they don’t have a place to live.

“So I would say it is quite difficult, but not impossible. You just have to have enough time, patience and a little bit of luck. I can give you an example from our friends in Linz.

“They found a very beautiful house in the very city centre of Linz. And the owner liked the project and he even offered them a lower price than the market price was.”

So how far are you in your project?

“At the moment we are preparing a legal strategy and we are looking for the house. I would say it really depends on how fast we find it. But besides all of this, we can have the legal and financial structure prepared in about a year.”

How many people are there in your community at the moment?

Illustrative photo: Filip Jandourek
“At the moment we are sixteen people. We are quite a diverse group, ranging from a seven-month-year-old baby to a lady who is over fifty. We are from smaller towns, from Prague and some of us are not even from the Czech Republic. We share certain views on life, politics and society and we understand each other very well.”

So how did you actually get together?

“Most of us knew each other before, so I would say se were simply at the right place at the right time. We got together as a group of people interested in the same topic.”

How is it going to work in your community house? What is it going to look like and how are you going to decide about things?

“We don’t exactly what the house will look like, but we would like to have some common rooms, a play room for kids, a laundry room, a kitchen and, if we are really, then maybe a garden.

“And how is it going to work? Each member of the collective will have a right to decide about the house. The decision will be made on regular assemblies.

“And of course each member will have certain responsibility for the house because we will take care of the house together.”

Would you think cohousing affects the whole community? Would you say people who live this way tend to care more about the public space?

“Definitely. I can again use an example from Linz. They have a public space with a small club downstairs and a café upstairs, which is accessible to the public. They organize lectures and concerts there.

“They also have a food cooperative and a free shop. But they also rent cheaply their free space to other associations and collectives. They have an amazing feminist archive and a school for migrants.

Illustrative photo: Kristýna Maková
“We definitely want to do something similar. We would like to have some public space and a café, where everyone can come and meet. We would also like to affect the community.

“In my opinion life in the city is very anonymous and the neighbours don’t each other, so we would like to change this, for instance with the help of neighbour festivals or something like that.”

You already have a name for the house: Swallow. Why this name?

“In Czech the swallow is a symbol of a new beginning. When swallows return from the south, spring is about to come. And in our view, our project is the start of something new and exciting.

“We don’t just want to buy a single house, but we would like to launch a new network similar to Germany’s Mietshäuser Syndikat, which is a network of about 120 houses. They support each other for example legally and financially, they support new projects, and they offer them their know-how and their resources.”